25.8.05

Let´s discuss also the future events and activities of Gov Lib Section

The standing committee of the Government Library Section decided in its meeting 18.8.05 to open this blog also for the discussion on other activities of the Section than the preconference. For example, the mid-term conference between IFLA conferences in Soeul (2006) and Durban (2007) was discussed. Do you have ideas for the themes of the mid-term conference?

16.8.05

We had a successful conference

I believe we all agree with that! Let`s continue discussion. I shall open the webblog for the standing committee of Gov Lib section and all members of the section, if you like. Please send me your email address if you want to join us.

2.8.05

Welcome to discuss the conference themes!

The aim of this blog is to assist and further the discussion at the conference and after the conference. I´ll add all the papers and presentations, which are in the programme, to the blog as soon as I receive those from the speakers. You are welcome to email questions or comments (see the envelope icon at the end of each post) before or after the conference. Let´s have an active and innovative conference!

24.7.05

Seppo Määttä: What Is Strategic Information and How Are Governments Creating It?

The presentation includes pictures which could not be added in the blog. The whole handout of the presentation will be delivered to the participants of the conference separately. Please find below only the text of a couple of slides and the background material, which is the summary of Seppo Määttä´s doctoral thesis 14.5.2005 (originally in Finnish).


What is strategy ?


Strategy
… as a Position
… as a Perspective
… as a Plan
… as a Pattern
… as a Process
… as a Practice

Shared understanding on
•value basis
•basic task and direction
•priorities
•actions and actors
•feedback

What? How? Who?


The Nature of Governmental Strategy-making

How are strategies and strategic information created in the real life context which is based on
•complexity (not simplicity)?
•ambiquity (not clarity)?
•inconsistency (not consistency)?

Community based Knowledge Creation
  • Turning data and formal information into strategic information and knowledge demands personal and interpersonal interpretation.
  • Interpretation is a process of creating meanings.
  • The transformation of information into knowledge is based on experienced meanings.

Suggestions for the discussion:

  1. How government libraries and information services support the strategies of their home organization in practice?
  2. What are the guiding assumptions on making strategies and strategic information?
  3. How an information specialist establishes his role and position in the context of strategic information and knowledge creation?
  4. What are the critical success factors and key competences for libraries and information services in processing and providing strategic information?


    Interpretative Horizons on Strategy and Strategic Information. Case Ministry of Finance (Finland).

    Introduction

    Strategy and strategic information are the phenomena of our time. They are deeply analysed, heavily debated, seriously considered and widely used concepts by all kinds of institutions, organisations and even countries. A lot of time, money and energy are invested in processing information for defining and discovering the secret recipe for a credible and deliverable strategy. It has been argued that the capacity to continuously mobilize people to analyse and to debate various kinds of information to be translated into the actionable strategies forms a unique strength for any organisation.

    Despite their importance and the ever enlarging expansion, the multi-faceted and complex nature of a strategy and strategic information is too often forgotten or ignored, both in academia and in practice. All too often the mainstream horizon in business sciences focuses its attention on generic strategy models aiming to provide the magic tool for anybody willing to create a winning strategy. All too often the mainstream horizon in organisational practices is mainly based on an instrumental view on designing and delivering strategies to be ratified and controlled by a comprehensive performance measurement and information processing. The critical role of people making and interpreting strategies and different kinds of information is taken too easily as a natural and a self-evident thing. Hence, the human dynamics has not received the attention it should be given.

    Neither scientific nor practical problems can be argued to be properly understood without understanding the applied interpretative horizon and its basic assumptions on strategy and strategic information. Hence, there is an obvious need to broaden our knowledge both on the potentials and the limitations of the different horizons and their basic assumptions for making and giving sense to strategy and strategic information.

    The aim of the study

    Various approaches have different assumptions and definitions of what strategy and strategic information are about and how and by whom they are actually made. With their taken-for-granted assumptions on both human actors and their internal and external environments, the different interpretative horizons provide different and even opposing views and recommendations for organizations and their people on how to act. In this study we were interested in revealing and understanding the basic assumptions of those interpretative horizons that have been formed and are formed within the business sciences and the practical world. This was done by reading, analysing and interpreting studies and writings within the strategic management and strategic information literature. The practical world was approached as a single-case study of the Ministry of Finance. A particular emphasis was put on the experienced meanings of the strategy and strategic information. Hence, by applying the method of dialogue, the makers and the interpreters of strategy and strategic information were listened to with special care.

    The overall aim of this study was to shed light on the different interpretative horizons and their basic assumptions on the nature and the meaning of a strategy and strategic information. The key questions to be addressed in the study were the following:
    1. How do the business sciences define and interpret the people, the content and the formation of a strategy and strategic information?
    2. How do the people in the Ministry of Finance interpret roles of organisational actors, nature and meanings, as well as formation of strategies and strategic information?
    3. How are the interpretative horizons of the academic researchers and the every day actors related to each other? What can be said about the potentials and the limitations of the individual horizons?

    The objects of this study are two-fold: the scientific analysis of the business studies and the practice-related analysis of the empirical world. Hence, both the business sciences and the practical world of the Ministry of Finance are approached as the key objects of the study. The philosophical analysis of the horizons in business sciences also provides theoretical lenses for reading, interpreting and understanding the case of the Ministry of Finance. It also functions as a reflection point to the discoveries of the practical world. Furthermore, particular attention is paid to interrelating and integrating the theoretically constructed horizons with the practical ones.

    Methodological choices

    The key premise of this study is based on the assumption that the strategy-related issues, actions and meanings are always seen, constructed, interpreted and transformed by the organisational actors. In the same way the writings of the business sciences are also analysed, interpreted, described and transformed by the human actors. Hence, the basic nature of a strategy and strategic information is understood through the experiences of the human actors.
    Based on the nature of the phenomenon, the methodological choice has been made for the qualitative approach according to the following principles:
    1. The nature of the reality is a multi-dimensional one. It is based on the experiences of individuals and interactively constructed social reality of groups and organisations.
    2. People are seen as carriers of different interpretations, capable of creating and understanding knowledge and action as a network of interrelated meanings.
    3. Silent (tacit) knowledge is of crucial importance in understanding an organisation as a living organism, which is created and re-created by the actions of the people.
    4. Organisational actors are regarded as important “research methods” for transforming information and interpreting meanings.
    5. The phenomenon can be most adequately understood by conducting the study in the real life context, close to the people, issues and actions. Hence, the methodological approach is based on the inquiry from the inside.

    The methodological choice includes both the interpretative conceptual analysis and the action-analytical analysis. Both methods are based on the problem of a meaning interpreted and solved by the actors. The active actors for making and giving sense to the meanings of a strategy and strategic information are both within the academia and within the Ministry of Finance.

    The writings that are referred to in the study are well known within the business sciences. They form the natural source of the study since they have existed even before the study and despite the efforts made by the researches of this study. The empirical material is primarily based on interviews, which were conducted with the individuals from top management, from middle management and from the level of experts (36 in all). In addition to the interviews, perception, active perception and documentary sources were also used, but mainly for deepening the case description and analysis.

    First result: Interpretative Horizons of the Business Sciences

    The scientific analysis of the basic assumptions in the business sciences was conducted by the horizons defined by the researcher. The structure and the conceptual framework of the analysis were based on the research questions and the existing meta-analyses of the different paradigms, schools and approaches on strategy and strategic information. The identified horizons were the following:
    1. Rational-analytic horizon;
    2. Holistic individual image –horizon, and
    3. Organisational-social horizon.

    Each of the horizons are argued and applied in different ways. They all have some primary focus and a set of basic assumptions on the strategy and strategic information. Rational-analytic horizon focuses on an organisation and on the content of a strategy as real structures and objectively defined match between an organisation and its surroundings. Holistic individual image –horizon focuses on an individual and his subjectively-formed experience, which takes place in every day actions. Organisational-social horizon emphasizes the role of a group and the interactive process of a socially constructed nature of a strategy and strategic information.

    Rational-analytic horizon relies on formal and rigorous methods for analysing and explaining the different parts and their relations in the content of the intended strategy. The analytical models and frameworks make it easier to deal with and to control the complexity of the world. Hence, the rational-analytic horizon provides a kind of a “safety net” for the organisational actors against uncertainty. However, it does not provide any solid assumptions regarding the nature of the human actors and the processes for making strategies and strategic information. Beside its core assumption on the rational economic man, the problematic nature of the people (individuals and groups) and ultimately dynamic processes are “a black box” that cannot be either explained or understood by the assumptions of the rational-analytic horizon.

