Intercept: Proposal for infoDev activity

Local involvement and training

Early involvement of local partners

Reviewer 3: The partnership with actors in the developing countries is not enough developed. It is not something that should come after developing the product but before, because what is at stake is the capacity of the partners to accept and appropriate the product and use it extensively. They will not be able to do so if they are not closely associated to the development of the product and trained to modern information technology required by the product.

The partnerships with actors in India has been developing steadily in the past eighteen months, through the Ford Foundation project and other DA initiatives. The local partners are contributing to the design of the service. Some partners house communication nodes which are part of the DAINET system. They also receive technology training and infrastructure support, where needed, by DAINET.

An extension of these local partnerships for infoDev will be involvement of Indian actors who volunteer themselves as potential users of the service for sustainable development information. Some Indians contacts have already been made as a result of attendance at the IUCN World Wilderness Congress in Bangalore this October.

As a complement to this project, stakeholders in other developing countries who access the service via the internet would also provide feedback and suggest alternatives that might better meet their current needs. As noted elsewhere, any stakeholder associated with the service, as a provider of information is necessarily part of the development of the service. Involvement of such developing country "partners", both formal and informal, will clarify their special needs for support. These needs will be automated, where possible; where not, in India DAINET will deliver training, support and advisory services; support services in other countries would need to be developed as an extension project of this current one.

Partnership arrangements for formalizing the involvement of local stakeholders in other countries are in discussion phase. Interested potential partners include communities and/or organizations in the Scottish highlands, Palestine and aboriginal Australia. Any such developments would be separately funded outside of this infoDev project.

Capacity building

Reviewer 3: Capacity building aspects should be taken into account. Some local staff should be associated to the development of the product

As a main partner, DA staff in New Delhi, Bangalore and elsewhere, and others associated with the DAINET activities in India are clearly associated with the development of the product.


Reviewer 3: No training of the users is scheduled in the proposal

It is correct that the proposal did not make any provision for training. The DAINET nodes and partner groups in India actively support the training needs of their users. These activities are already funded. A further consideration is that, to the extent possible, the interfaces developed for the service will facilitate self-training by users who already have some understanding of email and Web use. This approach is taken to maximize the possibility of access rather than constrain it through dependence on trained and certified users of the service (that would incur the travel and related costs of training).

Training in delivery of email and ISP technology is also largely provided through the DAINET support service and other investments in rural networking in India. However, you will see in the Workpackages that some additional training needs are now covered in this proposal, notably Workpackage No 3.

Enhancing in-country development

Reviewer 1: In its present form, the proposal leaves unanswered a number of questions which would provide linkage to the objectives of InfoDev (see above). Even if one assumes in-country demand, willingness-to-pay and technical accessibility, the project fails to clearly explain how it would significantly enhance in-country development, specifically: data provision / licensing of local companies, provision of training, user needs assessment and feedback mechanisms.

The reviewer highlights a number of specific objectives ("unanswered questions"), few of which are, in fact, stated objectives of the project.

The response to links to infoDev objectives has been given above. The issues of in-country demand, willingness-to-pay, enhancing technical accessibility, user needs and training have been covered in responses above.

On the matter of in-country development: It is assumed that enhancement of in-country development comes in some measure from access to more meaningful presentations of information offering a context for strategic choice. The focus of this project is on the provision of context for development-related information (rather than data) that may be available from a variety of sources. Context is the key to strategic responses to questions that can then be more appropriately formulated. The project uses extensive hyperlinking (horizontal and vertical relationships, vicious loops, fixed destination and open-ended search queries) as a basis for creating patterns of meaning.

On the matter of data provision and licensing of local companies: As discussed above, the concern of the project is not so much to deliver data to (or via) local companies but to establish partnerships with local bodies as user-suppliers of information enabling more insightful development decisions. Data provision and exchange are certainly goods in themselves, and will be delivered by this project, but are the first level of goods. Our primary aims are to enable greater access to information (initially in India) and to build a participative system that receives as well as disseminates information. We expect any incidental licensing needs to be largely arranged within the complementary DAINET programme.

On the matter of user feedback: As noted above, the feedback system is built into user interaction with the system as is already evident in the test implementation. User interaction is offered at the paragraph level, at the profile level, and more generally. User feedback is also designed to enable interaction between users providing such feedback in response to each other’s comments.

Integration of local components

Reviewer 1: As such, the essential local components of the project are tenuous and the proposal open to the criticism that it will support the development of capacity/revenue-generating potential of international NG0s. This is particularly true given that the advanced stage of technical development of the INFO2000 project and the broad experience of the project partners - who must surely have addressed these issues at some stage.

Some response of relevance to this comment has already been provided, notably in the section on "Partnerships" and in previous paragraphs in this section.

With respect to the suggestion that the project is designed purely in the interest of international NGOs, the earlier discussion of distributing costs to favour poorer users, the LETs system possibilities, the non-commercial ("profit-making") approach and the nature of the interactive communication tool would seem to argue against this perception. . This is especially the case given the UIA’s investment of 60 percent matching funds in the INFO2000 project.

Further to the point concerning bias towards capacity/revenue-generating potential of international NG0s at the expense of local components, we aver that (1) capacity building and revenue raising of international NGOs is scarcely a matter for censure; (2) the local components of the project are very real (unless the reviewer sees Development Alternatives with over 500 Indian staff, as an international NGO) (3) the objective of UIA is to pull out of the local scene when its capability has been shared with DA; (4) other international partners (eg WCMC) are donating their resources.

In endeavouring to further respond to this point it is useful to distinguish four forms of "local components": local information, local partners, local Web connections and localized interfaces:

With respect to local information, DAINET is creating data nodes (two directly funded by this infoDev project) and will be uploading considerable amounts of India text materials currently unavailable electronically. In addition, the profiles developed by the UIA are derived from material synthesized and supplied by international organizations with networks in every country (as profiled in a parallel UIA database) to which the problem and strategy information are hyperlinked. Interaction with Indian users will augment this information with Indian examples, issues and perspectives. Our intention is to increase the flow of South-North information (not to mention South-South information).

In linking to DA, enabling stakeholder contributions to data content and building regional and local databases, there is the notion of allowing less "sophisticated" or well-managed data as a way of encouraging rather than inhibiting participation. This is disassociated from the well-edited data with a variety of protocols which hold the data in separate files while displaying them together so they appear seamlessly related to the user.

With respect to local partners, Development Alternatives within the Indian subcontinent serves a prototypical role for "local" information services in other parts of the world. The UIA is in discussion with other groups in Scotland, Palestine and in central Australia.

With respect to local Web connections, this project is a content response to the opportunities opened by the ongoing investment in rural networking services. As the demand via these services increases, it is expected that there will be a need for the kind of relevant contextual information provided by the proposed service as a means of handling the information overload to which end users will otherwise be exposed. The DAINET programme provides the local vehicle for development content delivery.

With respect to localized interfaces, the UIA has already developed and experimented with multilingual interfaces and thesauri in its CD-ROM applications. The possibilities of further development are clear. A part of this project is to develop sustainable development thesauri in three Indian languages and to enable access to information using indigenous language interfaces. This is sensitive to increasing use of non-English scripts, which it is assumed in turn will increase familiarity with information technology.