Intercept: Proposal for infoDev activity

Relevance and demand

Reviewer 1: Annex 11 does suggest that some analysis has been carried out as part of INFO2000 and it would have been extremely valuable to view the substance of this.


The analysis to date has been based on three principal sources: (1) current user statistics (ie user demand for existing services), some of which have been discussed in "Addressing real user questions", below; (2) informal survey of the information industry, and (3) hands-on experience and day-to-day information.

1. The service is already operational in an experimental, demo mode using static pages and with only limited interaction possibilities. Some user statistics are nevertheless available demonstrating a call for such a service. *insert user statistics showing rise in use over time (extract India and other developing country data; also get WCMC’s data

2. A preliminary analysis of potential users was supplied with the annexed INFO2000 report; also a review paper by Professor Ken Friedman of the INFO2000 group on electronic publishing in Europe.

3. As mentioned above the INFO2000 project consortium is embarking upon two new activities that will contribute further data for analysis. One is an independent user response and needs survey. The other is delivery of dynamic pages by the UIA

Limiting local conditions

Reviewer 3: It is not clear how the project will associate the first category of users (policy-makers) to their activity. It is critical that the local conditions be taken into account: in developing countries many government offices are not yet connected to the internet or do not have competence in information technology. The use of CD-roms and the use of computerized decision-making or planning tools are not yet regular.

We find this a surprising response in that it focuses on limiting present conditions rather than those of a preferred future – a future that infoDev is presumably helping create.

It is predicted that an entry level PC will reduce to $200 within a year or so. This brings the potential for electronic communications within the economic access of millions and no more financially demanding than a television. Even though "reception" (bandwidth) may be less than ideal and language issues will initially limit access, people will still aspire to enjoying the benefits of a computer.

It is now easy to forget that most "western" offices did not have internet access or CD-ROM drives five, even three, years ago.

We believe that even in the two-year period of this project local conditions will evolve rapidly. We believe that receptivity for quality content and familiarity with computerized systems will develop enormously. This period of development of this product corresponds to the period in which infrastructure investment in rural networking will bear fruit and call for content. Where Web connections are not possible, CD-ROM products are envisaged and have already been produced in prototype form.

Addressing real development needs

Reviewer 2: Bottlenecks for sustainable development in the developing world are not cutting-edge Web-based tools of information interactivity but rather poverty, population growth, lack of institutional capacity, lack of funding. The kind of information product that the proponents offer could perhaps be useful to highly trained professionals and specialized individuals but I suspect these people are already adept at finding and putting the information together they need.

We think again that the reviewer is prejudging the future to be somewhat the same as today and being selective about the root causes of underdevelopment. Why not claim lack of education or lack of information or lack of democracy?

The infoDev programme is about information for development. We submitted this proposal on that basis.

Empowering self-inquiry

Reviewer 2: For each of those questions, the proponent would need to demonstrate that a skilled infotechnician could not find the answer with existing information databases and Web sites.

This observation implies a misunderstanding about the project as being focused on providing "answers" to "questions". In fact the project's prime purpose is enabling users, notably policy-makers, to refine the questions to which they seek answers. There are many information sources to provide expensive answers to questions that later turn out to have been inappropriately framed.

An infotechnician, as advocated by the Reviewer, tends to be extremely expensive and beyond the budget of most users requiring new insight. Such a person tends to act in response to the questions specified by the inquirer, and is rewarded for doing so. The proposed service is designed to place the user in a learning mode that ensures that the question can be explored in a context which may lead to its being totally reframed -- although the user can at any time follow up leads to "existing information databases and Websites" provided in problem or strategy profiles.

Multiplicity of end-users

Reviewer 2: The fact it is simultaneously directed to so many potential end-users (government, NGOs, and private sector) also subtracts from its value. It is true of any product that the more we aim to please everybody, the less value it has to any individual user

This statement should be challenged in its relation to policy-making. It is of course correct that governance and policy-making aimed at pleasing a particular sector is no great challenge. Information systems in support of such policies would of course be of great value to the sector or constituency so favoured. This is one classical option for policy-makers -- whether in governance or the corporate world. Such projects would indeed be viable in response to the needs of that constituency.

Unfortunately governance is increasingly challenged precisely by its democratic mandate to "please everybody". Increasingly it is "everybody" that is also a prime source of information which a single sector finds it too costly to extract or purchase in a timely manner by conventional means. A degree of cross sectoral, multi-level cooperation is therefore required involving the active cooperation of a wide range of stakeholders for the service to be of use to anybody.

This, however, is not responding to the point the reviewer presumably intended to make, which is the differing sustainable development content requirement of different user groups and enquiries. We envision having separate entry points and surface layers to access the information. This calls for site and interface design and knowledge structuring. To the greatest extent possible we want to enable users to quickly identify themselves in terms of their data needs, search style etc. Such data could be recorded in their user profile to enable quicker future searches. We believe that the period of development with volunteer users should help clarify such aspects.

Addressing real user questions

Reviewer 2: Need to better define who the users would be (and prove they want the product)…

Reviewer 2: Need to provide more detailed examples of the kinds of questions they [users] are asking.

The problems database is already perhaps one of the comprehensive collections of information on questions and dilemmas which different constituencies face -- as articulated through the world-wide networks and meetings of international organizations. It provides a framework into which further problems can be incorporated. In this sense it itself provides the "detailed examples" sought by the Reviewer. It might be added that the strategies database provides, correspondingly, one of the most comprehensive collections of collective "answers" to these problems.

Both databases are designed in anticipation of the questions and answers of tomorrow as much as those of today. Our approach is not to design a service that is solely capable of responding to the questions of yesterday and today.