    The horizon of the holistic individual image contributes our understanding on individually embedded experiences and meanings. The model of the holistic man is based on the three interrelated dimensions of an individual’s existence: corporeality, situationality and consciousness. This framework makes it easier to understand how individuals are making and giving sense to strategies and strategic information. Generally existing situations become “reality” by individually formed meanings. Situational factors can be both real (reports, rooms and spaces, statistics, other people etc...) and ideal (values, feelings, emotions etc...). While mainly focusing its attention on the individual, the holistic individual image - horizon lacks assumptions, theory and practical advice on explaining or understanding the dynamics of the socially – between individuals – constructed meanings.

    Organisational-social horizon makes a contribution to our understanding by providing rich analyses and descriptions on socially embedded interactions for defining a strategy and strategic information as an inter-subjectively negotiated outcome. Its models and explanations on the socially formed interpretations and belief structures make it easier to understand the dynamics and the complexity of the practical life in organizations. People are assumed to participate in the interaction for actively providing their experiences and views for the strategy formation. However, its assumption on the open interaction is threatened by the negative groupthink and silent barriers to express different views to the taken-for-granted assumptions.

    The results of the analysis of the basic assumptions explicitly reveal the potentials and the limitations of the single horizon. Hence, it can be argued that the validity of the interpretative horizons is defined by their individually defined basic assumptions. None of them covers the whole range of the phenomenon. But each one of them broadens our understanding by shedding light on some particular aspects of the nature, the process and the actors of the strategy and strategic information. The summative result of the analysis is presented in a more detailed manner in the report (picture 12).


    Second result: Interpretative Horizons of the Ministry of Finance

    One of the key assumptions of the organisational horizon (ministry-level) is the assumption of the rational-economic man. This applies both to the subjects (people working at the Ministry of Finance) and the objects (actors in a society). People are assumed to behave and act rationally and analytically if and when they only have proper (economic) incentives to do so.

    It is taken as granted that managers and experts participating in the strategy formation are always looking for the best solution for the identified issues and assigned tasks. However, most of the attention is put on the assignment and the delivered task, not on the delivery process, which is assumed to be an analytical one conducted by the rational economic men. Furthermore, it is assumed that the strategic issues are analysed from outside, based on the objective information. Hence, the Ministry of Finance is seen as an external and objective analyst looking for such issues as national economy, financial market and state administration. The ministry was not considered to be an active part of those objects. This relationship, based on the inquiry from outside approach, is very similar to the rational-analytic horizon in the business sciences.

    Due to the tradition-based continuity and the different kinds of supporting mechanisms the organisational horizon has a great influence on the every day life of the ministry and its people. For example, most of the information processing is based on the formal practices which emphasize quantitative data and written reports, leaving only limited space for a face-to-face interaction. The formal strategy-making procedures from the individual level to the departmental level are based on a single-voice approach aiming to fill the obligatory forms as efficiently as possible.

    The single-voice approach is supported by the assumption that the highest ranking person is also the wisest one. Hence, the views of a highly-ranked person are publicly (most often in formal meetings) considered to be the “true” ones. However, in some informal settings some of these views might still be challenged by the same persons who have already silently accepted them. It is important to notice that this assumption is not only supported by the top management but also by the middle management and the experts. Based on this described assumption, it might be possible that a high-ranking person who is asking more questions (promoting for a multi-view approach) than providing direct answers might be regarded as a non-competent expert and manager.

    Despite the widely influencing role of the organisational horizon, other kinds of assumptions can also be identified on the individual level. The individual horizon builds on the assumption that people develop and maintain their own situational playroom. This is based on their personal history both in life and at work, their education, and most of all their experienced meanings in different occasions. Although many of the same situations (reports, occasions etc...) are shared among colleagues, no single horizon is alike. Experienced meanings are always individually embedded, and hence unique.

    People are acting in two worlds: the one that is supported and maintained by the organisational horizon and the other that is supported and maintained by their own individual horizon. The realizations of these two worlds can be seen on the group level. The mainstream of the group level horizons is based on the assumptions of the organizational horizon. The single-voice assumption expects people to support the already existing views and beliefs without questioning or challenging them. Furthermore, the consensus-taking assumption is supported by the vertically- and individually-based division of labour. This applies both on the organisational levels (department, units) and on the individual level. Issues are owned by the individual organisational units and furthermore by individual persons within a unit. The basic assumption is not to interfere or to say anything about the issues not belonging to you. This kind of group horizon is mostly realized in formal settings. Since the organizational horizon supports the formal settings and not the informal settings, the position of the groupthink based assumption is a strong one.

    It is possible to identify a group of distinguished persons who are both applying their individual horizons and challenging the organisational one. Hence, another kind of group horizon can also be identified. This is based on the out-of-the-box thinking where it is clearly assumed, and also appreciated, that the issues on the table are approached from different perspectives. The key assumption on this horizon is based on the multi-view approach. Most often this horizon is applied in an informal setting, whereas a group of people has gathered together to discuss some topical issues. Sometimes the agenda setting takes place only at the discussion without any formal preparations. Some of these group arenas are only for discussions, without any intention to make decisions. Sometimes they are combined with decision-making, assuming that a multi-voice approach will lead to a shared understanding and action as well. However, the basic assumption is to avoid negative group-thinking and to encourage different views. It is worth mentioning that the persons who are attending to these groups are not necessarily only from the highest rank.


    Picture: Identified assumptions and horizons at the Ministry of Finance (could not be added to the blog)

    As it can be seen in the above picture, the organizational horizon is based on the imposed behaviour aiming to control uncertainty and to ensure continuity. This horizon does not leave much room for individual or group horizons that are not based on the same assumptions.

    However, other kinds of horizons and assumptions were also identified within the Ministry of Finance. The horizon of the individual person is based on the assumption that individuals are having a unique set of experienced meanings which they apply in their work. People maintain, develop and apply their horizons by acting as holistic entities; being physically present in a strategy making processes, facing situations in looking for strategic information and searching the meanings of the chosen and emerging strategies. Another kind of group horizon can also be identified, although mostly in the informal setting. This horizon is based on the assumption of a group consisting of individuals who are willing to challenge themselves and their present views. This is realized by the out-of-the-box –thinking which calls for a multi-voice process for leading to a shared and actionable understanding. The organisational horizon does not provide support for the horizons on the individual and the group levels which are based on the autonomous behaviour aiming to deal with ambiguity and to challenge the mainstream assumptions. They are mostly maintained and supported by themselves.

    Third result: Interrelating and integrating the horizons

    It was argued that the mainstream assumptions of the Ministry of Finance (the organisational horizon) are closely based on the rational-analytic horizon identified within the business sciences. The assumptions on the rational-economic man, very intensive and analytical task-orientation, limited attention to the processes (which can be characterized to be single-voice processes) and to the human dynamics. The organizational horizon is maintained by the behaviour and the actions of the people on the strategic and the operative apexes. Furthermore, it is maintained by the numerous structural mechanisms embedded into the daily practices and processes.

    The study has focused on the multi-horizontal view of the strategy and the strategic information. Based on the interrelated and integrated view of the identified horizons, it was argued that they all make a contribution to our understanding of the theoretical and practical lives of making and giving sense of strategy and strategic information. It is not a relevant question, whether some of them are better or more proper than the others. The horizons have different sets of assumptions for explaining and understanding the phenomenon. By providing the explicit and analytic view on the different horizons and the underlying assumptions, the study makes a contribution to the multi-paradigm theory building. By approaching the theme from different perspectives and layers (organization, group, individual), the study also makes a contribution to the multi-level theory building.

    The organizational horizon, closely embedded on the rational-analytic horizon in business sciences, reduces the role of an organizational actor and a strategy-maker to an object and technical performer (“It”). The nature of a strategy and strategic information is regarded as a thoroughly analysed and argued set of policy objectives and key measures to be implemented (“Strategy as a conscious plan”). Processes for making strategy and strategic information are heavily based on the task orientation, objective information and formal and straight-forward analyses (“question-answer-decision”). The organizational horizon is maintained by several kinds of structural mechanisms (formal procedures, divisions of labour, habits, values etc.) that have evolved throughout the years. These mechanisms are embedded in the every day practices, which are regarded natural and self-evident.

    In addition to the organizational (rational-analytic) horizon, the horizon of a single actor could also be identified. It is built on an assumption of the individual having a personally evolved way of perceiving and understanding surroundings and issues. This horizon emphasizes the role of the actor as an active subject (“I”), continuously experiencing his world. The common facts and objectively perceived issues are interpreted differently by the individuals who are working closely together. Hence, the strategic information is also subjective in a sense, that it is always individually interpreted and understood. From the individual actor’s point of view, strategies are made, interpreted and experienced in action (strategy as an experienced meaning). Hence, a question such as “what does it mean to me” is at least implicitly raised by an individual when he is reading or hearing about the organizational strategy.

