Case Studies on the Collection, Management, and Dissemination of Local Information Resources
Many STI projects focus less on the technology and more on the management of information and the content of databases. Databases from abroad do not generally give adequate coverage of research efforts in developing countries and African scientists have learned that they cannot depend on such outside sources for the services needed to keep them abreast of local developments in their subject fields. The following group of case studies focuses on efforts made to collect local information, to organize it into usable forms, and then to disseminate it to those who can put it to good use.
Thus one case study in this section is about a group of natural products researchers who banded together to form a professional network that unites them through newsletters, conferences, publications, and now, electronic means.
The next case study describes how a research institute in Botswana collected local data to produce an indigenous database on socioeconomic information. The project manager learned that she required expertise in subject analysis and indexing, system design, database management, and access to computer hardware.
The Kenya Medical Research Institute decided to focus on their institutional needs for information and designed an information system that included all aspects of their data needs. Their case study demonstrates that many management tasks can be aided by automated data processing and that the introduction of computers can aid the decision-making process, provide information about financial and human resources, improve turnaround time for data analysis and report writing; and improve the quality of data organization and analysis. By adding equipment
for desktop publishing and CD-ROM searches they realized the same benefits of other case study authors.
The CSIR in Ghana took a serious look at its mandate and designed a system to improve national access to scientific and technological information. National systems are difficult to manage and finance but the rewards can be great, as demonstrated in this final case study.
NAPRECA and Its Role in the Dissemination of Information on Natural Products Research in Africa
by Ermias Dagne
Background and Context of the Project
This paper describes the background history, objectives, and main activities of the Natural Products Research Network for Eastern and Central Africa, known in short as NAPRECA. We give particular emphasis to the role of the network in improving the scientific and technological information (STI) scene in Africa.
Origin and History
The Fourteenth IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) International Symposium on the Chemistry of Natural Products was held in July 1984, in Poznan, Poland. Over one thousand participants from all over the world attended that symposium, including six Africans. 1 As we Africans met during the breaks and the social occasions, we realized that there were no such fora in Africa, even though there were many natural products there who could benefit from the exchange of experiences and ideas. Our meetings took on a more formal character as we discussed ways to circumvent the isolation and alienation that African researchers faced. We unanimously resolved to found a network to bring scientists engaged in natural products research in Africa closer together and to link those researchers with colleagues around the world who were involved in tackling research problems of relevance to Africa.
We felt that the task of a network should not be to build infrastructure, new centers, or new laboratories but instead to work towards strengthening national capabilities through regional and international cooperation. We called for the sharing of existing facilities and resources in the sub-region. As a first step in this direction, we agreed to concentrate on information dissemination and exchange of ideas through publications, including a biannual newsletter and other means. These discussions led to the crystallization of the network's constitution.
Before the end of the Poznan meeting, we resolved to name the network the Natural Products Research Network for Eastern and Central Africa , or NAPRENCA. Later an ''N" in the acronym was dropped and the Network came to be known in short as NAPRECA. We felt that Africa was too big an area to encompass initially and, for the sake of expediency and modesty, we realistically started with a sub-regional approach. Had there been participants from other parts of Africa in that meeting, the arguments might have been different. In any case, the geographic definition for the network satisfied all those present and the consensus reached heralded the birth of NAPRECA.
I was elected Chairman and Editor of the Network's newsletter and we asked Berhanu M. Abegaz of the same department as myself at Addis Ababa University to serve as Secretary and Treasurer. The rationale for this decision was to avoid having the two officers in different countries, a situation that would have paralyzed the Network right from its inception.
Upon returning to our homes, our initial enthusiasm did not wane; on the contrary, all concerned received the idea of founding a regional network for natural products scientists with joy. In Ethiopia, B.M. Abegaz prepared the final version of the constitution and came up with invaluable suggestions and ideas on how to launch NAPRECA and initiate the newsletter. (See Box 1.)
The maiden issue of the NAPRECA Newsletter came out in September 1984, immediately after the founding meeting of a NAPRECA branch in Ethiopia. The editorial of that issue stated that:
BOX 1 The Chairman as Editor
The idea of entrusting the task of editor to the chairman of NAPRECA was judicious. As one of the main tasks of a network is information dissemination, anyone exercising the leadership of a network should take this duty to heart and ensure the continuous flow of information through publication of a newsletter and other circulars. The raison d'etre of a network depends on how well this task is handled. Consequently this was a task that could not be delegated but executed right from NAPRECA's top position.
in order for the African scientist to be worthy of the noble name … the current state of isolation has to be combatted and scientific fora created which will contribute to the amelioration of the present dismal state of research and academic activity.
This issue also echoed the importance of contacts and exchange of information. The editorial made a strong appeal to all natural products researchers in the region to interact with each other and to initiate programs of mutual interest. It stated, "the birth of an organization per se is not a historic event. What is more significant is whether such an organization will live up to its name." The publication and worldwide distribution of this issue was made possible by contributions from the members in Ethiopia.
In Kenya, J. Ogur, senior lecturer of chemistry at the University of Nairobi, brought together a large team of researchers and educators and founded NAPRECA-Kenya, where he emerged as chairman. This branch was formally registered by the Kenya Registrar of Societies in January 1986. Although no Tanzanian took part in the deliberations in Poznan, colleagues at the University of Dar es Salaam were swift in taking up the idea and founded a branch that was registered in October 1985. At the same time a branch was also founded in the Sudan.
Colleagues in Zimbabwe decided to merge the NAPRECA concept with an existing association with similar objectives, namely NAPRAZ (Natural Products Association of Zimbabwe). This was fraught with problems from the start. Although an understanding was reached from the outset that NAPRAZ would be like a NAPRECA branch, in reality this never worked. In December 1988, a separate NAPRECA-Z was founded. This turn of events contributed to a weakening of the branch in Zimbabwe, a problem that has not been circumvented to date.
In Ethiopia, NAPRECA became affiliated with Addis Ababa University (AAU) and the Chemistry Department served as the seat of the Coordinating Office. This meant that NAPRECA benefited from the administrative framework of the University. Funds for the NAPRECA Coordinating Office were administered by the university as a project account. Since overhead charges are waived on most grant accounts in AAU, this arrangement was greatly appreciated right from the start. The network was also able to use such university facilities as guest houses, halls, and laboratories.
In March 1987, John Kingston, a senior officer in the Division of Basic Sciences in UNESCO, came to Addis Ababa leading a mission to the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission. That occasion provided an opportune moment to discuss cooperation between UNESCO and NAPRECA. Jack Canon, an Australian scientist, senior UNESCO advisor, and chairman of the Australian Network for the Chemistry of Biologically Active Natural Products (NCBNP), strongly supported the idea of affiliating NAPRECA to UNESCO. The NAPRECA branches in Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe urged their respective UNESCO national commissions to support the motion of affiliation at the UNESCO
General Assembly in November 1987. NAPRECA was formally declared a UNESCO affiliated organization, entitling it to receive direct financial support from UNESCO's regular budget.
This recognition boosted the morale of the membership and gave the young network a wider international recognition. Its meager financial resources were also increased. It was then possible to call a meeting of the NAPRECA Coordinating Board, with representatives from each of the then five member countries, namely J.A. Ogur and R.M. Munavu (Kenya); A. Taha (Sudan); H. Weenen (Tanzania); N.Z. Nyazema (Zimbabwe), and, of course, ourselves from Ethiopia. The meeting took place in Addis Ababa in March 1988.
NAPRECA was pleased with UNESCO's decision to send the Director of the Division of Scientific Research and Higher Education in Paris and the Director of UNESCO-ROSTA in Nairobi to the March meeting. The International Foundation for Science (IFS) sent its scientific advisor as an observer. J. Ayafor (Cameroon) and J. Mungarulire (Rwanda) came as observers. The latter country joined NAPRECA a year later. 2
At the First Meeting of the NAPRECA Coordinating Board, we adopted the constitution of the network, elected its officers, and decided that Ethiopia would be the seat of the Coordinating Office. I was elected Executive Secretary and B.M. Abegaz was elected Assistant Secretary-Treasurer. H. Guadey3 joined as Program Officer and ex-officio member of the Coordinating Board. Although NAPRECA had existed since 1984, this board meeting heralded the active chapter in the history of the network. Since that time, we have held eight annual meetings and the number of member countries has increased. With the joining of Rwanda, Uganda, and Madagascar in 1988, 1989, and 1990, respectively, our membership rose to eight countries.
A day after the first NAPRECA Board Meeting, a scientific session was held. As all of the Board Members and most of the observers were active researchers in the field of natural products, each made a presentation followed by discussions. This hurriedly organized scientific conference was christened the First NAPRECA Symposium on Natural Products. The high quality of the presentations and the enthusiasm with which the one-day symposium was received gave a clear signal that such events in Africa were long overdue.
In the same year, the International Program in the Chemical Sciences (IPICS), based in Upsalla, Sweden, started to offer NAPRECA annual grants, particularly in support of the Exchange of Researchers Scheme, the Summer School Programs, and the symposia and specialized workshops. The IPICS grant was kept mainly in Sweden and used for settling expenses directly from there, relying on the efficient secretariat in Uppsalla. We have on many occasions also benefited from the advice and guidance of Rune Liminga, Director of IPICS, who has vast experience in networking in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
The main aim of the network as articulated in the constitution is to "initiate, develop and promote research in the area of natural products in the Eastern and
Central African sub-region." Dissemination of information pertaining to natural products research is one of the major objectives of NAPRECA. The importance of establishing links with counterparts in other parts of the world was emphasized right from the outset, as one of the objectives of the network is to "foster and maintain links with such scientists who are actively working in specific areas of natural products that are pertinent to Africa." The sections that follow will attempt to show to what extent NAPRECA has been successful in putting these aims to practice.
Project Experience and Implementation
Seven categories of activities will be described in this section. In short, these are:
- Dissemination of information through publication of a biannual newsletter, monograph series and symposium abstracts;
- Administration of a postgraduate scholarship program;
- Implementation of an Exchange of Researchers Scheme;
- Organization of the Natural Products Summer School;
- Convening of the Natural Products Symposium once every two years;
- Conducting training workshops; and
- Coordination of the UNESCO's Botany 2000 program.
The NAPRECA Newsletter is published twice a year. About one thousand copies of each issue are distributed free of charge to readers in various parts of the world. Sometimes the founding of organizations by novices will lead to the launching of some form of publication—invariably designated as Volume 1, Number 1. Too often, Volume 1, Number 2 never sees the light of day and the new organization or association withers to oblivion! When the first issue of the NAPRECA Newsletter came out, we were warned of such a pitfall. But, so far, we have succeeded in maintaining our publishing schedule and we have now distributed 24 issues of the newsletter.
Reactions to the maiden issue of the NAPRECA Newsletter were mostly congratulatory, although some people pointed out mistakes and offered advice. Thus Dr. M. William, Executive Secretary of IUPAC wrote:
…I was most interested to receive the Maiden Issue of the NAPRECA Newsletter and to learn that the Network arose from the IUPAC symposium held in Poland in July 1984…
J.I. Okogun of the Chemistry Department of Ibadan University, Nigeria wrote:
…the Newsletter serves its purpose to inform us all on developments in the area of natural products.
We also welcomed criticisms—such as the one by the botanist Tewolde B.G. Egziabher, then President of Asmara University, who wrote:
There were some spelling errors in the maiden issue… similar errors should be avoided in the future… I suggest that you check the spelling of every scientific name before you print. Even if you feel you know the scientific name very well, it is worth checking each name routinely every time.
