The 2020 European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EuroDIG) took place online on June 11-12. IFLA joined the conference to get more insights on what recent trends in European internet policy and governance could be relevant and interesting for the library field.

Drawing on the sessions, keynote speeches and panel discussions of the 2020 EuroDIG, below are some of the key messages and trends relevant for libraries in Europe (and beyond):

Digital transformation: here to stay? Naturally, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the European information society was an important part of the discussion. Many participants weighted in on the question whether the rapid digitisation of work, education, and many other areas of economy and society (and related changes) are here to stay – or if we can expect some degree of “returning to normal” in the future.

Several speakers concluded that the former is more likely – and, in fact, the path to recovery could be a turning point towards a fundamental green digital transformation. It could therefore be worthwhile for libraries to reflect on their roles in a recovering society which puts more focus on digital – both libraries’ work to support meaningful digital inclusion, and the digitisation of libraries’ traditional services. A recording of the full discussion on the lessons learned during the pandemic and possible future changes can be found on EuroDIG’s channel.

Pandemic: multiplying vulnerabilities. It is often emphasised that the rapid digitisation has put an ever-sharper focus on the inequalities in digital inclusion and internet access. There is an urgent need to enable the remaining billions to make use of connectivity.

The rise in cyber-threats and vulnerabilities is another important impact of this digitisation. The lockdown period saw a substantial increase in cyberattacks and vulnerabilities. During a panel discussion dedicated to this issue, one of the speakers pointed out that it is crucial to make sure that people who are less confident with their ICT skills – for example older users – are well-prepared to participate in an increasingly digitalised society and know how to do so safely.

More broadly, several speakers highlighted that media literacy and ICT skills are crucial to build user confidence, trust and security: awareness of safe practices and possible threats, critical thinking skills towards information on social media. These conclusions are of course relevant for many libraries that deliver various forms of digital literacy training.

The session also introduced the Digital Skills Assessment Guidebook, recently released by the ITU – a tool for digital skills assessments at a national level. The guidebook points out that libraries have experience delivering digital skills- and other types of training to adults and to people outside the formal education system or the workforce. They are among the stakeholders that states could engage to help prepare such an assessment. This may therefore be of interest for libraries in countries that intend to initiate the evaluation process this Guidebook sets out.

Going forward with Open Science. Rapid digital communication among experts in the spirit of Open Science has been a crucial lever in the global response to COVID-19. It powered scientific cooperation and helped achieve crucial results in record times. As one of the keynote speakers pointed out, a move towards Open Science would help all relevant stakeholders to engage with and benefit from scientific progress and discussions.

To this end, UNESCO is continuing their work to develop a Recommendation on Open Science. It aims to define key principles and values and suggest concrete measures that stakeholders can take to promote Open Data and Open Access. The consultative process is ongoing (see IFLA’s response to the initial questionnaire on this), and UNESCO is organising a series of regional consultations to further engage key stakeholders over the coming months.

UN Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. And finally, an important announcement at the end of the conference introduced a follow-up to the 2019 UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel Report on Digital Cooperation. Building on this report, the Secretary General has released a new “Roadmap for Digital Cooperation”, which outlines a set of actions to achieve a more inclusive, fair and safe digital world. The roadmap covers several areas which are relevant to the work of libraries – these include, among others,

  • The call to “promote new and potentially transformative models to accelerate connectivity”. The report also cites large-scale regional infrastructure initiatives – i.e. GIGA, a partnership aiming to connect all schools to the Internet – as a possible inspiration.
  • The importance of promoting and making available more digital public goods, including open data, open content, open access software.
  • The intent to establish a “multi-stakeholder digital inclusion coalition” and carry out more work to assess and measure digital inclusion and literacy.
  • A plan to undertake a “mapping exercise of digital inclusion initiatives” (the work to map out digital inclusion solutions is already started by ITU and UNDP, and will be expanded).

These are some of the key Internet Governance developmentsin Europe that may impact or be of interest for libraries. More information on the 2020 EuroDIG sessions can be found on the EuroDIG wiki, and summaries of the key messages are available on the Geneva Internet Platform/Digital Watch Observatory website.