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Panel discussion 2: Towards new modalities of international cooperation
Coordinator: lnes Wesley-Tanaskovic
The Panel, chaired by Ines Wesley-Tanaskovic as moderator, was composed of the following members: Charles Cooper, UNU Institute for New Technologies, The Netherlands; Carlos Correa, Programa Regional de Cooperación en Informática y Microelectrónica, Argentina; Meinolf Dierkes, Science Center Berlin, Germany; Martha Stone, International Development Research Centre, Canada; and Hisao Yamada, National Center for Science Information Systems, Japan.
I. Wesley-Tanaskovic introduced the discussion by stating that the Symposium started with at least two underlying assumptions: (1) that "expanding access to science" is for the "benefit of mankind," and (2) that in this process the new information technologies, opening new perspectives, have an important "positive" or enhancing role to play.
Consequently, two questions have been raised from the beginning, she said, and the objective of the Symposium has been to try to answer them: (1) what effect have the new information technologies had so far on the access to science (and technology to a certain degree), and (2) what developments can be expected in this respect in the future?
On the basis of this analysis, she proposed that one might also forecast what kind of impact the information technologies will exert on international cooperation for expanding access to science, which is an international endeavour per se, and to technology, which is increasingly "science dependent."
She recalled that this last aspect, i.e. international cooperation, had been emphasized throughout the Symposium, at Panel 1 and in several papers, especially those in Session 5. There, the potential of information technologies was examined in the light of cooperation in ensuring access to science and technology, but more particularly in the development of information technologies and the design of information systems. A synthesis of the views on international cooperation, presented so far during the Symposium, was to be given at Panel 2, which would add the views expressed by members of the Panel. But first, she stressed, two considerations should be kept in mind:
First, "access to science" is not necessarily the same as "access to technology," which often comprises the so-called "transfer of technology." Therefore, when dealing here with international cooperation in access to science and technology, those aspects of technology are dealt with that are related to the application of scientific results and that are of free access, in the "pre-competitive phase" of R&D. The legal and other issues of property rights, restricted access, contractual conditions, and the like are not of concern here, notwithstanding their importance.
Second, "international cooperation" as perceived at the UNU, the "academic arm of the UN system," is different from the approach of the other UN and intergovernmental organizations. This is clearly stated in the Charter of this University, where it is said that the UNU should enhance communication among scholars and between scholars and the other communities, with the intention to disseminate worldwide and without any discrimination the results of scholarly work. In order to achieve this goal at the global level, particular attention must be given to the needs and conditions in developing countries, with the purpose to ensure their full involvement and partnership.
At the same time, it is said in the UNU Charter that in propagating ideas and results, the UNU enjoys complete academic freedom in the selection of topics and the expression of ideas. Therefore, the patterns or the modalities of international cooperation used by the UNU are different, and must be different, from those practiced by others, e.g. Unesco or UNIDO or other UN organizations that are also active in scientific and technical information transfer "for the benefit of mankind."
Developing this basic concept, I. Wesley-Tanaskovic said that innovative models of international cooperation, using new information technologies, introducing "intelligence" in man-machine systems and in communications networks should be promoted by the UNU. This would enable the transition from old applications to new ones, even without knowing exactly today what tomorrow's technical possibilities will be, since advanced systems could be readily integrated/upgraded as they become available. Technology offers vast new opportunities, but only if people have the imagination to grasp them. "User-oriented" or "human centred" design of information systems should be "technology-knowledgeable," as already stated at the Symposium. This means, she said, that systems design should take into account the constraints vs. the potentials of existing and future technologies, and progress one step ahead of the existing technologies - setting requirements, demands, and challenges to technological development.
She concluded that one should not forget that this Symposium is an activity in the UNU series "Frontiers of Science and Technology." It is, therefore, its mandate to look ahead - to the "real new world of computing."
It was stressed from the start of the Panel 2 discussion that generation, dissemination, and application of knowledge are critically important and will become even more so in the development process. This process is dependent on international cooperation, collaboration, and sharing to foster equity of access to scientific endeavours and to technology for social and economic benefit. Perhaps the most vital difference between developed and developing, rich and poor, is the knowledge gap - the capacity to generate, acquire, and use scientific and technological knowledge.