The suggestions and criticisms of our readership greatly contributed to sustaining the Newsletter for 12 years. Four years ago NAPRECA began publishing a series of monographs, the first of which was a NAPRECA Year-Book, entitled Eight Years of Existence and Four Years of Intensive Activities, Z. Asfaw (Ed.), 1992.
Administration of Postgraduate Scholarship Program
A postgraduate scholarship program was born during a visit by the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, DAAD) delegation to Addis Ababa in October 1987. A conference for former DAAD fellows was taking place and on one evening during that conference, I happened to sit beside Mr. Richard Jacob, who then headed the Africa desk of DAAD in Bonn. I commented that international organizations like DAAD rarely support initiatives at local levels and that such organizations more often follow the top-down approach. I continued to narrate the story of NAPRECA and how much we would have appreciated it if some DAAD scholarships could have been administered by the network for the purpose of training the young in the natural products field. He suggested that, if we submitted a convincing proposal, his organization would offer the network five scholarships per year.
In March of 1988, the German ambassador to Ethiopia, His Excellency Dr. Kurt Stoeckle, personally brought to the Faculty of Science a letter signed by Dr. Berchem, President of DAAD, declaring the award of five scholarships to NAPRECA. Since then, NAPRECA has received a similar letter from the President of DAAD every year.
In this DAAD-NAPRECA scholarship program NAPRECA is responsible for selecting the candidates, who must enroll in a postgraduate program in a university outside of their own country. DAAD scholarships cover tuition, research costs, and subsistence allowances of the fellows in universities in the sub-region. The cost of the scholarship per student per annum varies from country to country but is within the range of six to seven thousand U.S. dollars. The first beneficiaries
were two Ethiopians who, in September 1988, joined the MSc program of the University of Nairobi and three Kenyans who came to Addis Ababa to join postgraduate programs in biology and chemistry. A total of 39 scholarships have so far been awarded to selected individuals. Of these, 15 have completed their MSc studies; eight, including two PhD candidates, discontinued or were dismissed on academic grounds; and 16 are still pursuing their studies.
A follow-up conference was organized in cooperation with DAAD in November 1993. Former fellows were invited to interact with their peers and former instructors. Despite the problems, briefly dealt with in Section 5, we faced in implementing this program, we are of the opinion that the DAAD-NAPRECA fellowship program was one of the most rewarding offshoots of the network.
Implementing the Exchange of Researchers Scheme
In an early issue of the NAPRECA Newsletter, we described the problems faced by African scientists as:
"Isolation, lack of contact with each other as well as with peers elsewhere, absence of conducive atmosphere of research, coupled with meager resources…"
We thought that an Exchange Scheme might be one of the best remedies of these ills. NAPRECA, therefore, invested considerable energy and resources in implementing this scheme, thanks in particular to the financial support of two organizations, UNESCO and IPICS. Many junior as well as senior scientists have benefited from this scheme.
Under the Exchange Scheme, a selected fellow is granted the opportunity to spend a month or two in a laboratory within the sub-region. Preference is given to candidates who are able to find funds for travel and then the research and subsistence expenses are covered by NAPRECA. So far 32 individuals have benefited from the exchange, with an average stay of one and half months in a regional laboratory. (See Box 2.)
Organizing the Natural Products Summer School
One of the regular activities of NAPRECA is the organization and implementation of Natural Products Summer Schools. Six Summer Schools were organized between 1988 and 1994. The main aim of the Summer School is to enhance the research capabilities of participants, in particular in chromatographic, spectroscopic, and bioassay techniques. Research scientists and technical assistants working for various institutions in the region have used the opportunity to improve upon their laboratory skills. Usually about a dozen participants take part in the Summer School; half of these come from outside the country where the program takes place.
BOX 2 Benefits of the Exchange Scheme
One of the recent participants in the Exchange of Researchers program was Ildephonse Murengezi, Chairman of NAPRECA-Rwanda. Our efforts to locate him after the tragic events in that country led us to the refugee camp in Goma on the border to Zaire. At the beginning of 1995, as soon as the Ethiopian Airlines resumed flights to Kigali, we sent him a ticket and invited him to come to Addis Ababa as an Exchange Fellow, where he stayed for six months working in a natural products laboratory [See NAPRECA Newsletter, Vol. 12, No. 1]
Each Summer School was rated highly by the participants. Particularly those researchers who had little or no exposure to modern research settings have found this program highly beneficial.
Natural Products Symposia
As the NAPRECA concept got off the ground in an IUPAC Symposium on Natural Products, it is only natural for the network to pay special attention to organizing similar conferences in Africa. So far six natural products symposia have been organized in the five member countries.
The first symposium was indeed a modest one, convened immediately after the first meeting of the Coordinating Board in March 1988. No book of abstracts came out of that event. As our Kenyan colleagues were very keen about organizing a conference, the second was held quickly thereafter in Nairobi in September 1988. Sixteen participants came from outside of Kenya to the second symposium. We published a booklet with nearly 20 brief abstracts in advance of the symposium. We included pictures of the speakers at the end of the book, a feature that has been kept in subsequent symposia booklets.
The third symposium was held in Arusha, Tanzania, in May 1989. It drew over 40 participants from outside of the host country and the local organizers were able to publish an impressive book of proceedings, with 22 full papers and nearly as many abstracts. The Arusha symposium set a high standard not only in terms of the quality of the scientific presentations but also in the excellent way in which it was organized.
In the Third Coordinating Board meeting that took place in Arusha, we agreed to organize subsequent symposia every two years. That led to the fourth symposium in Addis Ababa, in December 1991. The increased number of papers required, for the first time, the holding of parallel sessions. The Symposium Book, published prior to the conference, was of high quality with 28 papers appearing as extended abstracts. In retrospect that was indeed a good decision. The preparation of conference proceedings is a thankless job, because it is done after the event is over. Extended abstracts published in advance of the conference, make it easier to
put pressure on participants to submit papers of reasonable standard. This has made the NAPRECA Symposium Extended Abstracts frequently cited sources of information.
The fifth symposium held in Antananarivo, Madagascar, in September 1993, enabled a large contingent of researchers from South Africa to participate for the first time in a NAPRECA activity. Prior to this meeting, it was not possible for scientists from South Africa to mingle with their counterparts from other African countries. Nearly a dozen well known South African scientists came to the symposium and this had an impact on the quality of the oral as well as poster presentations. It was humorous to hear a South African professor say at the beginning of his lecture that he was extremely pleased because he was "for the first time in Africa." As Madagascar was a Francophone country there were several participants who came from Francophone Africa and France, and one parallel session was dominated by papers presented in French.
The sixth symposium that took place in Kampala, Uganda, in September 1995. This symposium attracted about 80 participants who came from various countries in Africa, Europe and North America. The scientific meeting covered 12 general and 28 parallel session lectures, as well as 32 poster presentations. A book of extended abstracts was published and distributed at the opening session of the symposium. Three pre-symposium short courses on Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), Mass Spectrometry, and Organic Synthesis were held at the same venue. The courses were designed to upgrade the skills of young researchers in applying or interpreting the results of these modern techniques in their own research. A total of 27 participants coming from seven African countries participated in the three short courses.
Participants' assessments of the symposium were very positive and some were unreserved with their kind words of praise.
"…The very successfully organized NAPRECA's sixth symposium was an event that one would wish to witness again…"wrote Gizachew Alemayehu, Ethiopia.
A leading natural products chemist, Joe Connolly, Glasgow, UK, commented:
"…Congratulations for the excellently organized NAPRECA's sixth symposium and the pre-symposium short courses…It was great to be in Kampala with your team."
I realize how far-reaching the impact of these symposia are when a Kenyan colleague who was sitting next to me during a session in the sixth symposium pointed to a group of scientists from Europe, and said:
"These people did not take us seriously when we started holding such conferences in Africa some years back, but now they listen to us attentively when we make scientific presentations."
Conducting Training Workshops
NAPRECA has organized four major training programs so far. The first was the IFS-NAPRECA Workshop on NMR Techniques, which took place in Addis Ababa in December 1991. NMR is one of the most useful methods in structure elucidation of substances isolated from plants. It is also one of those techniques that develops by leaps and bounds and it is therefore of paramount importance for a chemist to keep abreast of these changes.
IFS and NAPRECA held a symposium on bioassay methods in Antananarivo, Madagascar in September, 1993, as a pre-symposium program. The focus of the program was on ways to screen substances for anti-malarial activity. IFS support ensured that several participants could come from several countries in the region.
Another two month program, held from April to June 1993, was a training workshop on herbarium techniques, which was organized in cooperation with the National Herbarium in Addis Ababa. As plants are the major sources of natural products, their identification and documentation is of great importance for natural products research. This program was designed for technicians who work in herbaria of the region. It included lectures and practicals on botany and related disciplines.
The fourth in this series was a training program on glass blowing techniques which was held in Uganda in January 1995. The instructor was Mr. Wodajie Imru, senior glass blower of the Chemistry Department, Addis Ababa University. All the 12 trainees were glass blowers serving in various research and academic institutions in Uganda. This program speaks for the need to improve skills of research support staff. (See Box 3.)
Coordination of the UNESCO's Botany 2000 program
The Director General of UNESCO launched an initiative called Botany 2000, which is basically an interdisciplinary program that attempts to link three disciplines, namely botany, chemistry, and pharmacology. NAPRECA was designated to take the lead in coordinating the Africa Botany 2000 program. As part of that activity, NAPRECA organized a training program for Herbarium Technicians, supported
BOX 3 Co-funding Opportunities
Funding from one agency often opens the door for funding from another. For example, in the first training workshop, a grant from DAAD enabled us to bring a topnotch NMR specialist, Dr. S. Berger, to lead the one week intensive workshop. IFS made it possible to bring some of the leading natural products researchers of Africa, selected on the basis of their scientific output.
activities in documenting rare and endangered plant species of Africa, and supported exchange programs that fall within the scope of Botany 2000.
Results, Impacts, and Benefits of the Project
Many research groups in Africa and indeed in many other parts of the world are engaged in the isolation, characterization, and evaluation of the biological activities of natural products occurring in plants and animals of African origin. Currently, most of the studies on natural products from African plants and animals are conducted by research groups based in Europe and North America, cooperating in some cases with groups in African universities and research institutions. Consequently, most of the scientific papers describing the output of such work appear in scholarly journals published outside of Africa. In too many cases researchers in the country where the plant material of the research originated are not fully aware of the research results.
It is important to follow the literature in the field to know more about our own resources and take measures for their sustainable use. Following progress in the field, is also of paramount importance to ensure that the country of origin shares in the benefits resulting from the use of natural products discovered from African plants and animals.
There are many international natural products chemistry journals that deal with plant constituents and their biological activities. Of these, the three with wide international coverage are: Journal of Natural Products, Planta Medica, and Phytochemistry. These journals frequently publish research results on the study of the constituents of African plants. We therefore dedicate one regular column in the NAPRECA Newsletter to list all those papers on African plants that appear in these journals. The column attracts the attention of many researchers whose libraries do not subscribe to these journals.
A compilation of the information in this column in the period 1984–1994 now forms the basis of a database. In the three journals, we found nearly 1,000 articles dealing with either the chemistry, biology, or pharmacology of plants collected from different parts of Africa. The full details of this database are now published in Monograph Series No. 8.
