Decentralization and redesign in store for agricultural information systems


Two of FAO's key agricultural information systems are to be redesigned to put more power in the hands of the originators and users of the information they contain. AGRIS (the International Information System for the Agricultural Sciences and Technology) and CARIS (the Current Agricultural Research Information System) - both of which were originally conceived over 20 years ago as bibliographical databases - are to be decentralized and refocused.
Zambia: redesigned systems will put more power in the hands of information originators and users
A Technical Consultation was held in June 1998 to discuss and endorse a series of proposals for the redesign of AGRIS and CARIS. The Consultation unanimously endorsed the specific proposal to prioritize national capacity building in information management. It also gave its full support to FAO's general proposal to refocus the role of AGRIS/CARIS on assisting in meeting the objectives of the Plan of Action of the World Food Summit through the dissemination of a wider range of agricultural information to a broader audience.

The new emphasis will be, not on the collection of information in a massive central database, but on enabling people to manage their own information and on creating a network for information exchange. The Internet will be at the heart of the new system.

The Consultation called for a series of pilot projects to be set up in selected countries to test-run the redesigned systems. These pilots will examine how the move to decentralized information systems should be organized and managed and will also look at broadening AGRIS to include non-bibliographic information according to user needs and adopting new information technologies.

"We are very pleased with the outcome of the Technical Consultation" said Stephen Katz, Chief FAOINFO. "It has opened the door to concrete changes in the future that will allow countries to manage their own information resources and have access to new infomation technologies. It was also very encouraging to see so many countries volunteer to take part in the pilot scheme."

FAO will continue to provide services as it does at present during the pilot schemes, although one change will occur, the AGRIS/CARIS Processing Unit, which is currently based in Vienna, will be moved to Rome by the end of 1999 in order to improve cost-efficiency and to allow the systems to take full advantage of the services provided by the FAO's World Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT).

"We aim to render AGRIS and CARIS more efficient and effective, paying particular attention to the needs of the developing countries," said Francisco Perez-Trejo, manager of WAICENT. "We need to identify user needs, stakeholders and possibilities of partnerships with other information systems, without forgetting quality control."

9 July 1998 

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