    It was not easy to find many practices or signs of the group horizons (“We“) in the Ministry of Finance, that would have been based on the assumptions of the organizational-social horizon. Some of the existing ones were mostly identified in the informal settings and only occasionally in some formal settings, such as in the discussions by the management group or by the extended management group. The mainstream horizon on the group level is also very much affected by the rational-analytic horizon. The negative group-think is one of the main characteristics of this. However, some of the identified group settings aimed to openly change and share their views and experienced meanings for creating a shared understanding on the strategy (strategy as a negotiated outcome). Organizational-social horizon assumes that the information processing is based on the social order (inter-subjectivity), where an emphasis is not put on the quantity of the information but on the quality of interpretations. In some meetings and discussions within the ministry the formal reports were clearly left aside. However, although the formal information was not explicitly present, one could get the feeling that the views that were based on the formal information were mostly appreciated. Some of the people, mainly at the strategic apex, clearly indicated that they are constantly scanning for all kinds of information that could assist them in making and giving sense to strategic issues.

    The following picture summarizes the basic assumptions identified in the business sciences by the primary focus (organization, group, individual) and the objects (what, how, who) of the horizons. Furthermore, the identified assumptions within the Ministry of Finance are emphasized by the shadow colour.

    Picture: Basic assumptions at the Ministry of Finance (dark= strongest; light=weakest) (the picture could not be added to the blog)

    Concluding remarks

    One of the key conclusions of the study is that every horizon is both enabled and limited by its basic assumptions. None of the interpretative horizons can solve a complex problem on its own. Within the defined area of validity, each of the horizons applies and develops its interpretative power in the fields of the business sciences and the practical world. This study makes a contribution to the continuous debate on the potential paradigms for explaining and understanding the multi-dimensional and multi-level nature of strategy and strategic information.

    Traditionally, the Ministry of Finance has been the external observer and analyst of the society and its economy, combined with its role as a national “Nostradamus”. During the past few years the ministry has internally opened up for discussing its assumptions on its basic task, roles it has or should have in the society and in the public administration, as well as its every day practices for designing and communicating strategies. The rationale for challenging itself for a critical review of its basic assumptions is to develop new capacities and fresh horizons to continue to be a highly-regarded actor in designing and delivering strategies for sustainable growth and a well-functioning economy. As an author of this report, I can only hope that this study supports the ministry on its discovery.

Irja Peltonen: Knowledge Strategy and Strategic Information. Case: Ministry of Finance, Finland

The Knowledge strategy and strategical information

In my short comment i try to research or explore if there are any elements in the knowledge strategy of Ministry of Finance which are useful in the context of providing and prosessing strategic information

According to Seppo Määttä, the nature of strategic information is:
complexity (not simplicity), ambiquity (not clarity), inconsistency (not consistency).
Challenges for processing and providing strategic information has been posed :
•How to minimize ambiquity and unsureness ?
•How to reduce confusion and unclarity ?

But if confusion helps to find new points of view and unclarity helps to pose right questions, ignoring them, even if it were possible, would not be the right strategy ?

What is Knowledge Management about


  • Communication
  • Learning
  • Sharing of the tacit knowledge
  • Innovations, creation of new knowledge
  • Skills, know how
  • Content management
  • ICT
  • Space
  • Basic values: sharing, openness, trust, collaboration

Shared understanding and basic assumption of the knowledge strategy is that the ministry is a

  • continuously developing expert organisation
  • its success depends on aquisition of information, interpretation of information, applying of information and information sharing

Target of the Knowledge Strategy 2007

  • More time for creation, analyzing and applying of information and knowledge
  • To put into action by the whole organisation: units, people as well as information service and information management

The role of information service in the implementation of the Knowledge Strategy

Reinforcing communicative course of action and information culture

  • to develope the information systems to support collaboration
  • to help to find experts and to share expertice
  • to acquire analysed information instead of data
  • to organize discussions in the library
  • to give the library as a space for informal discussions
  • to help the personnel in their studies at all levels


Information needed is found easily

  • to improve the information using and searching skills of the personnel, personal and common information literacy
  • to ensure organised information environment with back up information service (intranet)
  • to prevent the information overflow by ensuring that the information acquired is relevant
  • to develop information systems for monitoring the strategy process and follow-up strategic projects

Utilization of information

  • accessibility, usability, appliability
  • planning the knowledge support system for law-drafting process
  • to influence the personnel to understand the significance of document management and project work in information sharing


Communication, distribution and exchange of information

  • supporting openness; to remenber it in each decision
  • to inform about the decision making process not only the decisions made
  • pointing out, that everyone working at the ministry has the responsibility to communicate

Understanding the character of the strategic information

  • How to analyse and understand the mission and the succes factors of the organisation
  • What is the external (information) environment ?
  • What is the internal (information) environment ?
  • What kind of knowledge structure do they have ?


Birgitta Berglind: Case: Supporting the strategy of the ministry - internal services. Presentation of the Government Library in Sweden

Content

  • The Swedish Parliament, the Government and the Government Offices – a short introduction
  • The Library Section yesterday, today, tomorrow
  • The requirements of a Prime Minister
  • Our partners in the library world in Sweden
  • Summing up
  • 10 years within the EU
  • Questions?

The Swedish Parliament [ in Swedish: Riksdagen]

  • General Elections every 4 years
  • One Chamber
  • 349 Members
  • The Speaker proposes the Prime Minister

The Swedish Government

  • Prime Minister, Deputy Prime minister
  • Ministry of Justice
  • Ministry for Foreign Affairs
  • Ministry of Defence
  • Ministry of Health and Social Affairs
  • Ministry of Finance
  • Ministry of Education, Research and Culture
  • Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Consumer Affairs
  • Ministry of Sustainable Development
  • Ministry of Industry, Employment and communications
  • Office for Administrative Affairs

The Government Offices

  • The Social Democratic Party with partners the Green Party of Sweden and the Left Party
  • The Prime Minister (Mr. Göran Persson) and 21 ministers
  • 120 political appointees
  • 4.500 staff including the Swedish embassies
  • 300 Government Agencies


The Government at work

  • Meeting every Thursday morning
  • Once a week 3-4 ministers answer to questions in the Parliament – > 1,000 Interpellations/year


The libraries yesterday

  • Until 1994 10 separate libraries
  • Bank halls
  • Rotation of facilities
  • Staff not always qualified
  • Different computer systems


Results of the investigations

  • Modern facilities
  • Equal electronic access
  • Updating of staff qualifications
  • Avoid staff vulnerability
  • Cuts on media expenses
  • Equal library service for all employees


The libraries at present

  • Varying media budgets
  • One media budget [exception Prime Minister’s Office]
  • Staff employed by a specific Ministry
  • Staff employed by the Office of Administrative Affairs, Library Section
  • Different electronic solutions
  • One technical platform for everyone within the Government Offices
  • Facilities in old bank halls
  • ONE centrally located library
  • Varied service-degree
  • Equal services available for every employee

Organisation of the Library Section

  • Head of the Section: Inger Jepsson

  • Libraries: Main Library (head Birgitta Axelius)
    6 librarians
    2.5 assistants
    Economy
    Trade and Industry
    Defense
    Agriculture
    Education / Culture
    Environment
    Social welfare
    Labour and Health

  • Library at Ministry for Foreign Affairs (head Elisabeth Larson Olin)
    6 librarians
    1 assistant
    E U Documents 1957-
    Human Rights
    Foreign Policy
    Conflict Prevention
    International Organisations
    Contemporary History
    Political Biographies
    350 Magazines
  • Library at Rosenbad (= Main government building), which offer services for Ministry of Justice (head Monica Erhardsson) and Prime Minister´s Office (head Birgitta Berglind)
    4 librarians
    1.5 assistants
    Swedish and Foreign Law
    Government Administration
    Political Science and Biographies
    Fiction / Poetry
    70 Swedish Daily Papers
    500 Magazines

Electronic resources

  • The Government Intranet
  • The Library Gateway- Content of The Library Gateway: Library News and the Library Newsletter, Library catalogues, Tools for information retrieval incl. Links (relevant for Governmental work), Information on acquisition of media (not included in the library budget)


Marketing

  • Presentations of the library services
  • Courses in information retrieval
  • Open house (Open library)
  • Accomodating Parties
  • Luncheon Seminars

The requirements of a Prime Minister

  • Articles from daily papers and magazines
  • Quotations
  • Inspiration from the predecessors
  • Poems
  • The latest on design
  • Books on how to console victims of the tsunami / people in mourning

The Government library in the future

  • One central location
  • Adjoining cafeteria
  • Rooms for electronic education
  • Rooms for meetings
  • New work-organization
  • Less staff

The new role of the librarian


Partners in the library world of Sweden

  • LIBRIS – the Swedish Union Catalogue
  • Parliament library / university libraries


Professional development

  • Swedish Library Association
  • Swedish Association for Information Specialists
  • Language courses
  • Networking

Summing up

  • Advantages : Less vulnerable, Higher efficiency, Cost-effective
  • Disadvantages: Anonymous, Lack of ministerial information (Proactive?), The library is distant from its users


10 years within the European Communities

  • National perspective
  • European perspective
  • Swedish legislation
  • European legislation
  • Swedish + English
  • The more languages the better
  • Reorganize the collections

Questions?