In relation to this topic, the mission of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada, was described as encapsulated into one phrase, "empowerment through knowledge," which is considered the key element in the development of nations, peoples, communities, and individuals:
The capacity to conduct research is therefore a necessary condition for development. IDRC has dedicated its resources to creating, maintaining, and enhancing research capacity in developing regions, in response to needs that are determined by the people of those regions in the interest of equity and social justice.
As part of its new strategic framework, IDRC continues to build upon its global perspective on mobilizing science and technology for development objectives, building bridges across continents and putting development-country researchers and policy-makers in contact with each other.
A main component is the identification of communalities in development problems and solutions, fostering comparative research across regions, countries, and cultures, thereby allowing widely different developing countries to learn from one another.
We have witnessed the beginning of several major groups of change in this decade which will influence our future in ways that are still unimaginable.
Of these groups, which include the rapidly shifting political environment, explosive growth in social demands in developing regions, major transformation in the patterns of world economic interdependence, of principal interest to us, here today, is the group of change concerned with the plethora of technological advances that, while opening up new opportunities for some countries, will likely create deeper and more intractable problems for others.
The new science based technologies have emerged in the last two decades at a pace which can be described as an explosion. Many of these technologies, which we have discussed in the past two days, are highly flexible and mobile, allowing for rapid and continuous modifications and improvements. As such, they are fast changing the way in which the inter national marketplace has functioned since 1945. Individuals, groups, and nations actively participating in the generation and exchange of these new technologies will prosper in the emerging new order; those left behind will become increasingly marginalized, and the risk of marginalization is particularly severe for the least developed countries. (M. Stone)
As an example, an introductory programme statement was made concerning the work of the Information Sciences and Systems Division (ISSD) of the IDRC, which is directed towards improving the management and use of scientific and technical information in support of development:
General objectives influence the program of work for the ISSD, including better access and use of knowledge required for development research; improved collaboration by exchanging information and experience to stimulate cooperation and coordination in development research; capacity-building within developing countries for better management of information and effective application of knowledge. Principal among these objectives are: information innovation - the enabling of developing countries to benefit from applied research into problems of sharing and using knowledge for development, and on ways to improve and adapt information systems, methods, and technologies.
To achieve these objectives, increased emphasis has been placed on supporting applied research on information and communications issues.
The research agenda has and will continue to be defined in partnership with developing countries and regions, enabling them to play a more substantial role in a field that to date has largely excluded them. The program includes innovation and adaptation of modern information technologies, as well as research on policy, economic, and other issues that influence the successful introduction of information technologies and systems.
The program focuses on electronics-based technologies which can be used to collect, store, process, package and communicate information and provide access to knowledge. These are technologies which clearly can be integrated with computing capacity, and are at the "leading edge" of development to ensure that developing regions can have some experience with their design, adaptation, and use before the development/ introduction cycle fully solidifies and excludes their interest. (M. Stone)
The information technologies that are included in the ISSD/IDRC programme were enumerated, exemplifying the broad scope of this programme dedicated to the developing countries:
Technologies for information acquisition and management; and effective systems design, development and integration.
- remote sensing via new systems - radar satellites, automated surveys, various computer-related input methods
- expert systems techniques for data analysis; image analysis and pattern recognition
- spatial information handling via Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
- software and system design development.
Technologies for knowledge access: to add value to the information base and help turn it into knowledge; or to provide access to already-packaged knowledge.
- communication technologies for networking, the introduction, transfer, and use of information technologies in developing countries
- expert systems and other knowledge-engineering methods
- artificial intelligence applications
- computer assisted training.