In the 1,000 articles various types of compound classes are reported from the African plants such as alkaloids, anthraquinones, flavonoids, and steroids. In terms of utility of the products, anti-cancer, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-malarial, anti-feedant and molluscicidal activities are by far the most prominent. Over 56 papers give chemotaxonomy as a significant outcome of the studies and 29 deal with the culturally and commercially important essential oil bearing plants of Africa.
The limitation of the above mentioned database is obvious, as it is based on articles in only three international journals covering just an 11 year period. Nevertheless, it gives an indication on the wealth of information that is coming out in the field of natural products from Africa. The database could also serve as a starting
point in literature surveys on topics of interest to phytochemists and other natural products researchers interested in investigating African plants for the benefit of the peoples of Africa and elsewhere.
The publications of NAPRECA amply demonstrate that the network has achieved some of its objectives to a satisfactory degree. These publications have turned out to be frequently cited sources of information and ideas. NAPRECA has helped many researchers break their isolation. The symposia, training workshops, and summer schools organized by NAPRECA have served as excellent fora for the exchange of ideas and information. The benefits of all of these to promote research and development in the field of natural products research in Africa is obvious.
Analysis of Lessons Learned
The most serious problems facing African networks are a consequence of poor communication and lack of appreciation for promoting inter-African contacts. Travel within Africa is indeed very difficult. Slow and undependable mail systems and poor fax, telephone, and telex connections exacerbate the problem. Going from one country to another requires the use of expensive air transport and, in most instances, one also has to take into consideration stringent visa requirements. There is very little opportunity for African scholars to visit other countries in the region, and many get unpleasant surprises when the first travel to another African country. We were taken by surprise when the first DAAD-NAPRECA fellows from Kenya came to Addis Ababa and spoke of culture shock and difficulties in adjusting to their new environment.
There is also a great deal of dependence on foreign currency. Fees to universities and other institutions, hotel bills, and airport taxes have to be paid in U.S. dollars. Many African scholars are accustomed to the generous travel arrangements offered by international agencies who organize conferences in or outside of Africa. NAPRECA could afford no luxuries. For example, a Ugandan lecturer was sent to Madagascar on a two-month exchange scheme. He returned home after 10 days because he felt the allowance he was given by NAPRECA was not sufficient. On another occasion, we secured a round trip air ticket from the Commonwealth Science Council in the United Kingdom for a senior lecturer to come to the sixth NAPRECA Symposium in Uganda. He failed to show up at the conference presumably because the donor did not provide him with per diem as well. By the time we learned of his decision, it was too late to use the travel grant.
On the other hand, there were several exemplary instances where exchange fellows did everything possible to sustain themselves with the very little we could give them in the form of allowance. Mesfin Bogale, an Ethiopian exchange fellow, wrote the following after his two months research visit to the Institute Malagache de Recherches AppliquÉes (IMRA) in Antananarivo, Madagascar:
…The subsistence and housing allowance given to me was $200 per month. On this allowance I could not afford to stay even in the cheapest inns in Antananarivo. Since the guest houses at IMRA were still under construction, the only option I had was to sleep in a room near the laboratory…The laboratory where I stayed had no facility for bathing. I could wash my hair in the laboratory sink. But I had to wash my body on the floor using buckets of water and mop the floor at the end.
During his stay in Antananarivo, Bogale tested forty-five samples for their antimalarial activity. The samples he found active were further tested for other kinds of activities. He wrote:
''The laboratory facilities and the working conditions are very good. This research visit to IMRA enabled me to complete my thesis project. In addition it provided me with a good opportunity to learn more laboratory techniques…
Our experience has shown that organizing programs in Addis Ababa was much easier. This is because NAPRECA was entitled to use the guest house, student quarters, laboratory, lecture halls, and other facilities of the Addis Ababa University. Consequently many of the Summer School and Exchange of Researchers programs took place in Addis Ababa.
Network programs thrive on a give and take basis. One is a host at one time and a guest at another. He who gives in one round receives in another, and he who responds to a request at one moment also gets a response to his call in time of need. If we set aside the problems, network activities bring to all those participating many moments of joy and satisfaction. For me the most rewarding experience is the feeling of being at home whenever I am in any one of the NAPRECA member countries.
Looking back to the formative years of the network, just as there were moments of success, there were equally many instances of frustration and setbacks. The unprecedented tragic events in Rwanda, where many of our colleagues lost their lives or were forced to flee their country, is by far the worst of these setbacks.
Despite the above problems, it is gratifying for NAPRECA, in the words of Prof. P.J.M. Ssebuwufu, Vice Chancellor of Makerere University, to have "developed into an organization which has achieved a deservedly notable prestige within and outside of Africa." Equally uplifting are the kind words of the Nobel Laureate and President of the International Organization of Chemistry for Development (IOCD), Jean-Marie Lehn, who made the following remark while announcing a travel grant for participants of the sixth Symposium, "We believe support given to NAPRECA and its programs can multiply the impact of our modest contribution considerably since NAPRECA is a truly indigenous action among natural products chemists in Africa."
Conclusions and Recommendations
The present office bearers of NAPRECA, E. Dagne, B.M. Abegaz, and H. Guadey of Addis Ababa University have served the network for the constitutionally allowable two terms since 1988. The 8th NAPRECA Coordinating Board meeting held in September 1995 in Kampala, Uganda, elected for a four-year term Drs. M.H.H. Nkunya and M.A. Kishimba of the Chemistry Department, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, as Executive Secretary and Assistant Secretary/Treasurer, respectively. We believe, that the most important task of the new officers is to ensure the continuity of the network by not only maintaining the current tempo but also meeting new challenges and adding more dimensions to its activities while leading it into the 21st century.
Jack Canon, the Australian scientist closely associated with NAPRECA since its inception, reflected as follows on the challenges ahead:
"…You are certainly handing on a very smoothly running organization to Tanzania and, as NAPRECA has now achieved a 'critical mass' of first class research workers I am sure that it will continue to flourish. I think that it is a reflection of the strength of NAPRECA and the goodwill existing between its members that it has been able to cope with the tragic madness which took place in Rwanda. I am sure NAPRECA will be able to help re-establish research in that country when full peace finally returns…"
There are also many other issues facing NAPRECA. In light of the improved email facilities in the region and possible Internet connectivity of several of the member countries in the near future, the new challenge for NAPRECA will be to tap these opportunities to advance networking among its membership and to provide them with vital information services.
For some of us, what we have achieved in the last decade is like a dream come true. I have witnessed that a handful of dedicated individuals can make an impact if they are committed to a cause. The concept of NAPRECA thrives because there are individuals who devote their time and energy for the accomplishment of the Network's ideals. We in NAPRECA have also learned the important lesson that we can make meaningful contributions to our respective nations, and to the sub-region at large, only if we pool together our meager resources for solving our common problems.
Finally, it is only fair to conclude this brief account by paying tribute to all colleagues and friends in the region and elsewhere in the world who have supported our efforts to make NAPRECA a successful venture. Special gratitude is also due to the donor agencies—in particular to SAREC (Swedish Agency for Research Co-operation with Developing Countries), UNESCO, DAAD, IPICS, IFS, TWAS, and IOCD who provided generous support for implementing NAPRECA's activities and programs.
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A Socioeconomic Development Information System for Botswana
by Stella Monageng
Background and Context of the Project
This case study describes my experiences in developing databases at the National Institute of Development Research and Documentation (NIR) of the University of Botswana. I will discuss a project entitled Development Sciences Information System for Botswana (DEVSIS-Botswana), which is the system we created to facilitate the collection, organization, and dissemination of Botswana's socioeconomic development information.
DEVSIS is a project that dates back to the mid-1970s, when a number of international agencies, including the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada, established a system that would help meet the information needs of planners and decision-makers responsible for economic and social development planning. The concept was never implemented as the global scheme that had been envisaged. Instead, a number of national and regional development information systems evolved out of the program. DEVSIS-Botswana is one example of such a national information system. In collaboration with the Pan African Development Information System (PADIS), the NIR launched our project in May 1984 with the financial assistance of IDRC.
The National Institute of Development Research and Documentation (NIR)
The NIR was established in 1975 as a documentation center. In 1978, it added a research component. Its objectives are to:
Coordinate and conduct research on issues of socioeconomic and environmental development affecting Botswana;
Develop the national research capacity within Botswana; and
Publish and disseminate the results of the research conducted.
The research activities focus on agriculture and rural development; education; environment; health and nutrition; Basarwa1; and women and gender issues.
The Documentation Unit of the NIR implemented the project. The Unit was established in 1975 and later developed into the present research institute. Its main objective is to collect, process, and disseminate unpublished or grey literature on or about Botswana. The Documentation Unit has a library through which the information that is collected and processed is disseminated.
The Documentation Unit and its library deliver the following products, technologies, and services:
- Reference Service through which we assist users in accessing the library's computerized databases.
- Selective Dissemination of Information through which we offer a current awareness service to the Institute's researchers through their research interest profiles.
- Newspaper Clipping Service through which we clip and file key articles falling within the research areas of the Institute.
- Referral Service that links NIR with other major information centers such as the National Library National Reference Collection, the University of Botswana Library Botswana Collection, and several Government department libraries.
- Photocopying Service, which is provided for a fee. This service is not only used locally but is also used by a lot of researchers from outside Botswana.
- Computerized Databases maintained by the library, the first of which was set up in 1986. Until quite recently, when the University of Botswana Library computerized its operations, the NIR Library was the only one with a computerized information system. This attracted a lot of researchers because it made retrieval time shorter and helped to inform the users whether or not certain information was available.
- Devindex-Botswana, which is an output of the computerized databases. Documents are collected, cataloged, abstracted, and indexed and then input into the computer. When a reasonable number of these have been processed, an index is produced.
- Technologies used include: electronic mail, through HealthNet and Internet; Facsimile; and CD-ROM. The Documentation Unit has been selected as a POPLINE site for Botswana and will therefore have the POPLINE CD-ROM database.
History of the Project
In 1981/1982 many information professionals were trying to establish an information system called the Southern African Documentation and Information System (SADIS). The envisaged aim of the system was to assist countries in the region to build up their information infrastructures as a basis for a coordinated regional information system. Unfortunately, the system never got off the ground.
Botswana, however, through the initiative of the NIR, decided to set up its own socioeconomic development information system. We approached PADIS for assistance in computerizing our documentation system and also in acquiring funding for the exercise. The NIR circulated a proposal among various government ministries for comments and suggestions. The responses received were so positive that the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning approved the proposal and agreed to submit it to IDRC for funding.
NIR decided to maintain the momentum started by the SADIS efforts for several reasons. First, we realized that the situation regarding the documentation of Botswana's socioeconomic development was far from satisfactory; much development information was generated but it was ending up in very inaccessible places. We also found it necessary to establish such a system so that Botswana could benefit from development information available in other countries. (See Box 1.)
Objectives of the Project
The principal objectives of the project were to organize the national economic and social development information in support of the planning process in Botswana and to strengthen Botswana's capacity to participate in the regional PADIS network and in the proposed SADIS program. The specific objectives of the project were to:
Collect, organize and disseminate Botswana's national information and documentation related to its economic and social development;
Participate in the regional PADIS network;
BOX 1 DEVSIS Solves Information Problems
When we were making efforts to establish SADIS, the Government of Botswana also decided to focus its development efforts on the communal areas; that is, those areas where land tenure and resource management still follow the traditional communal pattern. There was a feeling that the problems of effecting meaningful, self-sustaining improvements in the standard of living in the communal areas were among the most intractable Botswana faced. The Government's wanted to tackle these problems by driving for development in these areas but they recognized that their efforts would be hampered if they were unable to take advantage of the wealth of information that already existed. DEVIS—Botswana was the perfect way to confront their concern.
