Information Infrastructure in Developing Countries : the African Case Abdoulaye GAYE Chairman CODATA Senegal, CODATA AFRICA Coordinator Information Sharing, Cooperation & Collaboration William Wulf has defined collaboration, thus cooperation as a “centre without walls” where users can “perform their research without regard to geographical location interacting with colleagues, accessing instrumentation and applications, sharing data & computational resources, and accessing information in digital libraries”. We fully agree with him in the light of experience in developing countries like ours which are in absolute need of data sharing, while dealing with poverty alleviation, education, agriculture, water management, biodiversity, environment and human health etc. The list is endless for social needs in Africa and we need to help solve them through : Realization of efficient scientific research activities in the developing countries especially in Africa Utilization of the tools offered by ICT for scientific research collaboration- Integration of African countries into the international scientific community Avoidance of information isolation and reduction of “brain drain” The main focus is always the impact of data exchange on sustainable national and regional development in the specific conditions in Africa. Collaborative Results should help each nation or region to address its own specific problems while sharing its research findings and data that are useful to all. Requirements Sharing a visionary view of the importance of cross-discipline research in solving scientific problems and the necessity of sharing STI in computer revolution to allow progress in the future Reaching consensus and agreements on the conceptual level to maximizing the potential of the national and regional Information Infrastructure through networking. Another major problem inhibiting access to data is the lack of directories that describe what data sets exists, where they are located and how users can access them. The lack of adequate directories adversely affects the exploitation of our national and regional data resources and leads to unnecessary duplication of efforts and waste of time. Review of the wide variety of approaches to S&T data exchange and integration and barriers to overcome : In many cases, the existence of data is unknown outside the original scientific groups or agencies that generated them and even if known, frequently enough information is not provided for a potential user to access their relevance and usefulness. The need for cross-discipline efforts to share across application areas Information modelling in the specific conditions in Africa. A lot of the archived data may become inaccessible because they are not regularly migrated to new storage media as the hardware and software used to access the data become obsolete or inoperable. Human factors data should be considered : an additional level of problems to data sharing and integration such as privacy, political correctness, cross-cultural differences and reliability (with emphasis placed on lessons learned) Getting decision-makers understand those (scientists and engineers) who contribute more to solutions than problems A hard look at the facts : on population, on food needs, on environmental responses to health problems, on the need for rapid shifts in uses of energy, materials and other resources Binded to a common dependence on the steady advance of technological capability The Implementation of CODATA - AFRICA All the African participants to the CODATA AFRICA workshop held July 2000 in Dakar have signed an agreement on the making and conduct of a “CODATA AFRICA” entity which goals and aims are as following : 1. The implementation of an African Task Group to take a critical look at the knowledge based economy so that we can re-orient our activities to support national and regional development goals; as already accepted by the CODATA Executive Committee and General Assembly. 2. In so doing we place emphasis on content and relevance to our national and regional development aspirations, seize the opportunity to „leapfrogging‟ into the new information economy. Our new Task Group “Scientific Data Sources in Africa” (based on DSAO model) is trying to reach to several countries within the continent with the view to sensitizing scientists about the activities of CODATA. 3. The CODATA AFRICA initiative would create an integrated and adaptive Information Infrastructure and related processes for providing ready access to the national resource of scientific data and related information. This effort will support the needs of data originators, users, and custodians across all phases of the data life cycle. 4. The establishment of a discussion list server to keep on with the positions that have been initiated in Dakar and ultimately we should aim at cooperating at the regional level and have the North, West, East and South African Groups set up. 5. A survey of the S &T Research Potential in order to obtain information on African factual and numerical data collections with directories and summaries of current research projects, centers of expertise and individual scientific qualifications and experiences. This program will help the local scientific community in Africa take advantage of the opportunities and expertise offered by CODATA International (and DSAO in some extent) which has made a commitment to assist scientific research institutes and the local scientific community by organizing web based training programs in the area of database development. We will focus then on estimation of biodiversity, water management, environment and health- related consequences on human health and on ecosystems. By the end of the next biennium, formats for the data and the general structure of an integrated multidisciplinary database will be developed. This database is assumed to satisfy the following minimum requirements for working as effective research-support tool: step-by- step development of small-sized single discipline databases before their integration, clarification of data sources, reliability of systematically covered data within a specific area, and user-friendliness in search, analysis, estimation, simulation, presentation and visualization interfaces. We will develop a practical multidisciplinary database prototype. This will help us move to a short to long time-scale advanced database with functions for data analysis and estimation as well as for data validation, presentation and visualization. These problem-oriented databases will include a thesaurus of terms and key words. At the national, regional and international levels CODATA AFRICA members (Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa) are working in numerous fields and are involved in several scientific workshops and symposia. They are committed to help their governments and parliaments to adopt and implement comprehensive strategies to alleviate poverty, with explicit target for access to health, education, safe water, roads, energy and – specially – telecommunications. Visualization of ICSU – CODATA Activities in AFRICA CODATA Senegal has developed since 1997, the very first bilingual (French and English) CODATA - AFRICA Web Page in the whole region and has organized 2 successful International CODATA AFRICA Workshops in 2000 and 2002. Those are contributing to publicizing and more visibility for both ICSU and CODATA and maintain a high standard of connection and networking of data and publications between African scientists, engineers, teachers and the worldwide scientific community. http://www.codata.sn/homeeng.htm and / or http://www.codata.sn The highly successful Second International CODATA AFRICA Workshop on “Scientific Data for Decision Making Toward Sustainable Development: Senegal River Basin Case Study” was held this spring (March 11 – 15, 2002) in Dakar in cooperation with the US National Committee for CODATA, the National Science Foundation and the US National Academies. This workshop has examined data sources and data handling in the West Africa region, using the Senegal River Basin as a case study, to determine how these scientific and technical data assets are or can be better used in decision making related to sustainable development.
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