7th Thematic Seminar: Use of Information and Communication Technologies in Urban Environmental Management: Strengthening the Implementation of the Kitakyushu Initiative (13-14 December 2004, Bangkok, Thailand)

Date: 13-14 December 2004

Venue: United Nations Conference Centre (Bangkok, Thailand)

Participants: Dhaka (Bangladesh), Beijing, Weihai (China), Lami (Fiji), Surabaya (Indonesia), Tehran (Iran), Kitakyushu (Japan), Sibu (Malaysia), Kathmandu (Nepal), Karachi (Pakistan), Cebu (Philipipnes), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Bangkok, Nonthaburi (Thailand), Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam), Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations

Seminar contents: Utilisation of information and communication technologies to facilitate improvements in the urban environment

Information and communication technologies (ICT) provide tremendous opportunities for stakeholders to collaborate and exchange knowledge and information on a variety of issues in the area of urban environmental management. Local governments need to be made more aware of the importance of ICT and its use in day-to-day urban environmental management. Particularly, it is critical to enable local governments to demonstrate their best practices and share information on the same through networking. The seventh seminar focused on the use of information and communication technologies to improve the capacity of local governments in urban environmental management and strengthen the implementation of the Kitakyushu Initiative.

The objectives of the seminar--sharing information and raising awareness of local governments on the use and effectiveness of ICT in urban environmental management, review the role of ICT in the implementation of the Kitakyushu Initiative, discuss ways to strengthen information sharing and future implementation through use of ICT, including, among others, the possibility in developing an online discussion forum for the Initiative, train member city participants in developing and/or improving their own web sites for urban environmental management, which will also reflect the activities under the Kitakyushu Initiative--provided a basis for local governments to gain an understanding of the various methods in the use of ICT, employed by other cities in similar situations.

The seminar concluded with an improved understanding of the use of effectiveness of ICT in urban environmental management, provided an assessment of the current status of ICT application in urban environmental management at the local level, assisted cities to determine the measures and activities carried out by other local governments, and increased the capacity of local participants in developing and improving information dissemination both within and outside the city through better development of websites.

Use of ICT in urban environmental management

While the importance of ICT is stressed, it is necessary to keep in mind that information cannot be disseminated unless it is available (unless local governments are able to collect and effectively manage the information they have in their cities), i.e. a website is only useful if there is actual information to be disseminated. However, in order to collect and effectively manage information, in particular information related to urban environmental management, the information must be obtained in a systematic way (not haphazardly). In this way, “policies and measures” in relation to the collection/management/dissemination of information is necessary to answer the questions:

  • What types of information are we targeting and where can we find it? This is the management of information, i.e. how to generate and respond to the generated information
  • How can ICT be used? (What forms of communication can we use? Who are the people we are targeting (departments, residents, businesses, other cities?)
  • How is ICT useful (What obstacles and opportunities do local governments face?)
  • How can ICT work effectively in UEM? These questions will ultimately lead to hints on the types of policies and measures that are necessary to further promote ICT in urban environmental management.

This flow of information (from collection to management to dissemination) can be usefully referred to as “eGovernment”, which is the use of information and communication technologies to improve the activities of the local administration, in this case with particular reference to urban environmental management. eGovernment connects people within and outside the city?departments, residents, businesses?to cut costs, establish connections and open the lines of communication, and build partnerships, with the ultimate goal of improving public service.

The “digital divide” exists in various forms within the Asia-Pacific region. There are three different types of cities that we can see based on the degree of ICT usage, both overall and for urban environmental management. These three groups include (a) those that do not have a particular system in place for ICT in UEM; (b) those that currently are developing or possess working systems for ICT in UEM; and (c) those that posses advanced systems for ICT in UEM. As cities move from level to level, different experiences can be transferred or referred to.

First, we must identify the types of information that local governments should be targeting and how that information should be managed. Many local governments will be focusing on the monitoring and management of pollutants for air, soil and water. Local governments may focus on the actual implementation methods, as well as the hardware and software that is necessary to carry this out. However, other points that should be targeted include determining the need of the population (will ICT enhance or detract from the current lifestyles or urban environment?), investigating the existence of policies and frameworks to facilitate the utilization of ICT and ideas for gaps, management of information systems that are based on GIS and remote sensoring, and determination of the usage of the information (is it for in-house use or for dissemination?). Local governments must also determine where they will obtain that information, i.e. at monitoring stations, through daily interaction with the community, etc, as well as determine how that information will be transferred to the central information centre and then to the public.

