As part of the 1st Consultation on Agricultural Information Management (COAIM) held at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome 5-7th June 2000, a Technical Workshop was conducted on AGRIS / CARIS. There were approximately 50 participants in the workshop from a range of public and private sector organizations.
Mr J.F. Giovannetti (CIRAD, France) was elected as the Chairperson, and Mr C. Revie (University of Strathclyde, U.K.) as the Rapporteur.
Mr Johannes Keizer (FAO-WAICENT) provided an introduction to the developments within the AGRIS / CARIS Network since the Technical Consultation in 1998. Achievements included the successful completion of the first phase of the activities: namely, the smooth integration of the activities previously carried out by the AGRIS Processing Centre in Vienna into the WAICENT group in Rome. He also reported on progress in the second and third phases of activity, dealing with the development of a new generation of tools and procedures to aid the smooth transition to an eventual full decentralization of the Network. (Full details of this work can be found in Paper X7318/E of the COAIM, "AGRIS / CARIS Network: Progress Report and Future Challenges".)
Mr Stephen Rudgard (FAO-WAICENT) gave an overview of the strategic importance of AGRIS and CARIS, in which he emphasized that the systems still had an important role to play within the new WAICENT framework, and especially in the context of WAICENT's new Outreach Programme. The re-analysis of AGRIS / CARIS as a system had indicated that the principles, experience, good will and collaborative network of individuals and institutes involved in AGRIS and CARIS should be retained and developed as FAO moves into a new phase of activity. In addition, technological advances had allowed for a more ambitious approach to agricultural information management, with a single platform able to support greater functionality.
Four short presentations were then made to inform delegates of the new developments within AGRIS / CARIS:
a) The AGRIS / CARIS network on the Web (J. Keizer, FAO)
A demonstration of the new AGRIS / CARIS interface was presented by Mr Keizer. The system will be accessible outside FAO hopefully from early July 2000 and will form an integrated part of the WAICENT Website. Some of the functionality is still being refined, and expertise has also been provided by external partners as a model for the participatory approach which WAICENT sees as increasingly important to future developments. Key principles underlying the new AGRIS / CARIS system include:
b) ISIS tools for data input and dissemination (K. Caprazli and S. Kaloyanova, FAO) c) Multi-host database searching (H. Friedrich, ZADI)
- a single gateway to key agricultural information resources of various types;
- customizable individual profiles - Selected Dissemination of Information (SDI);
- integrated access to the AGROVOC thesaurus tool to assist input and retreival;
- multi-host parallel database searching (see 5.c.)
d) A DTD for AGRIS: proposal of a new standard for bibliographic records (H. Besemer, OneWorld Europe)
The discussions that followed these presentations are reported in terms of the three topic areas adopted by the delegates during the Workshop to help frame their questions and provide cohesion to the discussion.
The Workshop discussed the new vision for the AGRIS / CARIS Network and for the Centres that comprise it. The Workshop agreed that FAO should work with Member Nations to strengthen the role of the Network as a cooperative system using the new approach, and the AGRIS / CARIS Centres were encouraged to maintain and / or expand their databases and repository of documents. However, a range of regional and national initiatives were underway that would enhance the Centres' capacities to be more active in the management and publication of agricultural information as the demand for information increases, especially given the new and increasingly heterogeneous data formats.
The Workshop noted that the Centres involved in the Network had over time become known as "Input Centres", and it was agreed that this implied a very narrow and prescriptive role. In the light of new demands and the opportunities provided by Web-based technologies, it is clear that the Centres should move from `data input' to `information management'. It was widely concurred that a much more appropriate and accurate title would be "AGRIS / CARIS Resource Centres".
The relationship between WAICENT and the Resource Centres should be seen as collaborative with the new range of initiatives being undertaken on a partnership basis. Collaboration could be in the area of the aggregation of local content (e.g. Morocco's proposed integration of full text, maps and statistics into their national AGRIS network), or in development of tools and techniques (e.g. ZADI's development of multi-host searching tools).
The Workshop recognized that each Resource Centre would have its particular information management needs, which together with the local infrastructure, resources and skills would influence the choice of system solution. Centres would be free to decide on whether to adopt the WAICENT tools and techniques, given that the latter would be based on non-proprietary and internationally agreed standards. The various solutions selected by Resource Centres would form a cohesive framework provided that a minimum set of standards were adopted, to allow effective retrieval of information. It was agreed that considerable synergistic benefits and cost efficiencies would accrue to the network as a result of cooperation on standards.
The Secretariat informed the Workshop that a suite of tools for input and retrieval / dissemination of material for AGRIS and CARIS based around a set of standards will be available to the AGRIS / CARIS Network before the end of 2000. It was agreed that FAO should continue to develop such standards for information exchange and retrieval.