23.7.05

Rebecca Davies: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Library

How the Welsh Assembly Government Library enables policy development & delivery

Rebecca Davies, Assembly Library & Publication Service, Information & Knowledge Management Division, Welsh Assembly Government

Agenda

  • A quick guide to Devolution in Wales
  • Introducing the Assembly Library & Publications Service (ALPS)
  • Policy development & ALPS
  • Policy delivery & ALPS
  • Corporate policy & ALPS
  • Scanning the horizon from ALPS

Wales: A quick guide to Devolution

  • In July 1997, the Government published a White Paper, A Voice for Wales, which outlined proposals for devolution in Wales. These proposals were endorsed in the referendum of 18 September 1997.
  • Parliament passed the Government of Wales Act 1998, which established the National Assembly for Wales, and the National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) Order 1999, which enabled the transfer of the devolved powers and responsibilities from the Secretary of State for Wales to the Assembly to take place on July 1st 1999.


What the National Assembly does

  • National Assembly is the democratic body created in 1999 to take over the powers of the Welsh Office.
  • Sixty members – forty elected in constituencies, twenty elected through regional lists.
  • The National Assembly meeting in Plenary is the highest political decision-making body.
  • The National Assembly has Committees that can examine the work of the Assembly Government and develop ideas for new policies.


What the Welsh Assembly Government does

  • In Wales the Welsh Assembly Government is responsible for:
    –the National Health Service, local government services, from local transport to social services, education and training, support for economic development, including advice and grants to businesses, road network, planning, environmental protection and the countryside, payments and advice to farmers, arts, culture, welsh language and sport….
    –The First Minister uses his powers under the Gov of Wales Act to delegate his responsibilities to Assembly Ministers. Individual Assembly Ministers have decided to delegate the exercise of certain of their delegated functions to officials.


Where we’ve come from:Welsh Office Library Services…

  • “… wondered if agreement could be sought to the use of the Crypt. At the present, this housed the Book of Remembrance, but it was thought that this might be more effectively displayed in the main entrance hall…. said the Crypt was ill-lit and ventilated, but the Library might possibly be relocated there”. (1975)


Now - Assembly Library & Publication Service aims:

Internal Service =

  • We support the decision-making, policy development, service delivery and compliance processes of the Assembly Government by making available a extensive range of information resources and providing a high quality advisory service on information and research matters;
    &

External Service =

  • we provide and promote public access to Assembly publications and information assets in electronic and hard copy formats.


    http://www.gtj.org.uk/en/blowup1/413


    “There is no linear relationship between research and policy making; policy makers are influenced by other factors…..none of which may have any kind of evidence base”
    Bird, S. 2003. Communicating scientific advice to the public. The IPTS Report, Vol. 72, March, pp. 20-4

ALPS & Policy Development

  • Leads on all “Wales: a Better Country” policy areas have been identified, contacted & offered an information consultation session
  • Library included in Policy Development training & guidance/tools, e.g.
    –Welsh Assembly Government Policy Integration Tool
    –Policy Development Training
    –Submissions training to all policy staff
  • Collection Development to support policy development

Policy Development & ALPS: CASE STUDY

  • Should we have a new type of School in Wales as part of under 15 yr provision?
    –Policy Official contacts us for information consultation session to see what works elsewhere
    –Evidence gathered for policy official to brief the Minister
    –Chose not to initiate policy as evidence didn’t support - not featured in Foundation Phase Pilot


Policy Delivery & ALPS

  • On demand enquiry service - with an emphasis on delivery at point of need (SAW)
  • Training & awareness programmes
  • Pilot of new Current Awareness Bulletin service
  • Legal information services to officials & lawyers
  • Business information services
  • SLA (Service Level Agreement) with Departments


Policy Delivery & ALPS: Training & awareness programmes

  • Generic training on products & services
  • Integrated into central training
    •e.g. included on induction, take part in general awareness raising events
  • Tailored training for Departments to respond to their needs
  • Knowledge Fairs
    •Growing event (25% staff attended in 2004)
    •Tour Wales
    •Demonstrate collaboration with other support services


Policy Deleviry & ALPS: Current Awareness Bulletins Pilot

  • Different to previous attempts...
    –Build on staff expertise from private legal firm
    –Broader range of sources
    –Branding defined
    –Build in sustainability
  • 3 issues created by Librarian, then searches delegated to “buddy” support staff with editorial control maintained by Librarian.
  • So what do the customers think….
    “This is excellent - really helpful as I would never have the time or knowledge to track these articles down and all of them are so relevant - please keep up the good work!”


Policy Delivery & ALPS: Legal information services

  • For officials:
    –access to current, updated versions of legislation
    –help through the EU maze
    –Welsh angle a speciality (e.g circulars, Local Acts)
  • For Lawyers:
    –As above, but more intense & includes case law
    –In-depth legal research support


Policy Delivery & ALPS: Business Information Services

  • Essential service for policy delivery success, if delivery mechanism includes:
    – grants
    –procurement / tender
    –payments to individuals

Policy Delivery & ASPS: Service Level Agreements with Departments

  • Makes service standards explicit
  • Emphasises the assistance we provide to lawyers, as part of the service they receive
  • Clarifies our role in Policy dissemination via Publication Service to the public

Policy Delivery enablement - CASE STUDY

  • New build hospitals defined as policy priority in “Designed for Life: creating world class health and social care for Wales in 21st Century”
  • Policy official contacts library to get evidence from across the globe on:
    •innovative, environmentally sustainable design
    •award winning design
    •what are other countries planning for their future hospitals

Policy Delivery mechanism - CASE STUDY

  • Health Challenge Wales needed to revise their service delivery on the HCW Action Packs
    •Due to our success in delivering the Publication Scheme we were approached (service was outsourced)
    •Result = we now have an additional post to staff the help line & disseminate packs to meet the HCW requirement.
  • ALPS takes an active role in delivery for this health policy priority

Corporate policies & strategies

  • The Publication Scheme
  • Welsh Language Scheme
  • Managing Risk

Corporate Policy & ALPS: What’s a Publication Scheme?


“Publication schemes are a novel feature of the United Kingdom's legislation on access to information held by public authorities. Their purpose is to be a means by which a public authority can make a significant amount of information available routinely, without waiting for someone to specifically request it.”
[http://www.dataprotection.gov.uk/dpr/foi.nsf “Guidance and Methodology”]


Publication Scheme Delivery:ALPS delivering a corporate policy

  • What do we publish?
    •Strategies and policies, Consultations, Leaflets and posters, Research, Circulars, Guidance, Business papers….
  • “Routine access” to over 12,155 different publications
    •Enquiry Line - telephone & email
    •Web catalogue, new OPAC for the public by 2006


Welsh Language Scheme:ALPS compliance

  • Bilingual OPAC (launched internally, for external audience by 2006)
  • Ability to take enquiries through the medium of Welsh & respond in Welsh
  • Work with others to ensure metadata will be available in Welsh & English

Managing Risk - ALPS activities to mitigate information management risks

  • Failure to comply with access to information....
  • inadequate information to support change....
  • overload of certain types of information...


Scanning the horizon from ALPS

  • 5 organisations merging into the Assembly 2006-2007
    –increased Enquiry Line function for the public
    –challenge of delivering internal services to increased numbers & diverse activity staff
  • Increasingly geographically dispersed users
    –of approx. 6500 staff in 2007, 3500 will be based away from Cathays Park
  • Increased powers (?) “Better Governance for Wales” White Paper
    •proposals for changes in the Assembly’s structure, legislative powers and electoral arrangements.


