The plan of action for building the information society in Western Asia, or Regional Plan of Action fills a critical void. It outlines the ways in which global and regional information communication technology (ICT) strategies could stimulate change at the regional and national levels and offers a comprehensive framework for translating these strategies into ICT projects that create value and progress towards a sustainable regional information society. The premise of the RPoA is that improved ICT is primarily a question of commitment to deep process changes that require sustained efforts and could bring clear rewards.
The RPoA is the result of collaborative efforts at the regional and international levels in addition to input from national initiatives. Foremost among these efforts are the Global Plan of Action resulting from the Geneva phase of WSIS (WSIS-03/GENEVA/DOC/5-E) and the Arab ICT Strategy adopted by the Arab Summit in 2002. Moreover, the RPoA takes into consideration the efforts of the Pan-Arab Regional Conference on WSIS held in Cairo from 16 to 18 June 2003. The Cairo Declaration, “Towards an Arab Information Society: A Framework for Collaborative Action” was produced at this meeting and endorsed by the Arab Council of Ministers of Communications and Information at its seventh ordinary session.
The Tentative Plan of Action for Western Asia: Building the Regional Information Society (E/ESCWA/ICTD/2003/12) produced by ESCWA in November 2003 included a list of action lines and time frames and constituted the basis for discussions. Regional specificity, a key issue contributing to the formulation of the RPoA, was addressed through a series of round tables organized by ESCWA during 2004, in particular the round table on Strategies and Plans of Action for Building the Information Society in Western Asia, the objective of which was to reach consensus on a suitable plan of action for building the information society in the region and the relevant national and regional activities. The projects and programmes resulting from the series were used in the development of the RPoA. The Second Regional Preparatory Conference for WSIS was held by ESCWA in Damascus, 22-23 November 2004, in order to discuss the Proposed Regional Plan of Action for Building the Information Society (E/ESCWA/ICTD/2004/4). Feedback from the conference was vital for the revision and improvement of the RPoA.
A rational RPoA should be constructed based on the consolidated results and recommendations of the meetings mentioned above in order to ensure that it can meet the development goals set out in the Millennium Declaration, which emphasizes the importance of ICTs in the achievement of socio-economic development goals and affirms the need to ensure that the benefits of new technologies and, in particular, ICTs, are available to all. In view of this objective, the foundations for national, regional and international cooperation should be laid during the period ending 2015.
B. Considerations of the RPoA
The present document considers the challenges associated with maintaining an integrated and sustainable effort to build the information society in the region and translates these challenges into specific programmes, with the aim of strengthening inter-Arab cooperation in a framework of partnership that embraces all stakeholders. To that end, a modular structure is adopted that can accommodate new elements, as the RPoA is based on an evolving model that can assimilate the future needs of ESCWA member countries and, also, includes a mechanism for the periodic introduction of new regional strategic actions and the adjustment of plans according to progress reports. The following paragraphs provide a brief description of the distinctive features of the RPoA.
Partnership. Partnership is the basis for the development and implementation of the RPoA, which advocates and fosters the creation of a coalition of public and private organizations and individuals in building the information society in the region. Partnership leads to a more responsive, enabling and participatory state for the management and planning of development activities as society becomes more complex.
Decentralization. The emergence of partnership strategies have brought about new ways of managing development programmes and projects that shift emphasis away from central planning and centralized authority.
Results-based management. The results-based management system places high emphasis on the achievement of results and uses indicators to monitor progress. The system enables organizations to focus on development rather than become consumed by the process of transferring resources and encourages them to act in a proactive, rather than reactive, manner. (For further information on results-based management, see annex I).
Modularity. The modular form of the RPoA makes it possible to address the requirements of stakeholders in a structured manner, where independent and self-contained modules are combined to forge a comprehensive RPoA. This feature provides the flexibility necessary to address the challenges of building the regional information society and promote partnerships.
Open-endedness. Unlike 5- or 10-year plans, the RPoA is open in terms of scale and has no specific ending date. It is an evolving plan that can accommodate ad hoc elements in order to meet unforeseen requirements or adjust to assimilate new technological innovations.
