Myanmar information symposium paves the way for change

Myanmar is undergoing unprecedented changes — politically, culturally, digitally — all while moving from a highly-censored information environment to embracing openness and freedom of information. The country’s digital revolution includes leaping over numerous “digital divides” propelled by the widespread use of smartphones and growing pervasiveness of the internet. TASCHA co-sponsored a Myanmar information symposium just days before the country inaugurated its first elected parliament. The event, From Scarcity to Overload: Finding “Good Enough” Public Information in Myanmar’s Transition, sparked lively discussions about complex topics such as information scarcity and the public’s trust in their government, freedom of expression vs. personal privacy, transparent information solutions for democratic practices, and more. In her summary report, Melody Clark compiled seven key takeaway points which emerged over the course of the event:

  1. Many are working to solve the scarcity of information and data that still exists.
  2. Digitization of records and services faces significant logistical and mindset challenges.
  3. The digital and information revolution in Myanmar requires reforming, creating, and implementing laws and regulations.
  4. Freedom of speech and information should be embraced, but not abused.
  5. Civic engagement and democratic citizenship is emerging, even if eGovernment and eGovernance has a long way to go.
  6. Public libraries play a large role Myanmar’s transition to the information society.
  7. Programs and services work best and most effectively when provided in both Burmese and in non-Burmese Indigenous language.

At the start of the symposium attendants were asked to complete a survey covering the most pressing information challenges that Myanmar faces. Of the ten options, the top five included: equalizing access to information, developing laws and information to regulate freedom of speech, improving media standards and practices, overcoming lack of trust from sharing information, improving quality of data for all sectors and removing government barriers to conducting research. Although Myanmar is rapidly moving towards a more transparent, democratic, and accessible information infrastructure, continued discourse and collaboration is a must to create a sturdy foundation and work on effective solutions for these challenges and more. The event represented novel collaboration across many sectors, bringing participants together to tackle shared challenges and the breadth of questions and discussions were an important step in addressing and narrowing-in on key issues. Although a diverse group of people and organizations will continue to work towards solutions for Myanmar, the symposium successfully advanced efforts to solve complex issues and set an instrumental precedent for future events.