“The information services offered by the library have been invaluable in sourcing key documents and strategies, along with accessible research support to enable a quick and timely review of what's happening elsewhere, along with a broadening of research scope around the subject area - at the end of the day a team approach is better than individual!”
WAG Policy Official


"Books that told me everything about the wasp, exept why." Dylan Thomas (1954): A child´s Chistmas in Wales


http://www.gtj.org.uk/en/blowup1/22959



Batsirai Mike Chivhanga: The Impact of the Internet in the Provision of Information that can Impact on Development

Batsirai Mike Chivhanga Email: b.chivhanga@helsinkiexclusive.com


Abstract

This paper presents findings of the impact of ICTs, in particular the Internet in the production and dissemination of public information. It is drawn from field visits undertaken in two Southern African countries – Zambia and Zimbabwe. The field visits have sought to track the growth and diffusion of the Internet, in particular the use of web sites to bridge information gaps in key areas of development.

I. Introduction

The underlying logic that has been central in this paper is that information and knowledge are essential keys to any development activity and developing countries need to step up efforts to harness these two ingredients behind change and innovation in the economies of western and Far East countries. These two visible and invisible forces - information and knowledge, have been behind many of the phenomenal achievements since the Second World War in many developed countries (OECD, 2001). There has to be a dramatic change in the information policies followed by many organisations - whether public or private in many countries in Africa, as many of them are still to use web sites to reduce ubiquitous information gaps that traditional media have failed to fill.

The content of this paper has come out many years of research on how to increase the diffusion of ICTs for development purposes, in particular the Internet and one of its popular technologies, web sites. The project has resulted in the development of a participatory web design approach - People Approach to Produce Web Content’ (PAPWEC) that can be used to produce online public services information in the context of countries in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Thus two variables – improvement in the quality and increase in the quantity of locally generated web sites guided the development of this methodology and its implementation in the field. PAPWEC has been used to train web publishers in Zambia and Tanzania in 2000 and 2001. These training programmes were also linked to the production of community web sites on the basis of PAPWEC. The projects were funded by the International Institute for Communications and Development (IICD), that is based in The Hague.


II. Contextualising PAPWEC

PAPWEC can be used as a basis for preparing web content or it can be a powerful training platform for those publishing web sites for use in developing countries. Where PAPWEC takes an approach of its own, is that, it focuses more on the gathering and preparation of that content that can be used by people in key development areas such as health, education, science and technology and government. It seeks to address the socio-economic circumstances of people through the content that is presented via a web site. This is realised through involving them in the building of the web site. Their express wishes can be captured through questionnaire based information needs analysis, establishing a web content editorial team and setting up focus groups to get a general feel about how a web site can address community developmental goals.

The underlying logic behind PAPWEC is that web content should be matched by people’s development goals – simply put, innovative uses and development of web technologies in developing settings should be spurred to respond to people’s needs and wants. This is one reason why mobile phones are working in Africa – they are being used to improve communication where traditional telephone services have dismally failed to provide universal access to communication. Web sites should be used on the basis of the same logic – provide every type of information in environments where traditional information services are poorly developed and inequitably distributed.

PAPWEC can be contextualised to assess the information needs and formulate content for people that are marginalised in any given society. It is however more applicable to situations in most developing settings, in particular Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA) (Chivhanga, 2000).

There are four stages that can be followed in the web weaving process using the PAPWEC approach, namely:

· Needs Analysis - examine existing sources of information, identify the information needs/gaps of the users, study the socio-economic circumstances of the target audience, their culture and environment and through this determine how they are likely to use that information, determine the development goals to be met.
· Content Architecture - determine the source of the content, determine the nature of content, establish how the web resource/information is going to meet the development goals i.e. establish goal congruence - the relationship between information and development and consider any constraints the eventual user is likely to face when accessing the web resource.
· Authoring - design the interface of the web site e.g. navigation structure, background and knit all the different media elements using appropriate web editing packages and web programming languages.
· Implementation and Impact Assessments - this stage involves publishing your web resource on the Internet, carrying out impact assessments, analyse web log results, revising and up-dating the content.

The PAPWEC model was used to undertake the field studies in Zambia (2000), Tanzania (2001), Zimbabwe (2000, 2001), The Gambia (2003) and more recently in Finland (2005).

It is hoped that this web design methodology will used to nurture web content and management skills that can be creatively and innovatively used to step up efforts to knit web sites that will improve local ‘infostructures’ (UNECA, 1999). These capacity-building activities will no doubt increase the uses of web sites by ordinary people that are still digitally marginalised. Lack of creative foresight to harness these new technologies in the context of people’s circumstances has greatly undermined the innovative deployment of Internet technologies in the Continent. This has greatly reduced their role as tools for development.

III. Unrealised potential of web sites in Southern Africa

The evidence gathered clearly show that email more than web sites have made a big impact in how people in Africa can communicate and access information (Jensen, 2001). Mobile phones have penetrated African societies much faster than the Internet – the diffusion is increasing exponentially (Dzidonu, 2001). The uptake of mobile phones in the continent reflects similar trends being set in China and many countries in Asia, where saturation points are yet to be reached. The devices are changing the communication behaviour of people at grassroots level, where the teledensity is the lowest in the world (OECD, 2001). There must be something about these two technologies - email and mobile phones, which seem to be a natural attraction to these societies. The societies traditionally are oral based and it only seems natural that these two devices support essentially communication interactions - whether it's through texting, sending an email and speaking on the phone. When it comes to information seeking, as the field studies in Southern Africa showed, web sites are not readily used as alternative sources of information where traditional information services are severely under-developed, negatively impacting on core development activities (Carter, 1999).

Early proponents (from the early 1990s) of the notion (Hafkin, 2001) – quite rightly identified the leapfrogging pace that could be set through the integration of ICTs in core development activities. They however did not do much to expend research and development efforts to focus on developing appropriate approaches that could guide local organisations in SSA to increase the production of quality content for web site delivery. The pipes were laid for Africa to be part of the networked world, but there was no juicy stuff to send down the pipes – it’s still not there yet (Yeoman, 2002). Infrastructural developments to increase the diffusion of the Internet in Africa have not been matched by an equal development of web sites that people can access and use in their day to day lives.

The absence of rigorous web content building methodologies that can be used to garner government led national efforts to reduce information gaps in key socio-economic areas is seen in the poor quality of some web sites that emanate and are maintained from within the continent.

Web sites should have been quickly adopted as an essential information delivery platform in Africa as early as 1995, when UNECA conceptualised an action programme to spur the first major Internet networking project throughout Africa – the Africa Information Society Initiative (AISI). Why? Simply because the generic purpose of a web site is to provide access to a wealth of information as intended by the inventor of the web - Berners Lee (Norris, 2001). There are so many areas where information is terribly lacking in many Southern African countries. The advantages offered by web sites – e.g. repackaging information, ease of publication and accessibility by even those living far in remote areas should have endeared this technology in those environments.

Government departments, both local and central have not harnessed the web technologies to provide key public information. Local people don’t use these web sites – there is very little content on them that they can use to impact on their circumstances. These web sites are basically electronic brochures. Public information that can engage local people to be active participants in their own development has been left to those civil sector organisations working as intermediaries for the poor people. These information intermediaries are struggling to get funding to support their core development activities. Assistance from relevant government ministries to enable these organisations to also build and maintain information resources that poor people can access directly or facilitators can repackage that information for distribution in readily accessible formats, should become a policy that is consistently followed in practice. These civil sector organisations, particularly in Zimbabwe are under constant political attack and their development oriented work is severely slowed down.

Content creation activities should be seen as a development priority just like the need for safe drinking water or provision of electricity. What has happened is that international organisations working to support change and development in Africa have taken the lead to promote through practice, the development of such web sites hoping that local institutions would carry on where they have started. Once the project money to build a community web site has dried up – local interest in the project gradually dries up and is enamelled in glossy reports that are pedalled to different international organisations for the next ICTs project. This was seen in the exercises that involved building prototype web sites in Tanzania and Zambia. Local institutions were hoping that the external funder would continue to give them funds to maintain and host the web site that they clearly accepted would improve access to local and external information for their people. The funds were not forthcoming and the impact of those web sites was undermined as local institutions did not bother to make it a policy to use web sites as a vehicle to disseminate information to the target audience.

IV. The neglect

Information problems in many developing settings have been noted by other researchers in the field of ICTs in development. The value of information in many developing settings is often not accorded the paramount significance that it duly deserves (McConnell, 1995). The neglect is visibly present when one cannot get even, ‘the basic of basic information’ at times (Mchombu, 1995).