Knowledge-communicating technologies - i.e. hypertext, multimedia integration with computing, and video-based techniques. (M. Stone)
In addition, the place in the ISSD/IDRC programme of future research on information technology policies and policy instruments (informatics and telecommunications) was indicated:
- social, economic and political impact studies dealing with the introduction, transfer, and use of information technologies in developing countries
- technology methods, information research, networking of information technology research, dissemination of research results
- cooperation with institutions supporting information technology research
- providing selective support to prototype activities in capacity development with other development assistance agencies with common goals and interests
- highly selective infrastructure development
- centres of excellence, model technology programs, in developing regions fostering South/South transfer, etc. (M. Stone)
In concluding the description of the IDRC, cited as an example of ongoing work, it was underlined that the Centre has just emerged from a massive restructuring exercise that has resulted in a leaner information science programme, but one with an extremely high profile, responding to the mission statement of "empowerment through knowledge." What is new in this restructuring for the ISSD is the new focus on research and impact evaluation. It is said that one must be able to demonstrate concretely, in ways that are understood and accepted by resource allocators, that information technologies are critical tools in the decision-making process at all levels: from the institutions/communities to the highest country/regional levels.
The IDRC is currently involved in such a long-term research project that will explore the possibility of assessing the impact/relevance of information technologies on the development process. It is stressed that the "indicators" must be built into a project or system at the time of design, and not after it has been completed, to ensure the focus of its output or impact:
This [the IDRC research project] is divided into three phases. A theoretical discussion via a closed computer conference with a group of international experts in the field of information science. Following the report of this conference, a meeting of highly specialized information practitioners and users, concerned with the developing countries issues, will consider this theoretical framework and they will attempt to devise the criteria for creating assessment indicators - not input indicators. Following this, two or three new projects will be selected to field test the results from the earlier activities.... Already a project in health policy formulation for Uganda has been identified as a likely field test technology. Inexpensive satellite and PC linkage is already being used with medical practitioners, researchers, and extension workers in this country to disseminate requested information. What is needed now is to be able to answer with clarity what difference does it make. (M. Stone)
In respect to the Symposium discussion, it was pointed out that the challenge for the future is to cooperate internationally on evaluating the benefits from information and communications systems and determining for whose benefit they are being developed.
The point was raised repeatedly that it is inability to demonstrate relevance to the users or impact on the development process that prevents the allocation of adequate financial resources for the provision of even very important information services, especially in/for the developing countries.
There was a report on one case of setting up an information system adapted to users' needs in a highly industrialized country that showed how the National Center for Science Information Systems (NACSIS) of Japan contributes to academia through its database (DB) and communication technologies:
NACSIS is one of the National Inter-University Research Institutes under the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Japan. Its mission is to gather, organize and provide scholarly information, as well as to carry out research and development of scholarly information DBs and their service system.
NACSIS presently provides services on 40 academic DBs of various origins to the academic community of Japan and abroad. These DBs include (1) secondary and primary information DBs imported from abroad, (2) secondary information DBs created by NACSIS, (3) DBs created in collaboration with academic societies and the like (including full-text DBs), (4) repository DBs of academic research teams and other organizations, and (5) catalogue DBs (including those constructed in NACSIS).
They are presently serviced on-line via NACSIS's own communication network to libraries of about 200 universities and organizations and to several thousand individual academic researchers both in Japan and, on trial-basis, to some universities and other institutions abroad.