Train staff in the organization and operation of a specialized document center; and
Determine the computer equipment, staff and training that would be needed in order for NIR to carry out its mandate as the primary national focal point for all information and documentation in the country and to prepare for it to participate in regional networks such as SADIS and PADIS.
Another objective of the project, although unstated, was to gauge the volume of socioeconomic information being generated on or about Botswana each year.
Project Experience and Implementation
Devindex - Botswana
Soon after the project began, the Project Coordinator, who had actually been involved in the conception and design of the project, had to leave NIR. I had to take over the day-to-day management of the project because identifying another project coordinator would have delayed implementation. My initial role was technical coordinator and I was responsible for abstracting and indexing documents and checking on the quality of cataloging.
DEVSIS-Botswana was conceived as a national project to collect, organize, and disseminate information related to Botswana's economic and social development. Unfortunately, we lost track of this objective somewhat as we implemented the project. For example, throughout the project implementation period, there was no contact with the Government ministries nor with other institutions that had been consulted when the project proposal was prepared. The project, therefore, was generally regarded as an NIR one and not as the collaborative effort that it had
been intended to be. We lost the potential national support that had been promised at the initial stage.
I should, however, point out that there was no deliberate decision on the part of NIR to exclude other important partners. We were very much conscious of this fact but the implementation schedule of the project was such that we had to give priority to the production of a printed version of DEVINDEX-Botswana. Because of this production schedule, there was also little time to focus on identifying new information sources for the proposed database. We therefore had to reprocess the documents already available in the library.
When the project started in 1984 nobody knew anything about operating a computer. No software had been identified for the proposed database. The reason for this, however, was that it had been decided that the computer processing of data would be done in PADIS and this had seemed feasible until the implementation of the project. The library was already using its own manual information processing and retrieval system, which was tedious but very appropriate for the collection. The form we used for information processing was simple but adequate for our purposes. However, processing documents for the PADIS database required that we use different and more complicated information processing methodologies designed by PADIS. This caused long delays in the processing of documents. We did not realize until much later that the delays were not being caused by the methodologies we were using but because we were using two methodologies simultaneously. The situation changed when we decided to adapt the PADIS methodologies to suit our internal operations.
PADIS sent one of its indexers/abstractors for three weeks to assist in the manual processing of the documents. His stay was very valuable since we did not have any experience with processing information for a computer-based system. The input sheets were then sent to PADIS for entry into the computer and eventually to IDRC for the production of the first DEVINDEX-Botswana. The ensuing issues of the index were to be a collaborative effort between NIR and PADIS. This arrangement had some practical problems and it was eventually decided that NIR should do the best that it could. After a lot of trial and error, two more indexes were produced. To date, six issues of this index have been produced. In a way, however, this trial and error provided good training.
The information in the six indexes was not selective. Everything on Botswana that had been processed over a particular period was included. Initially, there was no problem with this since the collection was small but, during the production of the sixth issue, it became clear that some criteria were necessary for selecting what should be included in the index. The problem was not only the size of the index but the cost of its eventual distribution. It turned out that the problem was that the index was rather general in terms of subject coverage and this made it difficult for us to target specific audiences.
In retrospect the manual processing of documents should have been followed by the creation of a computerized database at NIR and the actual production of
printed indexes. This would have provided a practical training program that would have included everybody in the Documentation Unit and would have helped us avoid the number of problems that we experienced. It was not, however, until 1987 that the first library database was created at NIR.
Research institutions and information centers tend to be subject-specific. There are of course, big libraries in America, England, and Europe that are interested in all the information about a country, but these are very few compared to the subject-specific ones. I decided that the main library's bibliographic database should be structured to enable us to produce specialized indexes and bibliographies according to the focus areas of NIR: agriculture; education; environment; health and nutrition; rural development; and women and gender issues.
This does not, however, mean that there are six different databases: instead, there is one comprehensive database, subdivided by codes. I find this system good because searching can be done on one database or across different subject areas. The actual production of specialized indexes or bibliographies can be subject-specific. This not only makes networking more effective but makes marketing of the products a lot easier. DEVINDEX-Botswana will, however, continue to be produced containing information about Botswana that does not fall within the specified areas. My experience with the specialized databases shows that there will still be some overlap.
The Meetings Database
The main purpose of this database was to collect information on forthcoming meetings, conferences, seminars, and workshops and to disseminate this information to users. The database focuses on meetings taking place outside Botswana because the information about these is available through journals, magazines, and newsletters that NIR receives. One problem we face is that the information often reaches NIR very late and users do not have enough time to register their interest or, more importantly, arrange for funding. The information collected, however, still serves a useful purpose. Because we knew what meetings are taking place, we are able to ask for reports of those meetings. Electronic mail should make it possible for information to be obtained as soon as it becomes available.
Newspaper Clippings Database
The Documentation Unit provides a newspaper clippings service. When the service started, about ten years ago, articles found relevant were clipped and then
BOX 2 Secondary Information Sources
It is worth noting that a lot of libraries and documentation centers do not seem to appreciate the very important role that newspaper cuttings play as a supplementary source of information, particularly in developing countries where research has a very recent history.
stored in folders, where they were seldom used. I decided that each newspaper article should be entered into the computer to facilitate immediate and easy access and to make it possible for one article to be used for different purposes.
A good example is that of AIDS, where an analysis of the issue can be made from a variety of angles: AIDS and Women; AIDS and Youth; or AIDS in Botswana. Computerizing the newspaper article collection has put more emphasis on easier and quicker retrieval of information. This is actually an easy income-generating activity since a lot of articles are requested through the photocopying service. (See Box 2.)
Mailing List Database
For a long time the library maintained a mailing list of all the institutions with which it had any links. The main purpose of the mailing list, however, was for exchanging information and, particularly, distributing the Institutes' publications. The system used was a manual one, which was effective but very tedious and time-consuming. The only way that this information could be retrieved was by name of institution.
A proper mailing list is a very important management tool that many organizations tend to take for granted. I came to appreciate this only after I had computerized the library database using Micro CDS/ISIS. In its computerized form, it is now possible to retrieve only those institutions or individuals that should receive the NIR's publications list, for instance. It is also possible to retrieve names of institutions and/or individuals that should receive certain publications free of charge or only information about the availability of those publications, so that they can decide to order.
One of our researchers had travelled overseas and desperately needed a list of institutions with which we had exchanged agreements within the area of health. It was possible to provide this information in the shortest time possible because the database is structured in such a way that the computer can pull out first those institutions with whom we have an exchange agreement with and then narrow down the selection to the relevant subject area.
The Results, Impact, and Benefits of the Project
Impact of the DEVSIS-Botswana on the Documentation Unit
The Documentation Unit felt the most immediate effect of DEVIS. Before the project, we used a card catalog that was very tedious—from the production of the cards to their management after they had been filed. No longer do we type the cataloging information onto a stencil that then has to be reproduced elsewhere. Of course, the list of possible tasks that always took priority over the production of the cards was endless and all too often the machine was out of order. No longer do we go through the most tedious exercise of filing the cards. Since we were using a controlled vocabulary, we had to update the cards every time the thesaurus was changed or updated. The automated database relieves us from all of these clerical chores. The information can be easily updated and we can concentrate on providing quality services to our users.
Impact of the DEVSIS-Botswana Project Outside the Institute
The impact of the project outside the NIR Documentation Unit can be judged by the number of requests for assistance with database development that we have been receiving and continue to receive. The following are excerpts from some of these requests:
In terms of computerization, our center has acquired the necessary hardware and chosen Micro CDS/ISIS software. I believe your documentation center uses this software and therefore offers the best prospects for attachment training… The training program that we have in mind is one that can provide: a) an understanding of the database concepts, and expose participants to the skills required for the design and implementation of a database management system; and b) skills in analyzing, designing and implementing computer based information systems.'' (National Council for Scientific Research, Lusaka, Zambia, 1988)
Mr. M has recently attended a short course on Improving the Effectiveness of Small Libraries and Information Centers held at the University of Botswana, where among other things he was introduced to CDS/ISIS software and PADIS methodologies. From his report on the course, we are made to understand that the National Institute of Development Research and Documentation of the University of Botswana is one of the best and most successful national information centers within the PADIS. It is in this regard that we would appreciate it if you can arrange for a study visit to enable Mr. M to gain practical experience on the application
of various techniques of information handling, storage, retrieval, and dissemination. (The Institute of Finance Management, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 1990)
I would like to take advantage of my contact leave to come and visit your Documentation Center, and have a first-hand practical experience with your newspaper indexing project. (Mr. E.R.T. Chiware, Periodicals Librarian, University of Zimbabwe Library, 1991)
The University of Bophuthatswana is in the process of setting up a documentation center. I, therefore, wish to send two professional librarians, to study your setup, especially the organization/processing of materials. (University Librarian, University of Bophuthatswana Library, 1993)2
Through Professor Heywood I heard about your computerization project and DEVSIS-Botswana, and I am greatly interested in paying you a visit to study your work in this regard. (Director of the National Archives of Namibia, 1991)
The above are only samples of the many requests that we have received. As can be seen from excerpts, however, the requests come from a variety of countries and institutions. This, in my opinion, is a clear indication of the impact that the project has had outside NIR. I would like to point out that, unfortunately, it has not been possible for us to satisfy these requests due to staff constraints. Attachment programs require a lot of time for participants to get the maximum benefit out of them. We have, however, had some people spend one to three months with us learning the processing and management of unpublished literature through the use of micro CDS/ISIS.
Analysis of Lessons Learned
Project activities should be integrated into the normal activities of the organization. This has implications on the type of organization selected to undertake a project such as DEVSIS-Botswana. I believe that whatever amount of success that NIR may boast about is due to the fact that we did not have to deviate a lot from our normal tasks in order to accommodate the project activities.
If, as was the case with the DEVSIS-Botswana project, immediate results are expected, professional and experienced staff should be employed. In the case of the DEVSIS-Botswana, the aim was not only to obtain immediate results, but also to strengthen the staffing situation.
The schedule that we actually followed when implementing DEVIS-Botswana was neither efficient nor effective. It was dictated more by circumstance than by
design. If I was able to start over again, I would definitely follow a schedule that looked more like the following:
- Employment and orientation of a professional librarian who will be responsible for database management.
- Training of the professional Librarian for about three months in computers and database management. The latter should include thorough training in abstracting and indexing since these are very important skills for a database manager.
- Familiarization visit to PADIS by the Project and Technical Coordinators. The Project Coordinator should always be someone who was involved in the initial designing of the project. The Technical Coordinator is responsible for abstracting and indexing of documents.
- Putting a network in place for purposes of identifying information sources. The sources should not only be for printed documents, but also for information about research activities taking place. This way, we would have ended up with two types of databases—a bibliographic one and a research inventory database. I found that simply tracking hard documents misses out on getting to know who the real information generators are.
- Collecting documents that will be processed for the project.