The application of ICT in participatory environmental management should address the forms of communication and the targeted actors. There are various types of communication which are based on the information systems of the local government. Residents and outside stakeholders should be able to access this information from the outside. Dissemination of this information can be done digitally (email groups, websites, other) or traditionally (posters, publications, etc.). Dissemination of this type of information improves the participation of residents, can improve the flow of information (such as complaints and/or monitoring of the city area), help facilitate environmental education (through eLearning, etc.), and assist in the coordination of actions between departments, within the city, with other cities in the country, and throughout the region. To ensure the most up-to-date information, frequency should be incorporated into the plans of the local government.

The flow of information will encompass a variety of stakeholders. This must be outlined by the local government in the dissemination of information, i.e. is it intra-departmental, within the city, outside the city, etc. The participation of the various stakeholders must also be clarified, i.e. is it voluntary or mandatory?

While local governments can face a number of obstacles related to the use of ICT (including lack of technology/infrastructure, appropriate hardware/software, access to telecommunications, and internet connectivity, power sources), lack of capacity to operate technology, lack of staff (including community networks), lack of coordination between and within departments, financing and appropriate incentives, language and literacy issues (in particular when working with other cities in different countries, as well as computer literacy), management (voluntary/mandatory), and accuracy and availability of information, it is undeniable that the use of ICT can enhance the local government’s actions in urban environmental management by improving local governmental activities, opening up the lines of communication with relevant stakeholders, as well as creating new and effective partnerships, and is a way to cut costs.

In this way, the various policies and measures that may be considered by local governemnts in determining the use of ICT in UEM can be seen. First, we must ensure that basic policies to manage water/SWM/air quality are in effect. The needs of the population must be assessed, i.e. we should not do ICT just because it is a trend. Local governments must ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date, and that the transfer of such information is efficient.

Policies for digitalization, including day-to-day management of information, universal service/access to information (telecommunications, internet connectivity), availability of appropriate hardware/software, power sources; dissemination, including language and literacy (computer literacy issues), together with frequency, identification of actors, etc.; and managing public participation/effective communication, i.e. consideration and approaches for involvement of local staff, residents, businesses, with focus on community involvement should also be considered. Privacy is also an issue that should be considered in the policies and measures that local governments must consider.

The benefits of ICT applications in urban environmental management include increased information accessibility, enhanced public awareness and participation, improved environmental monitoring and data analysis, more transparent and effective local environmental governance, improved networking, and reduced cost. It was highlighted that ICT could play an important role in the implementation of the Kitakyushu Initiative, particularly in monitoring and modeling, information sharing, online public participation/deliberation, distance learning, and assistance in policy formulation.

The current application of ICT in the implementation of the Kitakyushu Initiative, with a focus on the Kitakyushu Initiative website was discussed. The website is playing an active role in sharing of information and successful experiences in the three priority areas under the Initiative, namely air quality management, solid waste management, and water quality management, however, the website could be further utilized as a means of information sharing and networking.

Assessment of current application of ICT in urban environmental management in participating cities

Local governments highlighted the different applications of ICT in their cities and in particular with respect to urban environmental management.

Bangkok discussed the use of ICT in flood control and collection of solid waste data, as well as the development of the Environmental Information Management and Administration System. Nonthaburi highlighted the application of GPS (Global Positioning System) in solid waste collection, which contributes positively both to the performance of truck drivers and the collection of solid waste data. Kitakyushu focused on distance learning and elaborated their existing and potential cooperation with the World Bank, JICA, and the cities in the Asia-Pacific region.

Tehran introduced the current situation of ICT application in urban environmental management, in particular regarding air quality monitoring and reporting. It was pointed out that ICT can play an important role for public awareness building and education for environmental protection.

Colombo explained ICT application in three areas, namely use of GIS in relation to health impacts (in particular, with reference to linkages between dumping of solid waste and outbreaks of dengue fever), development of website of the Colombo Municipal Council, and the e-governance portal. The participant indicated that while GIS has helped in the correlation of situational factors in problem solving, the website has improved transparency and access, and the e-governance portal has contributed to the identification of problems/requests.

Cebu expressed its interest in expanding its ICT application to cover urban environmental management and briefed the government’s efforts in this regard. Supportive measures for the utilization of ICT in urban environmental management were presented and the role of stakeholders was highlighted. Dhaka discussed latest development of ICT application in urban environmental management, including the establishment of an IT department, networking of all the offices of the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC), the use of GIS mapping in solid waste management, and the development of DCC website, etc. The city requested for further assistance in use of ICT in solid waste management.