The particular importance of the XML standard was noted, in the sense of `extensibility' which is the key to accessing the heterogeneous sets of digital objects (through Data Type Definitions - DTDs) that are being handled by the new information requirements of the AGRIS / CARIS centres. In addition, XML has an international scope, has in-built support for multiple languages (UNICODE) and is compatible with any documents written in HTML.
It was recognized that staff working in AGRIS / CARIS Resource Centres, in the extended network, will require training in the use of these tools, if their full potential is to be realized. The Workshop was informed that the WAICENT team will explore and establish innovative means to deliver such training, including through the use of in-country training partners and computer-enhanced distance learning.
The Workshop acknowledged that AGRIS/CARIS Resource Centres have only a limited capability to supply simple full-text documents within the current framework, and that AGRIS/CARIS should be seen as a reference database pointing to increasingly richer full text documents being managed by Resource Centres and their partners. It was agreed that there is a need to develop a clear understanding of the implication on IPR and copyright issues of the shift to offering full text or images, and to ensure existence of strategies to maintain appropriate `ownership' of content archived in a variety of digital formats.
The Workshop noted that the old distinction between the formal scientific literature and the `grey' or `fugitive' variety was increasingly being re-evaluated. It was acknowledged that the inclusion of `grey' material has been a relative strength of AGRIS. The growth of e-journals and other valuable but inherently informal publishing channels has led to an increasing volume of agricultural literature which does not conform to established documentation norms, but which needs to be made more accessible. It was agreed that WAICENT and the AGRIS / CARIS Resource Centres must ensure that the AGRIS / CARIS Network is a key enabler and catalyst to establish this new model of agricultural information management in the 21st century.
The following major recommendations and agreements emerged from the discussion session of the Workshop:
As part of the First Consultation on Agricultural Information Management (COAIM) held at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome 5-7th June 2000, a workshop was conducted on the role of information and communication technologies in rural development and food security. There were approximately 25 participants in the workshop from a range of public and private sector organizations.
These papers constituted the background for discussions on the implementation and building of partnerships for information and communication technology (ICT) related activities. Workshop participants agreed that both papers represent an accurate synthesis of the issues and assessments of ongoing efforts to apply ICTs to rural development and food security.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs), and particularly the Internet, are transforming broad areas where information is a central activity, including rural development and food security. The transformation is based on the opportunities for individuals and communities to be information producers as well as consumers; in addition it builds on and integrates the capacities of other media (e.g. radio and television). The advent of ICTs and the Internet is enabling increasingly low-cost access and distribution of information, and also facilitates interactive participation in the creation and use of information. In this process there is a priority role for generating and distributing public information. This in turn is transforming organizations everywhere which create, manage and distribute information.
The social context and the emerging information culture of ICTs should be given higher priority than purely technical and commercial considerations would imply. While the Internet is impacting on the commercial sector, there is a need for a parallel transformation in the concepts and practices of those institutions with responsibility in the public and non-profit sectors to reflect the new opportunities presented by ICTs.
ICTs offer the unprecedented opportunity for decentralizing information access and creation. This in turn brings demand-led innovation to all spheres of information-intensive activities, resulting in a change in the mode of information development and management, requiring a networked rather than a centralized approach.
There is a need to integrate the currently fragmented institutional experiences applying ICTs to rural development and food security.
Current government policy on the use of ICTs is primarily directed towards the management of telecommunications infrastructure. Rural populations are disadvantaged with regard to access to information and supporting ICTs.
There is a need for broad-based and equitable access to ICTs in rural areas consistent with ongoing processes of decentralization, democratization and policy revisions, in the context of global and national governance considerations.
There is a further need for the adjustment of policies and awareness-raising with respect to capacity building in the context of emerging ICT opportunities.
A specific policy regime needs to be established to ensure equitable access for rural populations to information and ICTs.
There is a need for high-level "championing" of the use of ICTs for development which would include a coalition of stakeholders and new institutional partnerships.
FAO, in conjunction with other agencies, should develop draft policies in support of the application of ICTs in rural development.
ICTs for rural development are not given sufficient priority in national budgets. Strategies for financial sustainability for the use of ICTs in rural development need to be formulated.
The development of open and proactive policies for the rural telecommunication sector is releasing considerable demand for expansion of service. Such changes should proceed within a context of social accountability and attention to the needs of under-served populations. A portion of revenue from telecommunications should be used to support and promote the expansion of ICT infrastructure in rural areas.
Investments in ICTs should be assessed in the context of their contributions to long-term human capital development in areas such as health care, skills development (e.g. for employment), continuing education and environmental management.
There is a need to provide investment and policy structures to stimulate initial demand (thereby reducing investment risk) for rural ICTs and to facilitate the leverage of investments in infrastructure.