One unique category of DB on academic conference papers titles and abstracts within three months of the conferences. This will keep researchers globally aware on who is doing what and where in Japan. It serves to keep the Japanese researchers aware of the utmost front-line of research in Japan. This will make interdisciplinary cross-fertilization active as well as make Japanese contribution visible to the world. (H. Yamada)
Illustrating the decisive importance of strong motivation for access to scientific information, in finding ways and means to get to information sources, even under most unfavourable conditions, an interesting example was described relating to Japan:
Developing countries ask for information. But I'll tell you an episode. During the Occupation by Allied Forces after World War II, we were not allowed to import foreign books. So I went to what is now the American Center Library in Tokyo and took out a book and hand-copied the entire book, and it was used by my fellow students and even my professor. That is the way Japan achieved its present status. I am not suggesting that this is the way to do it now. But when there is will, there should be a way. (H. Yamada)
In connection with this, a provocative question was raised:
Sometimes we are wrongly accused of hiding information. But when we publish journals in English, besides journals in our language, very few copies are sold. Do they really need information [those who accuse us]? (H. Yamada)
In the light of experiences with the use of information technologies to improve access to scientific knowledge in general and the results of international cooperation in this field aimed to improve the situation in the developing countries (discussed in Panel 1), it was stated that the rapid technological progress in the area of telecommunications and informatics does open new opportunities for developing countries to improve their information systems. However, caution was advocated:
Technology by itself cannot solve all problems. While the cost of equipment has declined substantially, telecommunications costs are unaffordable for many countries. Training of personnel to use the technology is also required. In many cases, the most suited solutions may be based on the use of old technologies or in their blending in various forms with the new ones. Due attention should be paid, moreover, to peculiarities of demand for information in developing countries, where there is no tradition to use databases, and to the problems of existing information retrieval systems still present there.... The obstacles are numerous and important, including language difficulties, high cost of acquiring primary literature, low relevance of available information to local problems and lack of recognition of information role and value. Decisions at the public and private level are often taken on the basis of incomplete and/or outdated information, which obviously affects the quality of decisions. Therefore, the role of public agencies should not be limited to satisfying existing demands: they should also help to develop and expand such demands. (C. Correa)
The current trend towards privatization of scientific results and the expanding scope of intellectual property rights in industrialized countries may further restrict flows of scientific knowledge to developing countries:
The trends towards a growing protectionism and privatization of scientific knowledge need to be mentioned. Four main factors can be mentioned in this regard: (a) there are new restrictions in some countries for the participation of foreign researchers or students in certain activities or courses; (b) universities and scientists have become more conservative in the publication of research results, whenever there is a likely application thereof for commercial purposes; (c) new forms of government intervention have emerged in this field; and (d) the expansion of intellectual property laws is blurring the distinction between discovery and invention. These trends may have substantial impact not only on the access by developing countries to science but also on scientific development in the long term. (C. Correa)
In spite of the considerable scope and important achievements of international cooperation in providing access to science and technology all over the world, especially in the past two decades, it has been said that there appears to be an urgent need to expand and strengthen actions in this direction:
If not done [international cooperation], developing countries may be growing left out of the main contemporary scientific development.... Such a cooperation should be based on the self-identification of problems by the developing countries concerned. It should emphasize the creation of absorptive capabilities - projects based only on the provision of equipment are clearly insufficent -, focus on the demand side via an active promotion of and education on the use of the information systems, and develop cost-effective solutions. International cooperation should create awareness on available technological alternatives and consider the establishment or enhancement of information systems as a process rather than as a single action. [International] cooperative activities should also take into account current changes in economic approaches in some developing countries and encourage the participation of the private sector in the building up and exploitation of information capabilities. (C. Correa)
In further reflection on the problem of scientific and technical information adapted to users' needs and peculiarities, which was emphasized many times during the discussion from different points of view, the importance of the broad vision of the closely integrated cultural diversity in the "global village" was stressed. This aspect is considered as essential for the success of international cooperation:
On the basis of the discussions here in Tokyo, it may be desirable . . . to advocate a large-scale international and multidisciplinary collaborative effort to enhance the relevant [information] technologies- as outlined by our contributors- in a culturally sensitive, fair, and economically sound manner. This includes a careful assessment of the possible social, economic, political, and cultural consequences of such a joint global effort to convert into reality what today seems to be a desirable and feasible vision for technological development. As with other technologies, one should bear in mind that even such a convincing vision may have indirect and unforeseen side-effects that some, or even most, people may consider undesirable. Those effects should therefore be avoided when building international cooperation to bring the vision of flexible information-processing closer to reality. (M. Dierkes)
Other comments on international cooperation advanced by several discussants were oriented towards three main topics:
- Scarcity of available funding for developing new modalities of international cooperation that would, on the one hand, satisfy needs and, on the other, exploit the full potential of new information technologies (J. Tocatlian, M. Stone, G. Johannsen, N. Dusoulier);
- Most "appropriate" information technologies, especially for use in the developing countries (J. Ally, D. Lide, M. Almada de Ascencio, C. Correa);
- Task force for follow-up action after the Symposium (Armada de Ascencio, M. Stone, N. Dusoulier, M. Dierkes).