As an indication of the type of questions asked, the strategy most accessed during the last quarter of 1998 was "Minimizing soil erosion" with 3,486 hits. For the problems (excluding a few with "sex" in the title, which always increases their hit rate) they were: "Deforestation" (1,958) , "Soil erosion" (1,913) , "Caste system" (1,223), "Juvenile prostitution (1,191), "Youth gangs" (1,018), "Juvenile delinquency" (986) "Children of drug addicts" (959), "Adolescent pregnancy" (949) and "Forest fires" (840). These are real questions crossing many dimensions and all-important for sustainable development.

Over the same period, accesses to the UIA site by significant indicative group (identifiable by their email extension) was:

Hits Percentage Country

135,863 20.26% .com (commercial, mainly USA)

107,614 17.61% .net (network)

46,937 7.96% .edu (USA educational)

8,975 1.65% .org (non-profit making organisations)

2,468 0.41% .gov (USA government)

1,648 0.29% .mil (USA military)

303,505 48.18%

We submit that even in this test mode (1% of the databases on-line), the UIA knowledge system seems to be addressing a lot of real needs for information.

Demand in developing countries

Reviewer 2: There is no demonstrated demand from developing countries for this product. It does not suffice to state that it will be used when evidence is not provided that anybody is asking for it.

Even in its current form, it is possible to test out links from other sites to the INFO2000 service. It is clear that it is an accepted and appreciated tool. The usage statistics (over a half a million accesses in the last quarter, averaging 5,976 accesses per day) and e-mail feedback, suggest that users already appreciate its potential.

To illustrate the demand from developing countries, we show the statistics for India, constituting 0.2% of traffic at the site, and the grouping of countries around it in the range 0.1% and 0.3% of traffic. Issues of numbers of population and computers aside, Indian accesses are not far below those of several developed countries (and have been so for 12 months) and not far above a selection of developing and transition countries. This is one of the reasons that India presents such a good pilot country for testing the more general features of this project (those capably of replication in other developing countries).

Hits Percentage Country

1425 0.30% .ar (Argentina)

1648 0.29% .mil (USA Military)

1337 0.28% .at (Austria)

1388 0.28% .pt (Portugal)

1252 0.27% .no (Norway)

960 0.21% .ie (Ireland)

1158 0.20% .in (India)

1053 0.19% .il (Israel)

1053 0.17% .za (South Africa)

Hits Percentage Country

711 0.16% .co (Colombia)

677 0.16% .id (Indonesia)

591 0.15% .si (Slovenia)

234 0.15% .ua (Ukraine)

556 0.15% .hu (Hungary)

685 0.13% .tr (Turkey)

472 0.10% .pl (Poland)

602 0.10% .ro (Romania)

532 0.10% .hk (Hong Kong)

Interestingly, the Russian Federation (up a massive 0.24% in the previous year to 0.60%), Brazil, Malaysia and Croatia have higher access rates. Even in the 0.05% to 0.10% use range there are the countries (in descending order of use) Philippines, Ecuador, United Arab Emirates, Chile, Slovak Republic, Lithuania, Thailand, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Peru, Malta, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Estonia, Pakistan, Uruguay and Yugoslavia.

So whilst it is clear that Africa and the small island nations are currently excluded from use, there appears to be some demand from other developing areas. As importantly, our statistics show that the absolute traffic originating from developing countries is also increasing at about ?% every quarter.

Reviewer 2: I kept trying to imagine who would use it and why and could not imagine anyone in a third world country sitting down to a computer to explore this tool.

With respect, this sounds patronizing and we believe wrong, especially in the light of the above figures in a demo mode. In fact, this kind of tool is most relevant in developing countries where other information resources are lacking. You only have to see the dismal holdings of organization libraries (such as UNDP Delhi) to realize that information is still often difficult to access in the south and that creative and cost effective methods of transmitting updated information, particularly through email, is crucial.

We can provide two anecdotal examples from our own experience.

1. India is a high knowledge country with plenty to share and little opportunity to do so. We know in India that highly motivated graduates are in the field undertaking village development work. They are in routine urban employment. They find they have little intellectual stimulation or opportunity for ongoing learning. DA believes that several of its own field staff would jump at having access to this tool and using it interactively.

2. In April 1998, UIA field-tested a CD-ROM prototype of the INFO2000 project with an international NGO development office based in Amman, Jordan. This office runs a country programme dealing with agriculture, rural development, environment, education and training, women's issues, food security and poverty, and involves a large local and foreign staff.

The UIA databases were made accessible on the internal network system and senior management staff were given a demonstration of its application for local project planning. The INGO management staff was sufficiently impressed with the contextual planning applications of the system to convene a number of spontaneous staff training workshops where local and foreign staff were given demonstrations of the system.

Management staff were impressed by the holistic problem analysis of the system; how sustainable development could be presented to local staff in integrated planning approaches where single issue project development - ie women's development - could be expanded to consider environmental aspects; additional problems not considered - ie water and housing - and additional development strategy components could be integrated into a more holistic approach to local problems and project development.

This simple informal field test of the UIA system revealed one of the key problems which INTERCEPT aims to address; how development work most often operates in single, separated, project- specific, issue-specific actions, often overlooking opportunities to include environmental components in otherwise non- environmentally focussed activities.

Local management staff of the INGO considered the UIA software a unique planning tool, enabling trained local project staff to substantially broaden their project appraisal and project planning perspectives, identifying ancillary problems relevant to main theme project objectives and additional opportunities to cross link initiatives and programmes in more community orientated and environmentally relevant packages.