Kathmandu briefed the participants about stakeholder involvement in ICT application, current status and programmes of ICT application in the city, as well as future directions for ICT application. Sibu stated that the city had used ICT as an administrative tool to obtain data and statistics on urban environmental management for analysis, planning, information dissemination and forecasting. It also briefed on some of the initiatives by the Municipal Council in ICT application in urban management. Weihai shared its experiences in the following areas: installing on-line monitoring system for accurate firsthand data; using computers and internet to collect and distribute environmental data; establishing hotlines and websites to communicate with the public; using the Internet for international cooperation; and its efforts towards capacity building.

While ICT is being utilised in a number of cities in region, challenges still remain in the full and effective implementation of such programmes, including inadequate telecommunication and network infrastructure, lack of computer literacy and skill levels among staff as well as the public, management styles, lack of updated ICT equipment and funds for their maintenance, inadequate data management skills, proficiency in foreign languages, and financial constraints.

Steps forward

Following the seminar, the Kitakyushu Initiative has established a discussion forum to play a key role in strengthening the implementation of the Initiative and exchange of information and views on key issues under the Initiative. Member cities were encouraged to develop online discussion topics on urban environmental management to enhance interactions among relevant stakeholders. Other issues to be addressed included human resource constraints, and the necessity to develop and maintain local language versions of websites to enhance public awareness and participation. A special section for member cities to introduce their city and its urban environmental activities was strongly requested by the participants.

A training session followed the conclusion of the seminar to introduce methods of designing and improving local websites for urban environmental. This training session was followed by a special session (eLearning training module on public participation in solid waste management) which provided an opportunity for participants to have hands-on experience in e-learning, particularly on promoting public participation in reuse and recycling of solid waste, and to discuss how e-learning could support urban environmental management. IGES researchers facilitated the discussion and have followed up on the use of online discussion forum with participants to continue discussion after the Seminar.

Objectives

  • To share information and raise awareness of local governments on the use and effectiveness of ICT in urban environmental management
  • To review the role of ICT in the implementation of the Kitakyushu Initiative (sharing of best practices, implementation of pilot projects, operation of the Kitakyushu Initiative web site, etc)
  • To discuss ways to strengthen information sharing and future implementation through use of ICT, including, among others, the possibility in developing an online discussion forum for the Initiative
  • To train member city participants in developing and/or improving their own web sites for urban environmental management, which will also reflect the activities under the Kitakyushu Initiative

Outcomes

  • Improved understanding in use and effectiveness of ICT in urban environmental management
  • Assessment of the current status of ICT application in urban environmental management at the local level
  • Adoption of measures/activities to strengthen information sharing and future implementation of the Kitakyushu Initiative through use of ICT
  • Increased capacity of local participants in developing and improving web sites for urban environmental management
Date & Venue 13-14 December 2004, United Nations Conference Centre, Bangkok, Thailand
Organizers United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP); Ministry of the Environment, Government of Japan; Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES)
Participants Local environmental officials from selected member cities as well as representatives from relevant international organizations
Language English
Documents
Discussion Forum A discussion forum was created for the Kitakyushu Initiative Network at: http://www.unescap.org/forums

Programme
13 Dec 2004
  • Opening of the seminar.
  • Election of officers.
  • Adoption of the agenda.
  • Use of ICT in urban environmental management.
    • Overview of potential of ICT in urban environmental management
    • ICT in the implementation of the Kitakyushu Initiative for a Clean Environment
    • Policy measures in promoting ICT in urban environmental management
  • Assessment of the current application of ICT in urban environmental management in participating member cities.
    • Presentations by selected member cities
    • Statements by other participating cities
  • Discussion on steps forward
    • Identification of future needs and opportunities
    • Strengthening information sharing through the use of ICT: measures in future activities of the Kitakyushu Initiative
      • Creation of a web-based digital discussion forum for the Kitakyushu Initiative
      • Ways to improve the outreach of the Kitakyushu Initiative utilizing ICT, e.g. the format of website, the contents and other requirements, etc
    • Strengthening of networking with relevant institutions/ programmes (Identification of resources and opportunities of other information sources)

14 Dec 2004
  • Training on developing and improving web sites for urban environmental management
  • Other matters.
  • Adoption of the recommendations
  • Special session: Presentation of eLearning training module on public participation in solid waste management

United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific


Environment Section
Environment and Sustainable Development Division
United Nations Building, Rajdamnern Avenue
Bangkok 10200 Thailand
Email: escap-esdd-evs@un.org

Institute for Global Environmental Strategies


Kitakyushu Initiative Network Secretariat
3-9-30 Asano, Kokurakita-ku
Kitakyushu City 802-0001 Japan
Email: kitakyushu-initiative@iges.or.jp