Press Releases

         1 June 2005

    UN Study on ‘Understanding Knowledge Societies’ Released Today in Shanghai

    (Received from a UN Information Officer.)

    SHANGHAI, 31 May -- Cultures and countries that maximize the creative inputs to the development process are aided by information and communication technologies, but the key factor is their people, the main asset of a knowledge society, and the possibilities for the free interchange of knowledge and ideas, finds a follow-up study issued today by the United Nations.

    Understanding Knowledge Societies, released today at a Shanghai conference on City Informatization in the Asia-Pacific region, suggests the possibility of “institutions and organizations that enable people and information to develop without limits, and that open opportunities for all kinds of knowledge to be mass-produced and mass-utilized throughout the society as a whole”.

    Produced under the auspices of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), the study pursues and further develops themes explored in World Public Sector Report 2003, on e-governance. The 2003 report traced the uses made by governments, in developing and developed countries, of new information and communication technologies (ICT), as well as obstacles to their successful application.

    Taking the challenges examined in 2003 one step further, the new study “puts forth the idea that if societies desire to follow the path of knowledge-based growth and development, a very thorough reconstruction of their institutions must occur”, says Guido Bertucci, Director of the Division for Public Administration and Development Management of UN DESA, in the book’s foreword.

    Understanding Knowledge Societies examines the parameters of participatory and transparent governance from the fresh perspective of policy focused on mass-production of knowledge.

    “The social institutions of the currently existing democracies and currently existing markets must allow (or be transformed to allow) limitless development and use in the process of knowledge development of people and information”, the study says. “This poses a challenge, as currently existing democracies feature minorities with narrow encompassing interests that are allowed, by lack of genuine participation, to control public power and to channel in a disproportionate way, public resources and developmental opportunities in their own direction”, it says. “This translates into limited development opportunities for many (or most) that happen to be on the other side of the power divide.”

    Thus widespread application of ICT for uses ranging from, for instance, issuing drivers licenses to increasing productivity and profit in business operations, or e-voting is not an end in itself or even the main factor in arriving at a “smart knowledge society”, the authors argue. “ICT as a means for accelerating production of knowledge is a resource whose impact on this process will diminish and stabilize as a constant. People are the only factor for accelerating the development of knowledge that is not finite and will not become obsolete.”

    Further, ownership and management of ICT assets will not produce widespread betterment if lacking a new sense of direction in development, and a commitment to assure high levels of quality and safety of life. However, such commitment must be put in the framework of transparency and genuine participation to revert today’s highly unsafe situation, in which development of products with high risk content --in other words taking private risk with the well-being of all people everywhere -- is allowed.

    A ranking of 45 countries in an “Index of Knowledge Societies” is provided, in which Scandinavian nations score highly. But some transition and developing countries appear in the top five countries in related indexes, such as Costa Rica and Slovakia in the “foresightedness” category, and the Republic of Korea in “assets”.

    Mr. Bertucci and Jerzy Szeremeta, the main author of Understanding Knowledge Societies, present the study today at 2:50 p.m., at the Shanghai International Conference Centre, Pudong, in Shanghai, China. The two-day long Fifth Annual City Informatization forum is focusing on themes of e-government, e-commerce, communication technology for development and the role of the local governments in today’s information society.

    The Shanghai conference closely follows the Sixth Global Forum on Reinventing Government, held in Seoul from 24 to 27 May. Hosted for the first time in the Asia-Pacific region, the meeting was organized by the Republic of Korea in cooperation with the UN Division for Public Administration and Development Management. The forum, attended by over 5,000 global leaders, business and civil society members, addressed challenges for improving governance and public administration and was one of the largest gatherings on governance issues.

    For more information on the Fifth Annual Forum on City Informatization in the Asia-Pacific Region, Shanghai, please visit: For more information on Understanding Knowledge Societies or for interviews, please contact: Jerzy Szeremeta, Shanghai, tel.: 021-50370000, e-mail:; or Oisika Chakrabarti, UN Department of Public Information, New York, tel.: +1 212 963-8264, e-mail:

    Understanding Knowledge Societies available for $35 (Sales No. E.05.II.H.2 ISBN 92-1-123156-6) from United Nations Publications, 2 UN Plaza, Room DC2-853, Dept. PRES, New York N.Y. 10017 USA, tel.: 800-253-9646 or 212-963-8302, fax: 212-963-3489, e-mail:; or Section des Ventes et Commercialisation, Bureau E-4, CH-1211, Geneva 10, Switzerland, tel.: 41 22 917-2614, fax: 41 22 917-0027, e-mail:; Internet:

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