Considering the funds available, especially with regard to support for the South, it was said that the industrialized countries have many economic problems to solve and might divert funds from development programmes, while the "West" is increasingly turning its attention to Eastern Europe. Though recognizing this tendency, it was further said that nowadays priorities have changed and that large, expensive projects get support, e.g. in the European Community (EC), to the detriment of smaller ones. It was therefore important to persuade the high levels of decision-making to re-allocate more funds for science and technology, and the relevant information systems, by demonstrating their overall social and economic impact.
One response to the disturbing trends mentioned should be to strengthen the close collaboration and pooling of resources among all the agents involved in international cooperation for development, bringing together both public and private sources. Another condition for attracting funds is the preparation of proposals of high quality, corresponding to the real needs, that would create systems for the benefit of large user communities.
In further comment on the last point, the habitual question was raised about the "appropriate" technologies for the less developed countries. While some voices were heard in favour of less sophisticated systems for the South, most participants stressed the fact that for the so-called "developing" countries, the new information technologies are indeed the most "appropriate." However, it is important to have the projects for systems defined by the concerned users, i.e. countries. Some of them might need basics, while others require advanced solutions, but they themselves must decide. One should be reminded that it is a characteristic of the latest advances in information technologies that they are usually the most efficient, powerful, easy to implement, and hence the cheapest for the user.
In this connection N. Streitz made the observation that this Symposium had offered a unique opportunity for a meeting between two distinct groups of practitioners: the researchers presenting the state of the art of information technologies, and the specialists involved in international cooperation of information and communication systems. Their encounter, a rare occasion, was judged as inspiring and fruitful: both groups have learned from each other. The question was raised about what kind of interaction would be envisaged in the future.
There was a general feeling that the Symposium, notwithstanding the publication of its proceedings, should not constitute a single event without follow-up. The goals of the Symposium require continuous action. Many questions had been raised, but only a few answers could be given in the short time of three days. The request was made and strongly supported that the United Nations University should find ways to continue the process initiated by this Symposium.
In the future, the UNU, by initiating and co-sponsoring studies and pilot projects, which would show how an innovative idea really "works," should continue its activities in this field, closely linking its efforts to those of other organizations that conduct similar regional and international projects.
As a possible mechanism, the establishment of a task group was proposed that would, taking advantage of the excellent papers and the rich discussions heard here, identify the most promising areas for international cooperative activities in the future.
Closing the discussion, I. Wesley-Tanaskovic stated that:
1. One major conclusion could be drawn from the Panel discussions: new information technologies offer manifold opportunities for opening an era of more flexible global communications.
The use of new information technologies may exacerbate, instead of reduce, the gap that separates the industrialized societies from those in development. However, thanks to their potential ubiquitous availability, when used in an appropriate way, they are able to combat many obstacles more efficiently than before - among others, the trend towards privatization of scientific outputs - and thus foster their applications for social and economic development. The new information technologies, facilitating communication in the "global village," may help to preserve linguistic diversity and eliminate the cultural problems of access to knowledge, intellectual experience, and indigenous expression.
In access to knowledge (science and technology) era of rigid centralized information systems has irrevocably gone. Fortunately, technology can be directed to create user-oriented and user-defined networks that will outperform (and have already outperformed in many instances) the centralized models of information systems, which create "isolation" by their limited views and not by the limited access to the data in their files. At the same time, technology enables the interfacing to a variety of networks through the modern multi-task (multimedia) terminal of the user, while the universal "intelligent" networks will ensure global communications among this variety of local networks.
The countries called "developing" are those that would benefit most from the creation of local networks, adapted to their needs, connected in a flexible "network of networks," provided adequate planning and funding for an efficient communications infrastructure become available. This is considered a priority for the developing world: building modern communication networks that could support all the local value-added information systems, comprising those dealing with access to science and technology.
Thus, "mastering new networking technologies" might become a priority area for research and training oriented mainly to responding to the present needs of the developing countries. This could follow up the UNU project of "mastering microprocessor technologies" that was initiated in the early 1980s and at present involves several universities in the South.