- Employment of support staff, including a Data Entry Clerk. It is very important that the latter be employed at the beginning of the project so that data entry is given full-time attention. The mistake that NIR made was to depend on the secretarial staff of the Institute who always had other tasks to take care of and also never really got to learn the library software since they did not use it all the time.
- Training of the project staff in basic computer skills and PADIS methodologies by PADIS.
- Processing of documents and entering data in the computer.
- Publicizing the project, including organizing seminars for potential partners and policy makers and working with the press.
- At this stage the database manager should be back from training and can start checking on the data entered.
- Production of printed outputs, which would include not only one index but also some specialized bibliographies. A conscientious document collection exercise should result in a big enough collection to facilitate this. Two research directories would also be produced; one on ongoing and completed research and another on research institutions. The advantage of leaving the production of printed outputs until the very end is that there will be very little editing to be done.
Another lesson to learn is not to allow or encourage the development of bibliographical databases independently of the ones that have been created by the
BOX 3 Lost Information
This mistake was made at NIR: a few databases were created as special projects. Information was entered in computers outside the library and no arrangements made to transfer this information back to the library. The result was that, for a number of reasons, these databases disappeared and a lot of valuable information was therefore lost. This was unfortunate because the program that is used for the development of databases in the Institute has facilities for merging different databases.
library or documentation center. Work can be subcontracted to individuals to set up these databases but the information should always be transferred to the main database. (See Box 3.)
The NIR also embarked on a research program to build a database on whatever documentation was available on the Basarwa (bushmen). I succeeded in making this part of the existing library database. The good thing that came out of this negotiation is that this information is not only used for the Basarwa research program but is also used for research on the remote area development program that is intended for disadvantaged communities, including the Basarwa/San.
This helps prove that, once information has been collected and processed, it cannot and should not be compartmentalized. It cannot be argued that because a database is developed on environmental issues, it will only be of interest to environmental researchers. For example, I set up a database on energy up for the African Energy Policy Research Network. As I processed documents for this database, I noted the close relationship between energy and environment. Fortunately, I had already negotiated that the database be done as part of the existing library database. I have tried as much as possible to check how often the information from this database is used by other researchers outside the energy field and there is a strong indication that merging the two databases was the best decision.
Conclusions and Recommendations
In conclusion, I would like to recommend the adoption of the Basarwa Database/Bibliography as a model database development project for two reasons. First, the Documentation Unit was fully involved in the project from the beginning—even though it had been conceived elsewhere. Second, this project includes the following "main ingredients" of a database development project.
Pre-Project Consultations Among Potential Project Participants
The idea of the project came from Professor Sidsel Saugestad, Research Facilitator for the Remote Area Development Program (RADP). The NIR Director,
various officers at the Ministry of Local Government, Lands and Housing, other individuals interested in the Basarwa issues, and I all consulted on the project. I was involved to ensure that all the technical aspects were taken care of at the beginning. It was very important that the Ministry was involved so that the necessary link between NIR and Government could be established at the very beginning.
Collection of Documents for the Database
A research assistant was employed to go through the NIR library databases and identify Basarwa-related documents so that they could be re-indexed with the potential users of the database in mind. The research assistant also visited other local libraries. Through visits by the research assistant and enquiries from individuals involved in Basarwa research by Professor Saugestad, we came to know of the existence of many documents that we would not otherwise have known about.
We are using a very interesting method for collecting documents. We try and make contacts with researchers who have published widely in the area of the Basarwa studies and ask them to send us lists of their published and unpublished works and the actual publications. We have received a number of these lists and are using them to follow up more documents. The advantage of having these lists is that we are able to check against what has already been collected and what is available.
Provision of Funding for Production of Abstracts
Very often, organizations realize the need for information on specific subjects but never seem to realize the need for providing funding to make this possible. The result is that, through donor funding, databases are developed as special projects that end as soon as funding is exhausted and printed copies of those databases have been produced.
For the Basarwa Database, funding for the production of abstracts was provided. This left me only with the responsibility of checking the technical aspects of the database and editing the abstracts. Some people may wonder why I am emphasizing the inclusion of abstracts in a bibliographic database when they are so demanding to produce. I can only say that it is not until you provide these that you realize just how important they are to your users.
The availability of funding made it possible for us to be selective in our choice of abstracters. Mrs. Janet Hermans, an anthropologist with very keen interest in the Basarwa issues abstracted about 200 documents. Then we hired Shelagh Willet, an anthropologist and retired librarian. She also collects Botswana documents for the Library of Congress and therefore has a lot of experience in collecting grey literature. I therefore recommend that where the situation allows, a specialist in the field should be employed.
Immediate Availability of Documents
One problem we encountered when developing other databases is that documents located in other organizations but processed by us for the database were not retrievable by users at a later date. We could produce a fantastic database but the service falls apart when readers are unable to locate the source documents. All the documents that are being processed for the Basarwa database are already available in the NIR Library. These are being consulted by the researchers in the Basarwa Research Network, university students, government officials, and the general public.
Formalization and Regularization of the Attachment Program
I gave examples above of the requests we receive for assistance with the development of databases using micro CDS/ISIS. I would recommend that an attachment program be formalized and properly and widely publicized so that other people can benefit from our experience. Judging from the number of requests from Botswana and outside, there would definitely be enough participants for the program to run every year.
The program could be structured to provide practical training in information management and micro CDS/ISIS. This would be a lot cheaper for institutions in Africa. At the moment, we only take participants from one organization at a time. This, I feel, is not at all cost-effective. I would recommend that the training be done for groups of participants so that they can share experiences and learn from each another.
Our program does not teach participants the basic concepts of computers and information science; we require that they already have experience in running their libraries or documentation centers. Instead, we expose them to the various information services that we provide. We then work with them so that they get to know the various processes involved in providing those services. Finally, we let them work on their own like the other staff in the Documentation Unit, but with very close supervision. That way they get to experience a lot of practical problems and through the assistance of the staff, find solutions to those problems.
So, in conclusion, I would say that we faced and overcame many problems in implementing the DEVINDEX-Botswana database project. We have also managed to produce databases that are very important to our users. The lessons we learned in this process have been put to good use as we design and implement additional databases. Although there were a lot of problems during the implementation stages, in retrospect, they were a very good eye-opener for me. Dealing with the problems gave me an understanding of indigenous information management that I would never have had otherwise.
Basarwa is a term used in Botswana for a group of peoples known variously as the Bushmen, Khoisan or San of Southern Africa, and for the purpose of this case study, this is the term that I shall use.
Bophuthatswana is one of the "states" that was created during the apartheid era in South Africa.
KEMRI's Management Information System
by James N. Muttunga
Background and Context of the Project
The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) was established in 1979 by the Science and Technology Act of Parliament. Its Board of Management is accountable to the Minister for Research, Science and Technology and it is primarily funded by the Kenya Government. KEMRI is mandated to conduct research in the biomedical sciences and its main objectives are to:
- cooperate with the other research organizations and institutions of higher learning in training programs and in matters of relevant research;
- work with other research bodies within and outside Kenya carrying out similar research; and
- cooperate with the Ministry of Health, the National Council of Science and Technology, and the Medical Science Advisory Research Committee in matters pertaining to research policies and priorities.
The Member Research Centers
KEMRI has about 1,200 staff members, of which about 450 are either scientists or technical staff. They operate through eight research centers. One is in Busia (near the Kenya/Uganda border); another is in Kisumu (in the lake Victoria
region). The rest are in Nairobi: four at KEMRI headquarters and two centers near the Kenyatta National Hospital. The research centers are:
- Alupe Leprosy and Skin Diseases Research Centre (ALSDRC)
- Biomedical Sciences Research Centre (BSRC)
- Clinical Research Centre (CRC)
- Vector Biology and Control Research Centre (VBCRC)
- Virus Research Centre (VRC)
- Centre for Microbiology Research (CMR)
- Medical Research Centre (MRC)
- Traditional Medicines and Drugs Research Centre (TMDRC)
In 1987, KEMRI appointed a team to write a proposal to develop our management information system (MIS). The team suggested that KEMRI first embark on a pilot project that would:
- Study and identify KEMRI's data processing needs and requirements;
- Provide some additional hardware to facilitate immediate processing requirements; and
- Facilitate exchange of knowledge through training visits to institutions with an operational information management system.
Professor Dean Haynes, then the Deputy Director of the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology, an international research center located in Nairobi, helped us by identifying consultants who had the relevant experience and had carried out similar activities. The chosen consultant first reviewed KEMRI's current inventory of microcomputer hardware and software. The proposal team then reviewed the training needs for the data processing support staff, the scientists, and administrative support staff. We interviewed scientific, technical, and administrative support staff and asked about their present operational systems, the available resources for information technology, and current needs for research production.
We also arranged to train two KEMRI scientists at the Tropical Diseases Research Center at the World Health Organization (TDR/WHO) in Geneva. There, they were able to familiarize themselves with an operational management information system. The training program included working visits to each program and familiarization with the existing techniques for data capture, automation, and analysis.
We completed the study after about six months and presented the report to the KEMRI Board of Management for approval. Based on the initial study and the experience from the training visits, the management board adopted the study report
and used its recommendations and identified needs as the basis for a comprehensive proposal for the development of KEMRI's MIS. The primary objectives of this project were to improve KEMRI's capability in:
- Data processing and information management, through the acquisition of relevant hardware and software;
- Literature search services, through online and CD-ROM searches;
- Desktop publishing, through provision of necessary hardware and software; and
- Human resource development, by providing training aimed specifically at scientific, technical, secretarial, library, clerical, or data entry staff.
The main project proposal underwent a number of revisions and reviews and was not approved for financial support until the second half of 1991. This project benefited from the technical input and support of several reviewers and consultants who shared their opinions, concepts, and understanding with us. The process was in itself tedious and, at times, was affected by standard bureaucratic processes resulting in substantial delays in implementation and funding. The main bottlenecks were mainly due to two factors:
- Lack of adequate information and understanding on the size, magnitude, and extent of operations at KEMRI on the part of the review teams named by the potential donors; and
- Inadequate knowledge of microcomputers systems and the costs of these processes on the part of KEMRI staff.
The hurdles were, however, overcome and the project was finally accepted and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The original budgets and planned activities were, in the end, drastically reduced to facilitate a well-phased development and implementation schedule. This allowed us to follow the strategy of implementing the system according to the primary needs of KEMRI and then building the secondary systems as needed and as resources permitted.
Project Experience and Implementation
The final project provided five main initial services, which are described in some detail below.
Research Strengthening Support
The study of existing hardware revealed that computer systems of differing capacities and types had been acquired through assorted project grants. Neither the various systems nor the software were initially compatible with each other.
The Board of Management recommended that the equipment acquisition process be better coordinated in order to identify the necessary systems, select software that could be supported by the technical staff, and facilitate the exchange, sharing, and compatibility of all new systems and software. We therefore adopted a policy of standardizing all microcomputer systems to a common configuration to facilitate compatibility between machines and the exchange of data sets and software applications.
The project provided two microcomputer systems in each of the eight centers and in the secretariat for data management, analysis, and report preparation by scientific, technical and support staff. We also acquired a dot matrix printer and an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for each center. We strengthened the central computer facilities by acquiring powerful systems that could support KEMRI's large data management and analysis projects. The project also installed appropriate software for data management, analysis, graphics, word processing, utilities, communications, and desktop publishing.
We also stated that all new projects that were expected to have massive data analysis requirements would have to include funds for the necessary equipment in their budgets. Thus a number of projects acquired the necessary support systems. Some of the research programs that benefited from this new policy are listed in Table 1.