Menou (1993), brings the matter to the fore by saying:

"Although we have witnessed a steady growth in the provision of information services in developing countries, a number of fundamental questions still remain unanswered. The people of these countries question the relevance and appropriateness of the services offered. Development assistance agencies are concerned about problems and sustainability. The extent to which information societies actually contribute to the empowerment of people and the accountability of the institutions concerned are subjects of controversy and debate. Logic dictates that information is an essential resource for social and economic development of Third World countries, but how can this be demonstrated? How tangible is the linkage between information investments and the achievement of specific development goals? The limited status accorded to information in most developing countries suggests that its potential value is not evident.”

The response to the web by those providing information services in Southern Africa, especially public information has not resulted in the information explosion that has been happening in many developed countries since the Internet became a mass-media technology. It could be to do with the fact that poor information gathering techniques and policies are not being followed (Nicholas, 2000).

V. Stunted creative efforts

Other studies conducted elsewhere (Lush, 2000), (Nulens, 2001) show that African web content is still to improve. The studies also show that locally generated web sites that are making an impact are those sites that promote tourism, African arts and culture and government sites that provide investment information. There is one characteristic that is common with these sites – they target people living outside Africa. This particular international target audience is getting the information that they want from Africa and about Africa. Local people on the other hand, know very little about their own countries and the rest of the international community. It puts them at a disadvantage when conducting international business transactions such as negotiating prices and better trading terms. They do need to have full trade and market information to improve their bargaining with overseas-based businesses (Heeks, 2001) Local chambers of commerce should be seen to be providing that critical trade and market information so that those exporting overseas can get better prices for their products and services. Those in agriculture need up-to-date information to improve productivity (UNECA, 1999). Those in education need access to a wide range of educational learning materials that are specially tailored to prepare them to apply that knowledge innovatively to address development problems (Adedeji, 1993).

Traditional government information services in many Southern African countries have not been in a ready state for realignment with the new media, as what has happened in the information service sector in developed countries. The opportunity provided by the web media to improve information services couldn’t have been more welcome anywhere else, but in Africa where there are such huge information gaps.

There are clear distinctions between the rich and the poor, the ‘information haves and the information have-nots’. The digital divide is clearly seen in how a majority of people are still ignorant about many things that can improve their well being - they always have to wait for others to interpret things and make decisions for them. They do not have equal access to this rich reservoir of digital information that the web offers and those trusted to assist them are failing to do so and as one respondent in an information needs assessment in Zambia put so well:

"There is an institutional syndrome not to share information."

A 2-day workshop on content and applications development in Africa that took place in Johannesburg , in November 2001 made a clarion call for local professionals and institutions to take the lead in improving the image of the continent through self-expression.

"Awareness needs to be built and perhaps emanate from our universities, schools and other incubators of creative talent; there are literally thousands of creative writers, singers and song writers, dramatic artists, etc. who are capable of writing the African story, interpreting the African condition and presenting it in a compelling way. If content of sufficient quality can be produced, Africans have the potential to build demand in the international markets." (Sintim-Misa, 2002)

VI. Being more creative and innovative

The observations made as a result of this investigation is that, people’s socio-economic needs should be driving web content creation. The development of innovative Internet technologies should be deliberately fostered to make that content accessible to the target audience using the most affordable, reliable and appropriate delivery mechanisms – what one may call ‘Last Mile Technologies’(LMTs). LMTs are a set of innovative technologies that are geared towards reducing the digital divide in developing settings. The PAPWEC model is an example of an LMT as it can be used to garner efforts towards providing information to marginalised people. The Continent has the lowest number of Internet users in the world! This is being addressed now as projects are underway to find technological solutions to increase the quality of Internet services in the continent and widen access so that ordinary people can reached. Hence we see Internet cafes mushrooming throughout the continent. Young people are the main users of these Internet cafes. While they are using the Internet – especially web based email to communicate, they find that there is very little that they can get from some of these local web sites. Locally relevant web sites are few and if they are there, they target some sections of the population. That is why most of them visit Western originated web sites that really do not offer that content that reflects their needs. It is not surprising why web sites have not penetrated these societies and become a natural part of the fabric of the information environment.

In education, where one would have hoped for African educational institutions to embrace this technology, the same problem is there – local students visit educational resources hosted and produced for Western students. Their own educational institutions are doing very little to generate relevant educational content for them. There is a big problem in that local institutions do not really place much emphasis on continuously improving information services. A major problem observed by other leading experts in ICTs in development is that Internet technologies in Africa are being implemented without taking into consideration the e-readiness of the local societies e.g. existing telecommunications infrastructure, IT capabilities, IT enabling environments, availability of a skilled IT workforce, the number of PCs available and attitudes to new technologies.

The content on some of the web sites – apart from mainly newspaper web sites, don’t have that exciting local appeal that would endear these technologies to the people and make them a part of their everyday lives – like mobile phones. ICTs developments have created new opportunities to present and access various types of content. There is a need to understand the capabilities of the technologies and how they can change the production and dissemination of information. Innovative strategies that can make the content accessible using the best and appropriate technologies available is one way to make these technologies accepted by ordinary African people (Chivhanga, 2000f the technologies are not available, then unique and original ways have to be sought by companies that are active in the sector. This is one fundamental reason why web sites are still to bring sustainable socio-economic gains to the countries south of the Sahara. There are few creative, innovative and sophisticated applications of web sites to make web sites an integrated part of traditional media in many Southern African countries excluding South Africa.

Mapping the terrain - what is web content?

It is important to have a clear picture of what it is that this model that was produced in the thesis sought to address. Essentially the main aim of the thesis was to find practical ways that could be adapted in different local contexts to increase the quality of the content that is found on African web sites.

Web content is the information that is presented on a web site. This information can be presented through text, images, audio, animation, graphics and other multimedia elements. Hypertext mark-up language (HTML) and Internet programming languages like Java, are used to knit all this content together. Web authoring packages like Macromedia Dreamweaver (http://www.macromedia.com/) and Microsoft FrontPage (http://www.microsoft.com/), are commonly used to technically weave that content together i.e. design and develop the web site, ready for publication on the Internet.

The content should be contextulised to suit the needs of the people it is aimed at. That process of localisation of the content makes it more relevant and appropriate to a group of people, a community or individual. Hence African web content - "information that relates directly to Africa that is published on web sites built and hosted in African countries'' (Da Costa, 2001).

Implementation of ICTs projects in Africa has focused more on improving the infrastructure without an equal effort to increase availability of information that will make web sites a trusted source of information. Yeomens rightly points out that: “content is knowledge - and knowledge is money”. He goes on further to say:

"The reality is that content is the reason for the technology's existence. It is shaped by, and shapes, the patterns of boxes, wires and signals spreading across the world. It embraces everything from the latest mango price through the Malian music you have just bought at the airport, the Andhra Pradesh land title map, the Bolloywood movie animating a video café on the Deccan, the falling share prices that just closed a factory, the tense telephone reassurances between a migrant worker and her family, to the stories stitching the fabric of traditional African society and the dried milk advertisement on the rickety township hoarding." (Yeomens, 2002)

One can put it in another way – African web content can be regarded as information that relates directly to the people of Africa living on and off the African continent. Geographical location of the Africans will however change the socio-economic circumstances of the people and hence their information needs. Africans leaving outside Africa generally have easy access to information resources on Africa that is available from Western sources, even though some of these sources are biased. It is therefore necessary to distinguish these two groups – Africans living in Africa and those Africans living in the Continent.

The content on the web site and its features should make a visitor to the site say something like this:

"Yes, this web site really looks like it’s meant for me, was prepared for me and I can use it in my day to day life as it directly or indirectly deals with the issues that I am faced with everyday to improve my livelihood opportunities and I am well informed about this and that ".

Further clarification is still needed to what we mean by relevant web content.

"It seems simple and obvious that content can be defined as local when produced in a specified geographic locality, such as a village, province, or even country or continent. The problem with this definition is that information from a locality does not always have a relation to the people living in that place. Especially in a globalising world, content produced in India may not be Indian at all, but simply cheaper to package in India than elsewhere. " ( Ballantyne, 2002).

The same source as above goes further in expanding the definition of content by saying local content: "is that content that is intended for a specific local audience, as defined by its geographic location, culture or its language".

That content should be seen to be coming from the people or local communities. Ballantyne gives a useful working definition of content in a Research Report: 'Collecting and Propagating Local Development Content' thus:

"Local content is the expression of the locally owned and adapted knowledge of a community - where the community is defined by its location, culture, language or area of interest".

This definition therefore maps the sources and nature of the content as being local (endogenous information) and external (exogenous information) (Menou, 1993).

What has been identified in many research activities as the one undertaken by IICD (http://www.iicd.org/) and revealed in the cited report and others, is that the nature of available information on the web sites shows that very little of it is produced by local people or that their input has been intensively sought and informed the web design and development process.

African web content is referred to mean that content that is about Africa, is directly aimed to be used by Africans whether living on the African continent or elsewhere.

The nature of the web content should drive home the message of the web site without leaving any ambiguities or uncertainties in the minds of the target audience. Eventually it should seek to provide sufficient information for the visitor to the web site to make an informed decision or be better informed, undertake a particular activity for example buy online or engage in an online discussion. These activities are some essential features that can be found on a web site - their availability being determined by the purpose of the web site.

The uses of a particular web site will vary from the person to person, but the web publisher of an African web site should strive to present the message to make it relevant, useful and appropriate to the target population. The fact is that locally based web publishers should use their skills and know-how to create web sites that their own people can use in their day to day lives.

Most of the content rich web sites about them and their countries is generated and owned by Western based organisations. Nationals of those countries residing in developed countries are however making huge contributions in the creation of web sites about their own countries - this should be considered as local content.

Local organisations for example government institutions that produce free public information are not making challenging efforts to collate and digitise that information that should be made available via a central digital source. Online government information services are useful for foreign visitors who get factual information about the country. There are still be used by to improve governance and make the democratic process a reality i.e. increase the political impact of ICTs in those settings (Norris, 2001).

Local web appeal

The web evaluation exercises showed that web sites have not moved from establishing the Internet presence of the organisation. The university web sites have the barest of information – mainly about courses on offer. There are no online educational materials for the students or comprehensive links to such sites. Departmental web pages are the worst. Some of the departmental web sites evaluated have one long page, on one site and all the links are dead. There is no policy and practice to use web sites as a teaching and learning tool. A web site is built once and never updated or even indicate that it is providing current information. At the end of the day, these web sites are not relevant first to the crop of current registered students, local university researchers, prospective students, national and international researchers and organisations.

This is a sorry state of affairs – most of the national universities’ web sites have nothing on them! The content on them speaks for itself – more could be done to make it richer and appealing to local audiences. For content to be truly reflective of the target audience, their involvement in the creation of it is imperative.

"Helping poor people to create, understand, use, buy, sell and exchange content meaningful to their lives is not the obscure fad of a few enthusiasts on the fringe of the global information society. It is the core purpose." (Yeomens, 2002)

The following are some key characteristics of that content that local people will find meaningful in their lives. These characteristics were synthesised from an information needs exercise while building the Mwanza community web site in Tanzania during the IICD sponsored projects:

1. The content needs should be expressed by the intended community of users.
2. It should reflect their culture and socio-economic circumstances.
3. It should be in a language that they can easily understand - preferably in their local languages.
4. If the content has come from other external sources, it should be adapted to suit local purposes.
5. The community of users of a web site should be taught how to express their content needs and how to use new media to publish web sites in their own right.
6. The web site should be easily accessible and download quickly.
7. Fresh content should be added at appropriate times.

The way that content is gathered and disseminated should have a local appeal. ICTs developments have created new opportunities to present and access various types of content. There is a need to understand the capabilities of the technologies, inorder to use them to their maximum potential, develop innovative strategies that can make the content accessible using the best and appropriate technologies available.

There is also an important need to understand the substance that goes on the web site – information that is packaged in an assortment of multimedia format. A web site conveys a message – that message could informational or related to a particular activity like online shopping. There are also features on that web site that visitors can make use of. There can go into a chat room for example and talk about common issues. All these elements that make up a web site have to be carefully moulded and woven into the web site for it to deliver.

What one notices on a number of locally generated African web sites - especially those evaluated, shows that very little thought has gone in building the content. Most of the web sites have not moved from providing 'brochure like information' (Jensen, 2001).

This observation prompted the author to undertake the doctoral research - four years after the initial web evaluation in 1999, the evidence clearly shows that there are no rigorous approaches being followed in building these local web sites to make them relevant to people in those communities.

Interviews in Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe confirmed that web publishers just got on with building a web site without carrying out any information needs assessment or storyboarding the content design.

Sustainable information services


Whose duty is it to provide public information? Government departments first and civil society organisations second. Media organisations get paid for supplying information on a regular basis on issues that affect the country and the public. But those that are placed to provide public information are not dutifully using their offices and public resources to do so. Respective government departments and agencies should take the lead in digitising information resources that will create a knowledge-based society. Such resources will create a society, whose members are fully aware.

In a the book titled ‘Informing Communities’ (Kinnell, 1992), the Foreword opens thus:

“We live in a society (referring to the UK society) which is underpinned by information, in which both work and leisure time increasingly depend on intelligent technology. Access to information, for individuals and communities, and for business and commerce, is therefore vital”.

This is how other societies have been continuously building information and knowledge bases that underpin socio-economic progress. Civil society organisations both national and international – dubbed NGOs, have been working with other key stakeholders to implement ICTs in development. They are now leading the efforts to localise and contextualise content creation..It seems so clear what needs to be done, but implementation is laboriously slow – this is why Africa is in danger of always playing the catching up game when new technologies are diffused.

New technologies like web sites should be used to collate and disseminate local information and knowledge. People centred approaches should be used to harness information and knowledge (Adedeji, 1993). Local information and knowledge (endogenous information) when combined with exogenous information should result in real benefits when used in the day to activities by local people (Menou, 1992).

Most of the information about local situations is generated by external organisations and local people and organisations buy this material back in the form of books. Locally based experts are doing very little to use their expertise to build a stock of information and knowledge that has a local appeal and is even sought after by external people and organisations. Government departments have to consult an external publication like Africa Economic Digest that provides information about their own situation. This information is hard to come by for the ordinary person as one respondent in a questionnaire exercise in Zambia stated.

Internet status report in Southern Africa

The last few years have seen a phenomenal growth of the Internet in Southern Africa. It has already led to transformations in the lives of a number of people and is fast changing the way organisations communicate and do business. What is noticeable when one looks at what is actually happening on the ground, is that there is now a full awareness of what the Internet is and what it can do. Many people are aware of the changes it has rung outside Southern Africa. Of particular note is the fact that large organisations (both in the public and private sectors) now have an information policy that centres on the Internet as the main vehicle for communication and the dissemination of information within the organisation and with other organisations. Many of these organisations especially SMEs (Small to Medium Sized Enterprises) are still to translate that policy into practice and devote a reasonable budget for a dedicated in-house web development team. Internet cafes have made an appealing presence as the latest thing in town. What is apparent is that there are distinct and varied groups of Internet users in each country. There are a number of stumbling blocks preventing the realisation of the many hoped for Internet dreams and at times the Net experience is frustrating as access speeds are notoriously slow.

Most Internet services are confined to capital cities and in some countries the services extend to secondary towns. Countries like Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have established Points of Presence (POPs) in some locations outside the capital city.

The following readily available statistics reveal the differences in the rate of Internet use between the countries in the region:


Global Online Populations
Worldwide Internet Population 2004: 934 million (Computer Industry Almanac)
Projection for 2005: 1.07 billion(Computer Industry Almanac)
Projection for 2006: 1.21 billion(Computer Industry Almanac)
Projection for 2007: 1.35 billion(Computer Industry Almanac)

Titles for the following country description:
Nation
Population (CIA's WorldFactbook)
Internet Users (CIA's WorldFactbook)
Active Users(Nielsen//NetRatings)
ISPs (CIA's WorldFactbook)

Angola
10.76 million
60,000
NA
1

Botswana
1.57 million
33,000
NA
11

Lesotho
1.86 million
5,000
NA
1

Malawi
11.65 million
35,000
NA
7

Mozambique
17,47 million
22,500
NA
11

Namibia
1.92 million
45,000
NA
2

South Africa
43.6 million
4.78 million
NA
150

Swaziland
1.16 million
14,000
NA
6

Zambia
10.30 million
25,000
NA
5

Zimbabwe
12.57 million
100,000
NA
6

Figure 1 http://www.clickz.com/stats/web_worldwide

The statistics clearly show that the number of Internet users in Southern Africa is very small. These statistics show Internet subscription accounts – data that is supplied by Internet Service Providers in those countries. The above table also shows that in the rest of Africa and countries inhabited mainly by black people like in the Caribbean, reveals the same pattern of slow uptake of the Internet is ubiquitous. Further studies will need to be undertaken to analyse why this is so.

The level of diffusion of the Internet in countries such as Finland, the UK and the USA as shown in the same table above is so far ahead of these African countries and show the extent of the digital divide. The digital divide is not fiction – it is for real. African countries are challenged to take stock of the penetration of new technologies in their societies and in that process devise innovative strategies to benefit from them as is happening elsewhere in other parts of the world.