2. The other conclusion, which obtained full consensus during the Panel session, is that international cooperation in this field is of critical importance for everybody - for the developing countries first of all, but for the industrialized societies as well.
Global development is interdependent and the lagging behind of the major part of the world is jeopardizing the welfare of all. Moreover, in this field of rapid technological advances that require many and varied human resources, the denial to a large part of humanity of the possibility to face this challenge and to actively contribute to scientific and technological progress is inequitable but also counterproductive. At the global level, much of the human potential is being irreparably lost.
Therefore, a commensurate effort is needed to propagate these views in order to obtain overall cooperation and the funding required to include those parts of the world that cannot afford technological development using their own resources.
3. At the end, the panel recommended that the United Nations University should find ways and means to follow up on the deliberations of the Symposium, continuing the interface between all the various relevant professional groups, and the development funding agencies, public and private, interested in international cooperation for enhancing access to science and technology.
Roland J. Fuchs, Vice-Rector, The United Nations University
Friends and colleagues,
The hour is late and, after three very full days, I trust you will forgive me for making my closing remarks very brief ones. There is in any case very little to say beyond what has already been said.
Our conference was based on several assumptions that I believe were con firmed in the course of our meetings:
(1) That the telecommunication, computer, and related information technologies together represent a fundamental technological revolution with profound and far-reaching implications;
(2) That increasingly the wealth of nations will rest on access to knowledge and development of the so-called knowledge-based industries;
(3) That the emerging information technologies, rather than "broadening the community of learning and knowledge," as we may hope, could serve instead to widen the economic and knowledge gaps between nations.
Our meetings gave us cause for both hope and concern:
- We were provided with an overview of the various exciting frontiers of in formation technology;
- While not every prospect necessarily pleases, even a novice (as I most assuredly am) could not help but be excited by the vistas opening not only for science and technology, but for humankind more generally;
- This is indeed a testament to the imagination and dedication of many of you in this room and the communities of scientists and technologists you represent;
- However, one could also not help but notice that this technological progress, not unexpectedly, is being driven by the internal imperatives of the research communities and the perceived market opportunities for the private sector;
- In reviewing this progress, one senses little explicit concern with the applications of these technologies to increasing the access of LDCs to science and technology, and their benefits;
- The nature of the gap between developed countries and underdeveloped countries was dramatically illustrated by the example of Japan on the one hand planning a nationwide fibre optic network to be completed within 20-30 years at a cost of 200-300 billion dollars, while many developing countries, on the other hand, cannot even look forward to a reliable phone system in that span of time. We received also many examples of the lopsided international distribution of databases, computers, and information technology generally.
Therefore, there was a particular interest in those sessions, papers, and discussions that dealt explicitly with this problem of expanding access to science and technology and the role of international cooperation. Progress in the development of science and technology will certainly go on with or without those of us in this room, even without the eminent researchers present, but international cooperation at this point in time is very much dependent on several organizations represented at this conference - the UN agencies, selected scientific and scholarly organizations, several national information centres, and organizations such as the IDRC. But, however important, these organizations can only do a part of what is required; we desperately need the help of leading researchers and the private sector. One result of this conference we hope is that some of you will turn your interest and talents to the problems of developing countries and imaginative ways of overcoming the technological gap.
In conclusion, on behalf of the UNU, I wish to extend our sincere thanks to those who made this conference possible - our co-organizer Kyoto University, especially President Imura and past President Nishijima, our financial supporter Fujitsu Corporation, our scientific organizers Dr. Araki, Dr. Tocatlian, and Ms. Wesley-Tanaskovic. I would also like to acknowledge the assistance of Sir John Kendrew from the time the meeting was first considered some two years ago. Finally, our warmest thanks to each of you who took the trouble to participate, despite the many competing demands on your time.
We are grateful to you all and we hope to involve you in our future activities. We remain open to your suggestions and ideas at any time.
Except for those who must meet tomorrow morning, I now declare the conference closed.
Domo Arigato Gozaimashita- Sayonara.
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