TABLE 1 Research Program that Included Acquisition of Computer Equipment
CMR, VRC, CRC, BSRC, MRC
Filariasis, Schistosomiasis, Hepatitis B, Acute respiratory infections
CRC, VBCRC, ALSDRC
Clinical trials, Filariasis, Malaria, Leprosy, and skin diseases
Pesticide use and health
BOX 1 Sudden Depreciation
The project suffered a nearly 40 percent loss from the sudden depreciation of the Kenya shilling against the U.S. dollar during its second year. This problem has affected all KEMRI projects and has led us to seek authority to run two external accounts, with one running as a straight U.S. dollar account and the other as local external account for all projects.
We initially planned to acquire the hardware and software through local firms that could provide the necessary support and maintenance. We learned, however, that the prices of these systems—even when ordered duty-free—were excessively higher than what we had budgeted. We decided on this strategy: provide, first, the new technologies that were not available directly from the local dealers. These included the CD-ROM systems for the library and the communication hardware and all the software applications that we had identified for use throughout KEMRI.
We acquired the other systems after attending the first meeting of the network of Carnegie grantees in May 1992. This meeting was organized by the U.S. National Research Council and held at the African Regional Centre for Technology (ARCT) in Dakar, Senegal. During the meeting, I learned about computer manufacturing firms who were selling high quality systems at competitive prices in the United States—through a direct-mail order system—and who had already supplied some to ARCT. I used this new contact to order the new systems at prices comparable to what we had budgeted! (See Box 1.)
The equipment acquisition process has improved gradually and we have now identified other dealers who can provide equipment. The sourcing of new products is presently carried out after soliciting different quotations from a few international firms.
Documentation and Library Support
The project acquired two microcomputer systems and the hardware accessories (UPS and dot matrix printer) for use in the library and at the central computer facility for online literature searches and internal database development. Two external CD-ROM drives were installed together with Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) cards and we subscribed to MEDLINE and POPLINE databases on CD-ROM. These databases formed the core sources for literature searches performed by scientists at KEMRI. We did learn that the CD-ROM drives should be dual or multiple drives to improve on easy access and to minimize ''disc swapping." Many large databases are carried on several discs and it is quite convenient to be able to search all the discs at one time. This is not possible in a single drive system.
The availability of MEDLINE on CD-ROM provided us with a unique and unexpected opportunity. For nearly three years we had been trying, without much success, to provide the Board of Management with a current list of publications and of research developments from KEMRI's scientists. The scientists had responded very poorly to our requests for copies of their published papers because they were unable to provide us with hard copies. We decided, therefore, to search MEDLINE and POPLINE—as well as our own annual medical proceedings—for information written by our own scientists. We then compiled a book of abstracts that covers the scientific output of KEMRI staff.
In early 1993, we compiled and published the first summary, covering material published between 1985–1991. In 1994, we compiled, printed, and circulated among scientists and institutions a second summary, covering 1980–1984. These abstracts now cover the period between 1980–1993, and part of 1994. They have been entered into a central database and are being edited and formatted for eventual publication on disk and in hard copy. We hope that this publication will be the first step toward the development of local databases.
Human Resource Development
The project has trained many staff groups. The type of training provided is summarized in Table 2.
The project supports the dissemination of research results by providing desktop publishing (DTP) services. We have acquired software and a laser printer, scanner, and other accessories. DTP was initially used for the production of the proceedings of the annual scientific conference that has been convened for the last
TABLE 2 Training Program
Type of staff
Type of training offered
Scientific and administrative staff
Introduction of microcomputers and to software applications for data management, graphics, word processing, and spreadsheets. CD-ROM and use of email systems.
Introduction to microcomputers and to the software applications for operating systems, database management, word processing and spreadsheets.
Technical and support computer operations staff
Specialized training in specific applications, programming, and LAN and Novell administration courses.
15 years by both KEMRI and the Kenya Trypanosomiasis Research Institute (KETRI). This conference has improved in quality and has been expanded to a regional "African Health Science Congress," which is now held in different countries on a rotating basis within the African region.
The production of the conference proceedings has also improved and a new journal, The African Journal of Health Sciences, has evolved. KEMRI selects quality papers from the congress and from scientists in the region for peer review and publication in the new journal. In addition to typesetting and producing camera-ready copy for the journal and the proceedings, KEMRI DTP staff also publishes the annual report and the quarterly KEMRI News.
Email and Communications
The project has also acquired some 2400 baud modems and has installed two telephone lines for use in electronic communication among scientists in the centers, as well as among local and international organizations and associations. This has facilitated the exchange of information among local scientists and with the international scientific community.
Results, Impacts, and Benefits of the Project
Hardware and Software
KEMRI has experienced a dramatic growth in provision and use of microcomputer systems for various research activities. With the funding provided by the Carnegie Corporation, we have acquired 22 new computers. In addition, a
TABLE 3 Hardware and Software Donations
No. of systems
Carnegie Corp of NY
Walter Reed Army Hospital
number of systems have been acquired through the research activities supported by other donors and collaborating institutions. These systems all have similar specifications since all computer acquisitions are arranged through the technical support group.
Standardized software has now been acquired and installed in all the existing systems—irrespective of the funding source. A summary of these acquisitions and the donor that supported their purchase is provided in Table 3.
Figures 1 and 2 show that access by staff to computers has risen from 46 percent in 1992 to about 60 percent in 1994. Word processing is the most used application. Use of spreadsheets (Lotus 1-2-3) and presentation software (Harvard Graphics) has remained below 20 percent but the ability to use MEDLINE on CD-ROM rose from 30 percent in 1992 to 46 percent in 1994. Email services have been poorly used overall with user rate ranging between 4 percent and 12 percent. Eighty percent of the scientists are aware of the existence of MEDLINE on CD-ROM and 64 percent have conducted a search at either the Library or the central computer facility.
The KEMRI Library has, over the past few years, experienced a reduction in the number of journal subscriptions it was able to carry. With the total number of journals reduced to about 20, a shrinking budget for books and other literature services, and inter-library loan transactions taking anywhere from weeks to months, the scientific process had been rendered a myth. The introduction of the MEDLINE database on CD-ROM has transformed this process. The CD-ROM service is complemented by the traditional process of providing reprints as requests are received by the librarian. In terms of volume, the number of requests forwarded to the main library for reprints has declined from about 415 in 1990, to 208 in 1991, to 135 in 1992, to 83 in 1993, and to 45 in 1994.
Comparatively, the total requests for MEDLINE literature searches on CD-ROM have shown a positive increase during the past two years with about 180
requests in 1993 and rising to 240 in 1994. This in itself is an underestimate as it includes only those scientists who were assisted during the search sessions or who had their searches printed. It excludes those scientists who conducted their own searches or who downloaded the search results to floppy disks.
There are many other benefits of this project. These include the following:
- The tendency to use the literature available in the MEDLINE database is contributing substantially to the production of quality papers and reports in KEMRI.
- All the reference, documentation, and library automation services, including on-line searches using CD-ROM and the development of localized databases, are wholly provided by the project.
- The training of the scientific, technical, and administrative support in use of microcomputers for various operations has been provided through the project activities.
- The project provides full support to all email, communications, desktop publishing services that exist within KEMRI.
Box 2 Timing the Training Sessions
Before the project got fully under way, IDRC, which was funding one of KEMRI's large, field-based diarrhoea projects, agreed to support a training workshop for about 30 scientists in the region—of whom about 50 percent were senior scientists in KEMRI. The training course content included an introduction to microcomputers, operating systems and standard software, and online literature searching and library information systems. The data processing staff in KEMRI coordinated and facilitated these training workshops. However, since KEMRI had not yet installed computer systems, the demand for computer access that the training workshop generated could not be met. As a result, more than half of this first group needed to be retrained four years later when the equipment was more widely available.
- Nearly 90 percent of the software available and in use in all the centers and computer laboratories has been provided by the project, inclusive of those systems that were acquired and donated by the other operational projects in the institute.
Analysis of Lessons Learned
In the course of the project implementation, we discovered several things that we should have done differently. First, the training of staff should ideally be planned to take place immediately after the acquisition of the microcomputer systems. If training is conducted prior to the availability of computers, then many of those trained will not be able to use their new skills and will need to be retrained. (See Box 2.)
Second, we learned that hardware installation should be targeted to those services that are generating data and reports. These services require "power users" who have a genuine need for the technology. Some of the applications aimed at institutional strengthening were not used as much as we expected, simply because there was not a strongly felt need for them. We also discovered that computer services located at a central facility help to promote usage and access. Gradually, the access can be decentralized while the support, training, and maintenance are centralized.
In this same vein, we learned that email services should be provided initially to those scientists and researchers who are the most motivated to communicate with colleagues in other countries or regions. Those who share a common interest in a research area or in problem-solving will readily adapt to a new technology that makes communication relatively quick and inexpensive. Their enthusiasm encourages others to try the technology.
We were pleased with our early decision to establish standards for the acquisition of both hardware and software. By setting up such procedures for coordinated procurement, we were able to avoid incompatibility problems and by selecting a standard suite of software, we were able to facilitate sharing and exchange of information and data sets.
Another part of our project that worked well was the identification of a "computer coordinator" in each department. This person acted as the link between the users, the technical support team, and the procurement officers. The coordinators were members of the oversight committee that managed the implementation and development of the MIS project.
Finally, the project should have built in mechanisms oriented toward self-sustenance. Evaluation systems need to be in place from the beginning. This involves the identification of tangible process indicators that can be used in measuring the impact the project.
Conclusions and Recommendations
We are enthusiastically planning the next phase of this project. In that phase, we will do the following:
- Install a local area network to facilitate easier access to hardware and software by more staff.
- Replace the single drive CD-ROM readers with multiple-drive machines in order to improve search services. We will continue subscribing to MEDLINE and other databases.
- Promote the development of more local databases.
- Strengthen the desktop publishing operation in order to efficiently produce the new journal; put these services on a self-sustaining basis.
- Install a communication system in order to promote the use of email and to take advantage of Kenya's newly-achieved access to the Internet.
- Implement new training strategies aimed at strengthening the technical staff with sufficient skills to support and maintain the LAN and at sensitizing more of the staff to the available services.
The idea for this project dates back to 1987 and it seemed to take an incredible amount of time to actually launch it. Looking back, however, we can see that we have accomplished much since we actually began implementing the project in 1991. The project is responsible for about 80 percent of all data management, analysis, and report productions systems and services currently available at KEMRI. Furthermore, the project has helped to develop an information culture at KEMRI and this has had a positive impact on every aspect of our activities.
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The Ghana National Scientific and Technological Information Network (GHASTINET) Project
by John A. Villars
Background and Context of the Project
The Republic of Ghana is located on the West African coast along the Gulf of Guinea. In 1995, it had a population of 17.1 million, with about 1.4 million in the capital, Accra. Since attaining independence from Britain in 1957, Ghana has experienced frequent political changes. Over the years, Ghana has had nine governments, five of which have been military and four civilian. In November and December 1992, parliamentary and presidential elections were held respectively for a Fourth Republic, and a new constitution is currently being implemented.
Ghana is predominantly an agricultural country which, for a long time, has depended rather heavily on a single export crop, cocoa. Ghana's economic development is constrained by several factors, including the overall low level in investment, which is estimated at about 16 percent of GDP. Of particular concern is the relatively low investment in social infrastructure, especially in basic education and training. The paucity of basic education and literacy is more acute in the rural areas, which account for nearly 85 percent of Ghana's population and which are responsible for almost all of Ghana's agricultural production.