Rolling projects. This feature allows the RPoA to be open-ended. As needs evolve and projects are completed, new projects can be introduced that build on the results achieved by previous completed projects.
Leading responsibility. Leading responsibility is based on structuring the RPoA in a manner that enables organizations to coordinate programmes and champions to adopt and implement projects. Leading responsibilities come into existence as new programmes and projects are added and supplement partnership and decentralization.
Implementation upon maturity. This is a key characteristic for the implementation of the RPoA. In this context, maturity refers to the development of comprehensive project documents, completion of partnerships subscription, securing of necessary funds and allocation of the resources needed to start implementation.
Periodic monitoring and progress reporting. Together, periodic monitoring and progress reporting constitute the main monitoring tool for implementation of the RPoA and, at the same time, ensure continuity and evolution.
Online partnership. Online partnership enables the RPoA to cater for additional partnership subscription for existing or additional programmes or projects without needing to organize regional meetings or be subject to limitations of space and location. This feature lends dynamism to the RPoA.
C. Proposed structure of the RPoA
The flexible modular design of the RPoA is based on programmes in those areas identified as being of fundamental importance for building a sustainable information society in the region. Each programme has a coordinating institution in order to ensure the compatibility and consistency of the programme content and coordinate its various components, which are well-defined projects each with a lead agency responsible for its execution and partners, including donor agencies, implementing institutions and beneficiaries. When all partners in a partnership scheme are ready to carry out their part, then the mature project proposal is launched. The list of projects can grow as projects mature and new projects and programmes are added.
The present document takes a top-down approach and starts by considering the RPoA from a global and regional perspective in chapter one. It first outlines a strategic framework and then recommends and elaborates the main functionalities of a number of programmes specifically designed to trigger partnerships in ESCWA member countries and induce the interactive participation of a broad spectrum of stakeholders. Guiding principles for the definition of regional and national projects related to the various programmes are presented. Finally, a number of partnership and financing considerations are discussed.
Chapter two proposes a strategic framework with ten areas through which the critical indigenous capabilities needed to harness information and knowledge locally can be developed. These ten areas constitute the main pillars of the development of a sustainable knowledge economy and information society. Each area identifies a set of objectives associated with a number of high-impact strategic action lines entrenched in regional realities. The Global Plan of Action was an important source for definition of these ten areas. Comparisons and overlaps between these areas and the seven axes of the Arab ICT Strategy are also considered.
Chapter three recommends programmes that meet regional requirements and embody the potential of harnessing ICT for socio-economic development. The programmes supplement the areas of the strategic framework with well-defined endeavours. Each programme is succinctly described in two pages and linked to the strategic framework and indicators of achievement. Projects are related to the various programmes and the open-ended structure ensures that partners can propose new projects during the implementation process. Projects are regional in nature but necessarily have national components. Some are short-term and others long-term projects but all conform with the Millennium Development Goals. These projects will constitute the building blocks for developing the information society.
Chapter four is dedicated to the development of the RPoA into regional projects for building the information society. It provides criteria for reaching the maturity needed in order to ensure a good start for project implementation and facilitate the participation of parties interested in proposing and/or implementing projects that aim to build the information society in the region. A list of proposed regional projects for each programme recommended in chapter three is then presented. The chapter ends with a review of the efforts of the Task Force on Implementation of the Arab Telecommunications and Information Strategy and the resultant list of regional priority projects that the Task Force is recommending for inclusion in the RPoA.
Chapter five shows the need for building partnerships in ICT with a view to supporting a high rate of start-up businesses in the region. Partnerships, entrepreneurships and venture capital should be added to the list of reform activities. Guiding principles for partnership are also outlined and a model presented for partnership and financing projects involving government, business community, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society, educational and financing institutions.
 League of Arab States, resolution 214 of 28 March 2002. Available at: http://www.aticm. org.eg.
 Details of the series are available at: http://www.escwa.org.lb/wsis/.
 Available at: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals.