Intercept: Proposal for infoDev activity

Stakeholders and their needs

Reviewer 1: While it is perhaps less critical to the success of INFO2000, a detailed business plan and marketing strategy which includes an assessment of user needs and "willingness-to-pay" are an essential prerequisite to technical implementation of the INTERCEPT project and should be given more emphasis.

Other points in this comment are covered through the remainder of the document (see, in particular, the section "Economic Aspects"). Notably the marketing strategy and our approach to a business plan, are ***. Here we deal with user needs.

Current needs

User need for development organizations in India is undeniable. Most Indian organisations are starved of information that could support their sustainable development. They have little access to development innovations and project results in their own country, much less from outside it. The threshold of skill, effort and cost of acquisition is simply beyond them.

There is a lack of timely, reliable and user friendly information on environment and development issues in India. What is available is not automated and thereby not accessible in the time required. Indian discussion groups have virtually no links with global electronic conferences on similar themes. Indian organizations are often dumped with foreign information because it is easily available. The information is either not inherently useful or not converted into a format in whereby it can be used effectively by most organizations in India. Substantive query response and customised information services on environment and development themes are very few in India. Here again, they operate through conventional means of communication with virtually no use of electronic communication systems.

The case of need was argued to the Ford Foundation by DA and was annexed to the proposal. The case was made for independent sector organizations (ISOs) in India but a similar case could be made for certain government and commercial organisations, which this project would equally benefit.

The case, in short, is that India has between 30,000 and 100,000 ISO or NGO-type organisations. Electronic connectivity is the lowest among ISOs when compared to other constituencies of society. Even those with connections are unable to use it to its potential. Currently 100 to 500 such organizations can use full Internet services (including multimedia), the minority using it frequently and fully; the remainder incompletely or infrequently. A further 1,000 use text-only Internet or email. Greater than 95% of NGO organisations still use postal services, hand delivery and word of mouth as their primary means of means of information recovery. Full internet service delivery for most ISOs is infeasible for at least ten years. Limiting factors are national infrastructure policy and costs (notably government as monopoly service provider), incomplete geographic access, bandwidth, and user charges.

However, telephone services are already adequate for considerable expansion of email and fax services and, for those already using such basic automatic services, for a progressive increase in frequency of use and their facilitated interface with more automated systems such as the Internet.

There are probably about 5,000 ISOs with computer and telephone connections, but not electronically connected due to non availability of modems and other support services customised to meet their requirements. There are about 30,000 to 100,000 ISOs who are non-automated, who also require more systematic information support for their environment and development activities. Of these at least 5,000 have adequate working knowledge of English.

This project aims to accelerate the transition of this significant market segment of telephone, fax and basic email users towards fully automated information services during a decade when most would not have this opportunity. It will increase access and exposure to networked communication services in India and build capacity for its use by NGO groups. Though endemic restrictions will limit most from having direct access to full internet, many will have the benefits of a lower-bandwidth facilitated interface with the internet.

Future needs

With respect to stakeholder needs in the future, it cannot be assumed that users are stationary targets on whose future information behaviour it is a simple matter to report with any confidence. Nor is it a matter of simply predicting movement of users in a particular direction (a first derivative) when it is their flexibility and manoeuverability which is changing -- as the past few years of internet usage have shown. If nothing else, the Web has demonstrated how users have become highly active and continue to develop new behaviours and needs in response to new facilities. This project’s "stakeholder-as-participant" approach encourages and taps the development of this phenomenon in a fully interactive manner.

It is further assumed that user needs will evolve as much with respect to information presentation as to content. In countries of the developed world (also in the predictable futures of the developing world), those accessing information are often overloaded. This challenge is evolving exponentially. This project assumes that there is/will be a backlash against information per se and a rapid call for meaningful patterning of such information over which users have some interactive control in the light of cultural and other preferences (eg for complexity, colour, sound, etc). This is one reason for increasing corporate investment in a new category of "information visualization" tools, which may also be understood as the need for knowledge, as opposed to information (or data). The INFO2000 dimension of the project specifically requires the development of multimedia tools in support of policy-making and these features will be integrated where practicable into the infoDev project. In this way emerging stakeholder needs in India will be anticipated, rather than simply followed, enabling some "leapfrogging" in sophistication of methods of use of information.

The INFO2000 project consortium is currently designing and contracting out an independent stakeholder response and needs survey. The survey is intended to take place during the February – April 1999 inclusive. Participants will include academic institutions, NGOs and professional organizations. We could add some organizations from India and other developing and disadvantaged areas to complement this project. The results will enable refinement of the prototype interactive system and will guide infoDev project opportunities.