The Host Institution
The host institution of the project is the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which was established as the National Research Council in 1958. It is a government subsidized organization that has the status of a public organization outside the civil service. It enjoys a status similar to that of a university institution.
The mandate of the CSIR is to implement government policies on scientific research and development and to advise the government on scientific and technological advances likely to be of importance to national development. Another goal of the CSIR is to collate, publish, and disseminate the results of research and other useful technical information. Past attempts to promote the popularization of science and technology in the society and to market research results have not made a very significant impact and CSIR is taking steps to improve the situation.
The commitment of the CSIR to information activities stems from its recognition that information constitutes an integral part of the research enterprise. CSIR has thus established the National Science and Technology Library and Information Centre (NASTLIC), as well as library and documentation units in several of its institutes. There are in some institutes various categories of officers engaged in providing, processing, repacking, or disseminating information.
The role of the CSIR in information activities is essentially a dual one of a parent organization and a user. As a parent, it acts as promoter, supporter, and facilitator of such activities. It plays this role by setting out broad policies; recruiting and paying salaries of personnel; providing buildings, books and equipment, and other physical facilities; and obtaining funding from government and other agencies for the development of information services.
As a user, the CSIR needs information to support its research and managerial functions. Its current mandate aims at regulating research and the application of science and technology in development, enabling private sector research and development activities in the Council, and encouraging commercialization of research results. For a long time, the CSIR was perceived as an "ivory tower" institution whose research activities have not been of direct benefit to society. This view has changed, following the general realization that it is ineffective mechanisms for marketing research results that create the impression of CSIR as an ivory tower. The CSIR must show even greater commitment to information and its repackaging and transfer.
The Ghana National Scientific and Technological Information Network (GHASTINET) project is located within NASTLIC. NASTLIC is the national focal point of the project, which includes nine sectoral nodes and several special resource centers. NASTLIC provides leadership through meetings, discussions,
and guidelines and also promotes and fosters collaboration and cooperation among network participants.
The main objective of the project is to make scientific and technological information (STI) available in appropriately packaged forms for the benefit of users. The beneficiaries include government officials, private enterprises, scientific researchers, including university staff and students, and also small-scale and cottage industries.
To achieve the above objective, a number of functions and activities have been identified for which resources are being provided. Such resources include personnel, buildings, equipment and funding, as well as clear guidelines on operating procedures and linkages with external agencies. These resources and other relevant issues are discussed below.
The present core personnel of NASTLIC consist of eleven professionals, three technical level staff, four administrative staff, and fifteen clerical and junior personnel. We have plans to recruit four more staff, including two technical support level, and two junior staff.
All the professional staff have basic academic and professional qualifications. They have acquired other skills but could use more practical training through attachment to similar organizations. Additional training is required in technical areas such as database development and management, abstracting and indexing, handling user inquiries, and information searching. All library staff need more and better skills in using new information technologies. Many have little confidence in the use of computers because they do not have ready access to them.
Most senior professional staff need training in management and leadership skills. This is particularly essential because most of them are expected to provide liaison between the national focal point and the sectoral nodes and special resource centers of the project. They are therefore required not only to be highly trained professionals but also good managers with leadership skills. The technical support staff also require more training, especially in the use of computers and in the new information technologies. Such training, for which the present resources are inadequate, should ideally be provided in-house.
Local training facilities are generally either not available or are inadequate. The only school for training in library and information science has a poor resource base in terms of teaching staff and equipment. This is particularly acute in the area of modern information science and technology. The school has only in the last year acquired six personal computers. Training provided tends to be rather theoretical with relatively little opportunity for practical skill acquisition in spite of a three week attachment program for students in working environments.
The attrition of librarians to other professions or to neighboring countries, as experienced about a decade earlier, has ceased, mainly because of an improved
BOX 1 Staff Mobility
Staff mobility and turnover has largely been a one-way—from the public library to the special or university library. In recent times however, as a result of a certain degree of saturation, especially at NASTLIC, there has been some exodus to financial institutions and to a large oil exploration company.
economy and the competitive salaries of librarians as compared to salaries of university lecturers and researchers. (See Box 1.)
Information and Communication Technologies
The project has received various items of equipment, most of which were gifts. One personal computer, donated by a local computer company, developed a problem with the motherboard after only six months and it took several months to have it replaced. During the last three years, the project has acquired a total of eight personal computers. The computers are mainly IBM personal computers, or clones running MS-DOS, that have capacities ranging from 50 to 120 megabyte hard disks. There are two laser printers and two dot matrix printers. All the computers operate on DOS with Windows and they have VGA color monitors. Other equipment includes a CD-ROM drive, a Telebit 1000 modem, and two mouses.
We have four CD-ROM databases namely, the CAB International Abstracts, AGRIS, TropAg and Rural, the Maize Germplasm Databank, and a couple of demonstration disks. We currently use standard software, including WordPerfect Version 5.2, Lotus 123, Borland Reflex for DOS version 2.0, Dbase 4, Aldus Pagemaker, and CDS-ISIS Version 3.1. There is also a Fidonet-based communication software, Frontdoor, used for electronic mail exchange with the Association for Progressive Communications in London.
The equipment and software are used for database management, word processing, desktop publishing, accounting, and electronic mail. All the software is user-friendly, although some observers complain that CDS-ISIS often poses problems and that its operation is sometimes cumbersome.1 Technical support for the equipment has posed rather serious problems in the past, partly because of the lack of information about local suppliers, their products, and their competence in the repair and maintenance of electronic equipment. (See Box 2.)
Although technical support is now available, it is rather expensive. Lately, however, with the establishment of a repair unit in a local research institution, there appear to be prospects for much cheaper rates and more reliable arrangements for maintenance. Another bit of good news is that October 1995 the import duty on personal computers was lifted.
BOX 2 Repairing Modems
We had an interesting experience with our modems. We could not find a local company that could repair them so we took two modems across Africa to far-away Nairobi and Addis Ababa, where we were attending conferences. We could not repair the modems in either place, however, because they were not accompanied by their corresponding cables. So they went back across Africa and remained broken until, by sheer coincidence, a staff member complained casually to a relative. This person was able to fix one of the modems merely by inserting a pointed object into one of its pin-holes.
Attempts at developing a national policy on informatics are currently in progress. Over the years, certain major issues have been identified as being pertinent to a national policy on information technology. Some of the issues include:
- recognition of the importance for ministerial responsibility for informatics;
- the establishment of professional training centers for software and hardware applications;
- better methods for disseminating public information and raising awareness about information issues;
- the need to review trade restrictions and other legislation, regarding standardization and improvement in telecommunications infrastructure;
- the need for greater reliability of electricity supply;
- support for local manufacture and assembly of computer equipment;
- ways to promote investment in the information sector; and
- the establishment of a system for effective monitoring of trends in the industry.
Systems and Processes
The systems and procedures of the project arise from its objectives, functions, and activities. The activities have been assigned to six sections: Administration and Finance; Collection Development; Technical Services; Information Technology; Marketing, Publicity and User Service; and Reprography and Conservation. These activities ensure logical work flow and smooth communication among the various sections.
The project is funded predominantly from central government sources but it has benefited from funds provided by the International Development Research
Centre (IDRC) of Canada and the World Bank. The World Bank supports the National Agricultural Research Project (NARP), which is developing the library and information system for agriculture—the Ghana National Agricultural Information Network (GAINS). GAINS is a sub-network of GHASTINET.
Another source of funding is from the photocopying service, but this is rather meager and covers only the cost of paper. We also hope to cover the costs of providing email service. In this regard, our revenue has been limited by an increasing number of email service providers in the country, some of whom are offering service free-of-charge—at least in the short term. With the installation of desktop publishing software and a microfilm facility, we plan to generate some additional income. There are also plans to introduce charges for literature searches provided to industrial or commercial firms. We increasingly feel the need for a vigorous marketing and publicity campaign to attract customers for these services. Our effort to generate income falls squarely in line with the CSIR's new policy directives that require all its institutes to commercialize as much as possible.
Project Experience and Implementation
The first phase of the project developed, equipped, and strengthened the national focal point to a level that enabled it to lead the gradual establishment and growth of the entire national network. To do this, we:
- developed an efficient system for the bibliographic control of indigenous STI;
- created computerized databases for indigenous STI, ongoing research projects, high-level scientific and technical manpower, and a union list of S&T periodicals;
- from these databases, generated and produced publications and other promotional material;
- established a facility for microfilming indigenous STI;
- arranged training programs and workshops for network participants; and
- promoted the implementation of the network and its services.
By its various activities, the project is expected to arouse the awareness of information personnel to the importance of science and technology information. With the ultimate objective of providing STI to assist in the socioeconomic development of the country, the project envisages carrying out a national survey to find out the information needs of various user categories including the research and academic; the government and public policy makers and planners; the private or public commercial and industrial houses; and the small-scale and cottage entrepreneurs and peasant farmers.
Ghanaians are innovative as reflected by the ingenuity shown among the small-scale or cottage industrialists. Attitude to information and knowledge is very positive, especially if the information has direct relevance to needs and if it is cheap
BOX 3 Acceptance of Technology
Generally, Ghanaians as a whole value education and learning. This attitude and the desire for high economic attainment has however seemed to wane. In the last decade, there has been a slight drop in the respect accorded to education and schooling. Attitude towards the new technology is positive but not many are willing to take risks, especially among the very highly educated. A case in point is my own attitude: for fear of it catching fire, I would not risk leaving a computer on overnight for electronic mail purposes.
and easily accessible. There is a tendency to give up the chase if information is hard to get or if it is not cheap. This attitude stems partly because information may not be easily accessible—either because it is not known to exist, because its location or source is not known, or because it has not been packaged or organized in a readily useable form. There is also a general attitude of wanting things free-of-charge. This is even more acute in the case of information, probably because it has always been provided free or because it tends to be taken for granted, unless it is a matter of ''life and death." (See Box 3.)
In many areas of science and technology activity, especially in agriculture, environment, and health, there are instances where information has played a vital role in the alleviation of problems. For several years, Ghana had experienced the problem of low-yield of local maize varieties and their high susceptibility to serious insect attack, both onand off-farm. The role of information in alleviating these problems is not so much in the form of publications, but rather in the form of effective knowledge transfer and communication between the Crops Research Institute, the Extension Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, and farmers and maize consumers.
The solutions most commonly proposed for the above problem include knowledge transfer through effective extension and communication with farmers whose confidence is thereby won. By this means, information and feedback are easily obtained from experiences of the farmers who are generally illiterate and whose attitude to research may be one of suspicion or mistrust. Other means of solving the researchers' problems include faster and easier access to foreign journals or publications and inexpensive communication with their peers in other countries, as well as with other agencies like the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
Both the researcher and the farmer have interchanging roles as providers and users of information and they therefore exhibit certain patterns in the information life cycles in which they are involved. They both generate information either through
research or from experience. The farmer produces and distributes information mainly orally and by demonstration. Researchers publish papers in journals or other media. They may distribute information at conferences or seminars, through invisible colleges among peers, or in electronic form on diskettes, tapes, and CD-ROM. They can also communicate by means of electronic mail or bulletin boards.
These media also provide the means of storage and easy retrieval and facilitate wider dissemination in a relatively short time. Modern electronic media can be used to capture, store, and communicate the farmer's orally delivered or demonstrable experiences. The mode of acquisition for both user types ranges from word of mouth and demonstration for the farmer, to document procurement by the individual researcher or a library and information center through gift, exchange, or purchase.
Users who have reacted positively to the project are predominantly the research scientists of institutes and academic staff and students of universities. Their reaction is initially one of approbation of the objectives of the project, especially with regard to the databases and the publicizing of the collection of indigenous STI. The policy makers and planners in government and public organizations who know about the project also approve of the objective of the databases, especially those that cover ongoing research and high-level manpower.
Researchers and academic staff however express disappointment with the poor availability of current journals and with difficulties in obtaining full-text articles when searches are conducted from CD-ROM databases. They also complain about the high cost of photocopies and lack of translations of materials in foreign languages, especially French. Industrialists hardly use the services of the project because they are not aware of it, and the small-scale and cottage industries do not have any direct contact with the project as yet. This is partly because they do not know about it and also because, even if they did, the information would not be easily assimilable since it has to be repackaged. It is also partly because of the general perception that libraries only have storybooks and not information or technical information for that matter. This state of affairs calls for sound information repackaging and marketing.
Marketing of the services and products of the project has been minimal and this is being remedied with the recent appointment of an Information Marketing and Publicity Officer. So far, the only marketing methods adopted are announcements in the project's GHASTINET Newsletter. Other publication outlets include a
BOX 4 Popularizing Science
As part of the CSIR program to popularize science, a new radio program is in the pipeline. This program, "From the Research Files," is expected to start in August or September 1995. As part of the World Science Renaissance Day of Africa, which is celebrated on 30th June every year, NASTLIC participated in this year's program. It compiled a directory from a computerized database of small-scale industries in a suburb of Accra and distributed it to various agencies engaged in supporting or promoting small-scale enterprises.
GHASTINET Brochure, a flier advertising the project, and another advertising the electronic mail service. There is also a Ghana Science Abstracts Bulletin issued bimonthly, in which summaries of indigenous STI are provided and distributed to research and academic institutions. We are in the process of planning effective marketing of the project and its services.
Following the creation of a Ministry for Environment, Science and Technology and the concern of government for the need to market research results and to popularize science and technology, the CSIR has embarked on developing programs for this purpose. Accordingly, I am chairing a special committee on science popularization and we have held preliminary meetings with the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) and all public relations personnel in the CSIR. During the last six months, we have prepared a set of proposals in a project document. The proposals have been discussed with the CSIR Director-General and officials of the local secretariat of UNESCO. A short request for basic equipment, including a video camera, has been submitted to UNESCO for consideration in 1996. (See Box 4.)
With regard to user education and training in information searching, not much has been done. Formally, only a couple of demonstrations of CD-ROM have been organized for selected user audiences. The major one was conducted among all agricultural research institutions, stations, and university faculties. It was combined with an interactive survey on user preferences and on their perceptions and opinions on services being provided. Following a full-day seminar and demonstration of CD-ROM to about forty researchers and academic staff, our expectation that we would be inundated with demands for searches proved to be a pipe dream—requests for searches remained as before. We have also taken advantage of national fairs and exhibitions to give demonstrations on the use of CD-ROM and of electronic messaging.
BOX 5 Importance of Science and Technology
The project has made an indirect contribution to the increased recognition of research as a necessary tool for development. Science and technology research has received considerable recognition and as a result, a Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology has been established. Hitherto science and technology did not have such prominence.
Results, Impact, and Benefits of the Project
On the whole, we can say that the project has been of limited benefit to users in the various categories targeted. More could have been achieved if we had developed a vigorous and sustained information marketing program. The responses we obtained during the survey of users in agricultural research institutions indicated the benefits derived and the impact of the project, even though the demonstration did not result in an increase in requests for CD-ROM searches. These benefits included skills in using thesauri, abstracting and indexing journals, and in CD-ROM searches. For many, the project provided a first opportunity to use a computer database and for some, a first opportunity to use printed abstracts.
We are placing a great deal of emphasis on how to get science and technology to contribute to national development objectives and on ways and means of providing adequate funding for research. (See Box 5.) The former Minister of Science and Technology consulted with his peers and senior personnel in other ministries to determine areas in their programs to which science and technology could contribute. Ghana has also taken steps to establish a National Science and Technology Fund (NASTEF). Expected contributions from industrialists may raise the funding for research in science and technology to close to the target of one percent of GDP by the year 2000, as suggested in the Lagos Plan of Action. (The level of S&T funding since 1992 is only about 0.3 percent of GDP.)
As part of the effort to maximize the impact of science and technology and the contribution it can make to society, the legislation establishing the CSIR is being amended to give it a wider scope in commercializing research results. The CSIR Council is also being restructured to make it less cumbersome and more effective.
A recent development was the invitation to the Director-General of CSIR and some institute directors (including myself) to a special session with the Parliamentary sub-Committee on Science and Technology. We discussed issues relating to how well S&T had been covered in a Presidential Report to Parliament. The report, which is entitled Ghana-Vision 2020: The First Step, seeks, in the President's words, "to provide a framework within which we can realize the long-term vision of raising Ghana into the ranks of the middle-income countries of the world."
One notable impact of the project at the national focal point has been the increased awareness and the newly acquired skills of staff in the application of new technologies, especially computers, CD-ROM, and electronic mail. They accomplish assignments faster and their information products are more impressive, especially the publications produced by desktop publishing. Staff have become computer literate and their understanding of modern information work has been heightened considerably. The information literacy of users has also increased considerably, especially as a result of their exposure to CD-ROM and electronic mail facilities.
It is, however, too early to determine if users' information query formulation has also improved since rather few users are physically present during searches. However, as a result of their exposure to these new information technologies, both staff and users are better able to cope and feel more confident in handling the technologies, and they have become much more aware, not only of a wider scope and volume of information sources, but also of the potentials offered by the new technologies.
The users who have been exposed to services offered by the project have benefited in a variety of ways. For example, those who have used the email facility have been able to contact their colleagues overseas for information or for some solution to a problem.
The project staff have benefited because they have learned new skills in computer use, database creation and maintenance, word processing, desktop publishing, spreadsheets, CD-ROM searching, and electronic mailing.
The CSIR as a whole has benefited from the introduction of computers into the organization. As a result, some secretarial staff at the headquarters had their first exposure to computers and this encouraged them to seek training in applications of word processing and spreadsheets. CSIR now appreciates the potential of the technology and is taking steps to have the project provide assistance for the development of a management information systems (MIS) and in automating accounts in the CSIR.
Nationally, the project attracted the attention of the Ghana National Commission for UNESCO, which designated NASTLIC as the national organization responsible for matters relating to the General Information Programme (PGI) and the Intergovernmental Informatics Programme (IIP). Accordingly, the CSIR Council has approved proposals by NASTLIC to set up a Special Committee to handle issues on informatics. The Committee is expected to be inaugurated early in 1996. NASTLIC also attracted the attention of the government's National Development Planning Commission and as a result it is represented on a special committee known as the Information Technology Planning Group.
Analysis of Lessons Learned
Major Success Factors
Human, financial, and external support factors contributed to the success of this project. Essential human factors include the perceptiveness of authorities in the parent organization; their understanding and appreciation of the role and value of information in their work; and the commitment and dedication of staff on the project. Added to this is the vision for the project, with its clear and well-articulated plan, objectives, and expected benefits. The most significant human factor in this connection is the mutual understanding between authorities of the parent organization and the project leader. Another factor derived from this is good management practice, involving planning and constant review and evaluation.
Funding, especially from the Ghana government, has not been easily forthcoming; however, the limited funding that was available and the support of IDRC in the form of equipment and training, have contributed immensely to the success of the project. In fact, the external support has always served as bait for obtaining government funding and very often it has been used as a threat to withhold external assistance if government funding was not forthcoming. In spite of the generally weak economic situation of the country, even the rather meager government funding can be considered as a success factor simply because it serves as evidence of government interest in the project.
In this connection, another success factor has been the sometimes unorthodox public relations approach of project staff, especially at the individual level, to government officials in the funding ministry. This personal and informal approach helped drive home more effectively the not easily recognizable principle that STI is a vital ingredient to national development. My persistent reference to the importance of information at virtually any meeting of CSIR directors often led to remarks like "Oh yes, there goes the information man."
The issue of funding is directly related to external support factors that have contributed to the success of the project. The quality of any organization's library and information services is a reflection of the importance and commitment attached to such services. So, while the general economic and political situation had an adverse impact on the project, as evidenced by the delay in its take-off and in the occasional hiccups, it can still be said that the project has benefited from the generally enabling environment in the CSIR and the government. This was partly due to the timing of the project, which may be described as propitious, and also partly due to my persistence and the many years of sustained effort from me and my colleagues.
The problems that have prevented the project from reaching its full potential can be traced to the general lack of a sufficiently strong conviction and realization of the importance of STI in all spheres of national development. This is also partly due to the inability of the project, like many a library or information project, to adopt a more aggressive marketing, user education, and publicity approach. The weak marketing itself derives from an apprehension that the resulting demand for information may not be adequately met and will, therefore, lead to loss of confidence in the system. There have been a few examples of this, especially with regard to the email service, which broke down because of faulty equipment that could not be repaired quickly.
Lack of personnel has been a problem to the project. Special services, such as literature searches on CD-ROM, and the personal touch in carrying out such services, could not be sustained simply because the skilled staff were not available. There has also been a tendency for some staff to be apathetic due to insufficient motivation because of low wages.
Funding, as already mentioned, has been a perennial problem. Not only is it insufficient, but it is not always guaranteed. A case in point was when there was a one-year ban on construction works in public organizations. The most recent example was the freezing of allocations made for equipment in the 1995 approved budget estimates. It is also partly due to the relative low priority accorded to library and information projects. The limited funding may be partly due to our inability to articulate more forcefully and effectively the importance of the project. We need convincing and concrete evidence to justify our very existence and continued support.
Equipment repair and maintenance has also been a serious problem. The story of the faulty modems is a typical example. We have also lost large volumes of data due to faulty equipment, interruptions in the power supply, and dust collecting in computers.
Conclusions and Recommendations
One solution to these problems is the intensification of user education, especially among the senior personnel in CSIR. They need to better understand the real value of information in their work as researchers and as decision makers. Training at all levels of information workers needs to be strengthened and we believe that the project should set up a special unit to conduct all training programs.
We should explore avenues of collaborating with the media and with other professional societies and organizations. We need to develop guidelines and standard procedures and begin services for systems reporting and evaluation. Good management practice is paramount.
Generally, the GHASTINET Project may be described as a success story because it has provided the stimulus and acted as a catalyst in creating awareness and arousing interest in STI generally. It has taken about thirty years to get this far and the little that has been achieved needs to be sustained and improved further. There is the urgent need to re-examine the project in the light of new circumstances and to intensify collaboration with agencies that generate or disseminate information in one form or the other.
There is further need to create the awareness that information management is not the exclusive prerogative of the librarian or other information professionals. Information is a resource that practically everyone needs and that practically everyone handles and uses in one form or another. There is a need for an STI culture in Ghana as part of a science and technology culture.
Finally, I recommend that external agencies, be they international or bilateral, be aware of the need to relate aid programs to STI where relevant and to emphasize information technologies and services as integral components of assistance programs.