There is a need to develop ICT strategies for rural areas taking into consideration differences in language, culture, socio-economic conditions and infrastructure. There is also a need to encourage the private sector to invest in the design of ICTs appropriate for use in rural areas.
The opportunity exists for individuals and communities to become content developers, to appropriate the technology and to create the information resources that respond to their needs.
The socio-economic context should be integral to the design of ICT projects. Local initiatives should be encouraged to explore the opportunities presented by ICTs and incorporate participatory communication and learning processes. Appropriate methodologies for needs assessments should be implemented (e.g. participatory rural communication appraisal).
Projects should be undertaken to examine the specific requirements for the selection and use of ICTs in rural development (e.g. technological solutions and standards for information collection, processing and storage specific to rural areas), with special consideration for cultural and linguistic diversity.
ICTs should be linked to traditional communication forms to meet identified needs and reach specific groups (e.g. rural radio linked to the Internet).
There is a need to move away from centrally maintained reservoirs of information towards an approach which links widely distributed information resources with a variety of providers.
The realization of the opportunities offered by ICTs for rural development and food security require a culture of information and new skills.
There is a need to build awareness among decision makers and stakeholders, including regional organizations, on the need for investment in ICT capacity building at all levels of formal and non-formal education. This includes training development workers to incorporate ICTs in their activities. Furthermore, emphasis should be placed on training women and youth in using ICTs and ensuring the inclusion of disadvantaged groups.
The private sector should be encouraged to extend its current involvement in technical training for ICTs to rural areas and efforts should be made to ensure new opportunities for training in open source as well as proprietary software.
There is currently a shortage of content, applications and access to existing data of particular interest to rural development and food security. Beyond physical access, data need to be timely, retrievable and easily applied by a broad range of users.
There exists now the opportunity for participation by small and decentralized content providers, ensuring that information is available in local languages and reflects local cultures.
Information providers, such as FAO and other rural development agencies, should further facilitate access to their resources. Procedures should also be implemented to enable feedback and widen participation in the development of these information resources.
The information needs of various users should be identified in order to develop user-specific, locally-sensitive content and applications. The role of civil society and the private sector is a key one in this identification process.
Rural development institutions should provide support at local level for rural people to generate their own content and applications.
Information about the use and impact of ICTs in rural development is at present incomplete.
There is a need to extend the monitoring, evaluation and documentation of successful and unsuccessful applications of ICTs for rural development and to develop models for identifying strategic future investments and programmes.
Research and pilot projects on the role of ICTs in support of rural development should be extended.
As part of the First Consultation on Agricultural Information Management (COAIM), held at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome, 5-7th June 2000, the ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation (CTA), organized a workshop in collaboration with FAO, on "impact assessment (IA) for information system development". There were approximately 30 participants in the workshop from a range of public and private sector organizations in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, as well as representatives of international organizations.
Discussions were based on the knowledge and experience of participants as well as material from the following background documents:
Impact assessment is a tool for measuring qualitative and quantitative changes arising from intended and unintended effects of programme and project activities.
IA is an essential part of the planning process, and is a mechanism for ongoing institutional learning. Lessons learnt from IA can be fed back into subsequent activities so that mistakes are not repeated. Return on investment can be demonstrated and accountability ensured. Outcomes can be evaluated against objectives, and the benefits of information activities can be measured.
The full value of information activities is not always appreciated. Information is often seen as a subject for librarians or computer technicians, rather than as an integral part of every agricultural programme. One by-product of this situation is that most information programmes are not systematically monitored, evaluated, or assessed. Public sector organizations in particular tend to place insufficient emphasis on the measurement of information programme results. Individuals and organizational units concerned with assessment are often not integrated into planning and implementation processes, and their outputs are not used.
Impact assessment should be part of a normal project cycle. This will involve an examination of project preparation, project implementation, and changes that have been brought about by the project.
In the preparation phase, emphasis will be on capturing the current situation, i.e. the situation before any activities are put in place, the needs, objectives and purpose of the intervention, the target audience and its environment, what is being proposed and what outcomes are expected.
In reviewing project implementation, attention should be paid to content, delivery, quantity and cost, quality and use.
The assessment of changes brought about by the project should be examined on five levels : the individual, the community, the institution or organization, the nation and the global environment and the individuals and organizations doing the assessment. At each of these levels, the assessment process should take account of changes in knowledge, attitudes, behaviours and actions, skills, and socio-economic environments.
FAO, CTA, and other organizations should develop and promote impact assessment for agricultural information programmes and projects. The aim of such initiatives should be to ensure that IA becomes an integral part of the planning and implementation cycle.
The following mechanisms should have priority.