Second Consultation on Agricultural Information Management
Rome, Italy 23-25 September, 2002
AGRIS - A strategy for an international network for information in agricultural sciences and technology within the WAICENT Framework
1. AGRIS became operational in 1975 as an international initiative aiming to build a common information system for science and technology in agriculture and related subjects, based on a collaborative network of institutions. The founding principles of the network were that it was:
2. The AGRIS network of Centres formally has 201 participating centres. Of these, over half have contributed material to the central database at some point in the last 6 years, but only 35 contributed in all of the last 6 years. Some AGRIS centres in developing countries have already expanded from the original role of centralised “Input Centres” for an entire national system, to focal points for a more decentralised system. Some are also covering not only the documentation of scientific and technical literature, but are working in the development of agricultural information management more generally. More than 60 of the centres participating in AGRIS already have their own website, and many of them publish their bibliographical databases on the web.
3. Although AGRIS has been partially successful in achieving its goals, some major observations have been made about the current status of the network:
4. Technological changes have also meant that the nature of the network could be re-evaluated, with a view to exploiting the new mechanisms to expand on and enrich the original objectives. Over the last six years WAICENT (World Agriculture Information Centre) has grown to become FAO’s strategic programme on agricultural information management. FAO has been working to prepare relevant parts of the organization’s accumulated expertise and resources so that they can be made available to the AGRIS community.
5. The first Consultation on Agricultural Information Management (COAIM), in June 2000, discussed the development of a strategy for the AGRIS network and its participating Centres. It was agreed that AGRIS could have a key role in the area of scientific and technical information, by improving access to relevant research outputs relating to food security and agricultural development. The COAIM-2000 agreed that FAO should work with Member Countries to strengthen the role of the AGRIS network, so that it would become “a key enabler and catalyst to establish a new model of agricultural information management in the 21st century”.
6. FAO is proposing a model for the further development of the approach to AGRIS which was recommended at the last COAIM. This is described in the following paper, which is aimed at raising the awareness of existing and potential AGRIS stakeholders and seeking their views before submission of a revised version of the paper to COAIM 2002.
7. The overall objective of AGRIS is still understood to be improving access and exchange of information in the area of agricultural science and technology, while strongly emphasising capacity building. The strategy for the future of AGRIS should also be defined within the WAICENT framework.
8. The strengthening of the AGRIS initiative has to go far beyond the creation and development of bibliographical databases. The challenge is how to improve accessibility of science and technology information about agricultural development and food security. This challenge is multidimensional, covering language issues as well as those of intellectual property and physical accessibility. AGRIS has a role in diminishing the knowledge divide not only between developing and developed countries but especially in the developing countries with agriculture as a central part of their society. This effort is based on the awareness and goodwill of the international community. AGRIS will include a focus on improving electronic publishing of documentation in agricultural science and technology, linking information about institutions, scientists and researchers, and activities, without imposing too rigid a collaborative framework. One key aspect of the approach would be to establish better collaboration with international initiatives on support to and co-ordination of agricultural research for development.
9. The following principles have been developed in collaboration with the Member Countries for the AGRIS network to achieve its objective:
10. The COAIM in June 2000 recommended that AGRIS Input Centres be renamed to AGRIS “Resource Centres”, to reflect their new role. As one of the first steps in revitalising AGRIS, the role of AGRIS Resource Centres has to be re-defined, together with the mechanism for linking their activities to the work of FAO and its partners, in order to improve co-operation and avoid duplication of efforts. The following profile is proposed regarding the institutional and organisational considerations for the AGRIS network and the best location and institutional framework for AGRIS Resource Centres.
11. AGRIS Resource Centres would be located in provincial, national, regional or international organisations. There would be no obligation on individual Resource Centres to work in collaborative mode, as the methodologies and standards could be used in their own right. The Resource Centres would play a key role in capacity building, given that each national or regional partnership and the international network would facilitate the exchange of knowledge, while also assisting the uptake of new technologies and tools to do this.
12. The AGRIS network would be developed and sustained on the basic infrastructure of national networks of Resource Centres, perhaps with one principal Resource Centre that would take the lead in development of capabilities and resources in other organisations in the same country wishing to participate. These national partnerships would be assisted in various ways by FAO and other international organisations.
13. Some of the functions that could be considered for the AGRIS Resource Centres are:
14. In the proposed AGRIS strategy, FAO would continue to act as the secretariat for the AGRIS network, which would be managed under the WAICENT framework. FAO’s other main functions should be:
15. FAO has already initiated in some regions a strategic approach to building a new level of participation in the AGRIS network through WAICENT Outreach, given that it has insufficient resources to work bilaterally with all potential Resource Centres. Collaboration with several international and regional centres has been developed and/or strengthened to support joint capacity building initiatives, offering training and support for development of institutional capacities wherever appropriate and possible, and for dissemination of the new AGRIS methodologies and tools. These partnerships have been designed as informal consortia, bringing together the appropriate organisations on a case-by-case basis in each region, and working closely with the GFAR. Based on these initial experiences, it is proposed that the geographic range of these initiatives be widened to cover regions net yet included, influenced by the lessons learned to date, in order to provide mechanism(s) for improving the co-ordination of the redevelopment of AGRIS. In addition, specially adapted digital learning resources will be developed and made available to Resource Centres, to assist them with learning and adopting the standards, guidelines and tools.
16. Electronic repositories of scientific and technical documents and other related digital objects have been established as open archives in pilot AGRIS Resource Centres in conjunction with the testing of the new WebAGRIS tools. These digital repositories can be made available on web-accessible servers, ideally in the country of origin, and linked to the decentralised and/or central metadata collection(s) adopting the AGRIS methodologies. AGRIS Resource Centres will also be able to seek co-operation with open archives in academic institutions in their geographic area, in order to make such materials accessible through the AGRIS metadata repositories. Clearly, AGRIS Centres will need to ensure copyright is respected appropriately.
17. A new metadata standard for AGRIS reference data is under development and will be presented at COAIM 2002. This standard defines a set of high quality metadata on scientific and technical papers, and is directed at improving accessibility of materials on the web. The standard covers the necessary metadata for retrieving publications that are available only in paper format or that have restricted access. The new AGRIS data format conforms to international standards like the Dublin Core Metadata Elements, and is based on the Agricultural Metadata Element Set (AGMES) being prepared by FAO. The AGRIS network also has a specific role in the development of AGROVOC as a multidisciplinary and multilingual tool for information description and knowledge representation. Regional and national AGRIS networks have taken responsibility for the maintenance of language versions, and the AGRIS Resource Centres have a major role in promoting the use of these standards.
18. The AGRIS website is accessible through the WAICENT portal site1, focussing on the collaborative aspects of the AGRIS network, and it is the point of access for the global collection of AGRIS-related content, either through the central AGRIS metadata repository or through distributed databases. In the future, the website will serve as a forum for discussion and dissemination of methodologies and tools used in the network, and it will incorporate a document repository for the full text publishing of grey literature within the AGRIS network.
19. The WebAGRIS tools, announced at the COAIM-2000, have been developed as part of WAICENT to be a complete set of applications for input, management, and dissemination of metadata on information objects. The WebAGRIS tools have been on trial at FAO and at Resource Centres in several countries during 2001/2, and are ready for wider dissemination. They allow Resource Centres to replace the old AGRIN software when they wish to do so, and they permit networking across the AGRIS network using web-based technology. FAO will also provide the WebAGRIS tools to Resource Centres through the regional consortia.