Intercept: Proposal for infoDev activity

Project objectives and discussion

An open and responsive information structure:

A prime objective of this project is to offer users new ways of understanding, and interacting with, complex webs of relationships relevant to environment policy and sustainable development.

In this respect, INTERCEPT is a "demonstration project" (an infoDev Category IV activity) because it tests the applicability of information technology and telecommunications to the solution of vexing problems of sustainable development in developing countries. By experimenting with delivery systems sensitive to access and financial constraints, it seeks to provide the same information service across sectors. A significant outcome should be the empowerment of citizens groups, thus also "increasing the efficiency, accountability and transparency of governments" (infoDev Objective V).

Information overload and information underuse: Rapid development of Web and CD information sources has resulted in a pattern of information overload and information underuse - users are overwhelmed with information, and increasingly unable to derive useful insights from it. At the same time they have been sensitised to new ways of presenting and interacting with information, yet these approaches have not been appropriately adapted to reference information of relevance to a policy and development environment.

Holding patterns of significance: Electronic information technology is rarely supporting more than a "scattergun approach" to data acquisition; there are almost no examples of the medium being used to enhance the acquisition of insights through its structure and process. Data still tends to be presented in disconnected formats, requiring the user to generate and hold any patterns of significance; alternatively, where the knowledge is organised, the arrangement is invariably too rigid to allow for application of the data outside its original domain.

Interaction and comprehension: This project is designed to close the gap between the volume of information available and the multitude of information technologies that offer new ways of interacting with information. The project partners are not interested in the technology for technology's sake, but are concerned to respond to user requirements for ways of interacting with information that can offer broader and more insightful comprehension.

Information integration: This project, therefore, puts emphasis on cross-sectoral data integration, flexible data structures and user interfaces, data visualisation and mapping on-the-fly, visualization of complex patterns of relationships and data linkage across boundaries which normally act to disassociate relevant information, be they those of disciplines, language or data formats.

Global information infrastructure: Through its strategy of information integration at an international level, INTERCEPT will accelerate the "interconnection of national to international information networks" concerned with sustainable development policy and practice (including the legal, financial, technical, scientific and social aspects) to help create a global information infrastructure.

Meeting the need for access to reliable data:

This project addresses an identified and increasing need for access to reliable data on global sustainable development. In this respect, it is an "information infrastructure strategy . . . promoting protection of the environment and natural resources" (an infoDev Category II activity serving Programme Objective IV).

Practical application: The aim is to deliver information services that are of actual and practical use for environmental professionals, for those working with development policy, programmes and projects, and for everyone wanting information on networks of environmental issues. For example, the data would be valuable for environmental assessment and audits; to support integration of environmental considerations by industry; to help local authorities to incorporate environmental considerations into regional planning; and for national agencies and governments in the development of environmental policy and action programmes. Because the principal partners in this project are acknowledged experts in this type of data gathering and handling, the cost-effectiveness of providing these benefits is very high.

In particular, this project will help organisations and individuals to build on information services that are already being requested, and which support existing international activities. For example, INTERCEPT addresses the requirement for inter-sectoral information transfer called for by Agenda 21, complementary regional agendas and national agendas, such as the development of National Environmental Sustainability Plans. It supports the implementation of commitments under international agreements concerning environmental conservation, such as the Bern, Bonn and Ramsar Conventions, the Global Biodiversity Strategy, Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Desertification Convention.

Varied delivery platforms: The information will be available on both CD-ROM and the Web using existing in-house capabilities. Widely available technologies and low-cost (or no-cost) software are deliberately employed to enable the widest possible access. At its lowest level of operation the INTERCEPT project will employ a printed newsletter bulletin on a quarterly basis targeting new users and key target groups: those agencies, organisations and individuals starting or about to start using the Internet.

Developing country situations: Most client groups and most civil society institutions in a developing country do not have direct access to Internet. The partnership between UIA and DA will test the possibilities of delivery of certain portions of the information to users with only email access. In addition, through DA’s DAINET programme, the partnership will explore cross-media opportunities for transmission of needed information in developing country settings, i.e. via interfaces between Internet, email and listservs, fax / telephone and snail mail (newsletters and personal letters). The objective is to providing a seamless link between the non-automated, conventional communications and automated users. Approaches to be explored include providing local access to highest-quality global information by both (i) stepping-down from Internet to email and snail mail and (ii) stepping up clients from snail mail and e-mail to full Internet connectivity.

A contextual planning tool:

The INTERCEPT project will provide end users with a knowledge management tool to handle the vast amounts of information pertaining to sustainable development issues, including the multi-sectoral and technical information necessary for realistic programme and project planning in developing countries. Specifically emphasised are interlinkages, hierarchies of issues, horizontal associations, chains of causation and response, open boundaries, keyword and subject area searches, "intelligent" query searches, visualisation tools for complex patterns and processes, graphical indexes, and 3D zoom/magnify and perspective-shifting tools. Knowledge organisation and management, both for sustainable development and in navigating the Internet, demand this contextual cross-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach. INTERCEPT is a management tool for this environment.

Responding to user needs and forging user partnerships:

By linking scientific data on threatened species and habitats within its wider cultural, geographic, heritage, policy, economic and social context, INFO2000 will provide an accessible source of information to public policy makers and administrations, as well as citizens, educational institutions, public libraries, journalists, NGOs and students. INTERCEPT will track these information associations even more comprehensively into the wider fields of sustainable development.

User-partners: These processes will stress an interactive role for users as "user-partners" rather than a passive user role. In this sense INTERCEPT is designed to develop future user needs, rather than solely to respond to first-order user needs of the present. It also seeks to convert the user of information into being also a provider of information.

Networks of partners: The datasets and competence in data handling and delivery of the project partners are fundamental to this project and entirely complementary. Information content accumulated over many years will be made available to INTERCEPT. However, it must be acknowledged here that the work of these organisations relies on extensive links with other organisations working in their respective fields. Through the collaborative networks of UIA, WCMC and DA, thousands of organisations and individuals are effective partners and beneficiaries of the project; it is anticipated that a number of these will be drawn into the follow-up phase of the project, both as contributors and to test and evaluate the product.

Building global dialogue: Through this strategy of interactive information, INTERCEPT will both build and "support specialised sectoral networks" (an infoDev Category I activity) and "create market-friendly environments to accelerate global access to information and communication" (infoDev Objective I) with accessible, low cost communications and information services and products.