On a field trip to Zambia and Zimbabwe (July to September 2000) –the author of this paper noted that a standard dial up account services three to four people in the immediate family as well as relatives and teenage friends. The situation has not changed that much over the last five years as revealed by the recent statistics (Figure 1). The actual number of Internet users for one single Internet account could be up to 5 to 10 people and this gives a totally different picture. The young local educated population is increasingly finding that having an Internet based email account and using the Internet for getting information is by far, more efficient and less time consuming than traditional media. It’s actually trendy to be an Internet user and the message is spreading fast and many young people are being hooked to the technology despite not having their own personal computers and subscriber accounts.

In Southern African countries, such as Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe there is widespread installation of PCs with Internet access in hotels and lodges. Customers pay so much to send and receive email and surf the web. These facilities are also found in many shopping malls and there are always in demand, especially in Zimbabwe. These other alternative ways to access the Internet in the region has gone unaccounted for by organisations such as Network Wizards that count the number of Internet users based on dial-up accounts.

Most ISPs are responding to customer demand by making available to them low cost email services. Most people use Hotmail, Yahoo and Excite. They are also expensive to use, as connection to the remote site has to be maintained. Those that can afford to have Internet access charge people for using their dial-up account to surf and use web-based email.

Email is the facility that has made the greatest impact in Southern Africa. It is being used both for personal and business purposes. It is becoming by far the best means of communication between researchers, businesses working with overseas clients and suppliers. The web is still not used as a main source of new information largely because most users are not yet adept at searching and the cost of Internet access and download time of web pages discourages both novice and experienced users.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa, which has been instrumental in accelerating the growth of the Internet, points out that there is about one incoming and one outgoing email per person of an average of 3 to 4 pages. These are mainly communications with people outside the region. A survey by ECA (2000) indicates that 25 % of the email is replacing faxes, while 10 % are replacing phone calls and the other 65% represent new communications that would not have arisen without the email system. NGOs, private companies and universities have the highest number of users. The majority of users are nationals although their representation varies from country to country. In Zambia for example 44 % were nationals. Most users are male. In Zambia, the approximate number of male users was about 64 %. Just like in most developed countries, the largest number of users is very educated. In Zambia about 87 % of the users were educated up to degree level. This pattern is reflected throughout Southern Africa and as mentioned earlier on, has not drastically changed over the last four years.

The ISPs industry and market conditions

Internet Service Providers are mushrooming throughout Southern Africa’s capitals. The slow access to Internet services is still a major constraint to the effective and efficient running of the technology. After all, the Internet is all about immediacy. This is largely because of the high tariffs on international calls and the poor circuit capacity of the telephone lines.

The cost of hosting web sites locally is very high and subscribers are encouraged to take advantage of free overseas hosting services. A web site development company in Zambia, Dispatch Ltd builds web sites for its local clients and if they can’t afford to pay for web space from local ISPs, they upload the web site to overseas-hosted free web spaces. These free web spaces usually insist on the site carrying its banner adverts that are not relevant to local African users and add on to the information deluge that has come with the Internet.

Establishing a regional Internet backbone would be one way to reduce dependency on Internet backbones located outside Africa. This would result in a regional hub being used by ISPs in different countries. Sharing of equipment costs would result in better services to customers. At the moment this is not possible because the international tariffs charged by local PTOs discourages ISPs to establish multiple international links.

Telecommunication developments that are underway to improve the speed of accessing Internet services involve the setting up of VSAT (very small aperture terminals) that will establish direct links to Europe or US. Such countries as Zambia and Mozambique are developing positive regulatory environments paving the way for the deployment of innovative telecommunications technologies geared towards speeding up Internet traffic.

Factors behind the growth

There are significant country differences in the number of Internet users. Zimbabwe clearly has the highest number of Internet users – both those with their own subscriptions and those who have access to the Internet via their work or other public access points such as cybercafes. There is a gradual increase in the number of users in countries such as Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique. The highest number of users in all the countries is located in cities. Generally within the cities, home users with Internet access are the rich and middle classes whose houses are located in the lower density suburbs. In rural areas, where most poor people live, the use of the Internet is certainly beyond their reach and it is even ludicrous to promote its use without addressing urgent problems like poor accommodation, health and lack of telephone connections. These people will for a long time be excluded from this fast moving digital world.

Some of the key factors behind the slow growth of the Internet and hence the growing digital divide in most Southern African countries is the poor telecommunication infrastructure, high Internet access costs, expensive computer and telecommunications equipment and skilled manpower shortages in all ICTs industries. There is also a need to remove the political and economic barriers to the growth of the Internet. Development of infrastructures such as roads and electricity are tied to the creation of a healthy environment to attract foreign investment not just in the ICTs industries, but other sectors. These new groups of users will create sophisticated demands that will drive innovations and an improvement in Internet services.

Basic telephone infrastructure for a majority of the people who live in rural areas is not available. The tele-density is about 1 per 200 inhabitants. The rural communities have the lowest telephone connections and worse still they don't have electricity. The installation of digital infrastructures is now a national priority. The inevitable result of the use of analogue lines is that telephone costs are exorbitantly high and this consequently leads to a high cost of Internet connection. It means that most ordinary people can't afford to use the Internet. Apart from those using the Internet at work, of the ordinary users, only the elite can afford to use the technology. It becomes a luxury when it should be nurtured to make it accessible to a majority of people if its full benefits like access to information and an improvement in communication are to be realised.

There are concerted national and international efforts to build information societies driven by these new technologies in many countries in the Southern African region. There are a number ICTs projects in progress initiated by both national and international organisations. These projects have been driven by the underpinning belief that new technologies in particular the Internet have the potential to bring about socio-economic developments – but uptake is still slow as shown by the statistics in Figure 1. The flow of information across every sector can bring about untold changes as these societies now acknowledge its value in every human activity. Information and new technologies are engines to development and it is their strategic uses that can result in changes in the continent.

Government departments are not always keen to freely publicise their activities and there is a general reluctance on their part to keep their citizens fully informed. This is more serious in rural areas where the majority of the African people live. Most of these people are illiterate and sometimes their level of ignorance about basic health issues for example, has undermined any socio-economic progress in urban towns. Most politicians derive their support from the rural population and it is in their interest to keep them uninformed about the real issues in the country for that will erode their political power base. From the author’s own observation while on the field trip in Southern Africa, political institutions are very wary of the power of the Internet to disseminate information freely and independently. It is the author’s firm belief that proliferation of the Internet in Southern Africa will greatly improve people’s understanding of many issues affecting them and it can prove to be a powerful educational tool, equipping people with relevant information that can strengthen their knowledge base. It can be a costly exercise to spread the Internet right to grassroots levels but a nation that has a deliberate policy to keep its citizens fully informed on national issues – social, political and economic, will reap the benefits in the long run.


Impact and benefits of the Internet

As one can surmise from the foregoing, the Internet is still to make a major impact in Southern Africa. What kind of impact is expected to result is still a subject for discussion and the strategies being followed have not yet resulted in the proliferation of the technology. There are other more vexing questions like for example which components of the technology are being developed to achieve what socio-economic changes. Is it the email facility, video conferencing, bulletin boards, web sites making more impact on people and development? There are no clear standard guidelines in place to inform policy-making and interested parties that can be followed to use the new technologies to their maximum potential. Most of the activities end up being shrouded in a lot of talk and when one goes to the ground, there is very little happening. The presumed ‘leap-frog’ or impact will take much longer than expected – maybe another 10 to 20 years and by then the world of the Internet will have advanced so far ahead, increasing the growing digital divide between Africa and the rest of the world!

The two key Internet features that are already impacting on communication and information services in many developed countries are email systems and web sites. These two Internet services have become a major vehicle in exchanging and accessing information. In Southern Africa, just like elsewhere in Africa, traditional sources of information have proved not to be reliable, they are not kept up to date and inaccurate when compared to information services in many developed countries. The information could be there, but it is not in a readily accessible format as it is scattered in many different localities. The culture of cataloguing, archiving and maintaining library resources generated from within the countries has not been fostered. This has greatly undermined traditional information services and only private sector organisations have for many years collated and maintained their own in-house publications and they usually don’t share that information with outside parties.

The individual country statistics in Southern Africa clearly show that only a tiny majority of people's lives has been changed by the new technology. At an individual level, there is a small impact. At community or national levels there is no impact as the uses (application) of the technology are just benefiting a few – the elite. The technology has however moved from being a ‘novel object’ (Menou, 2000) i.e. people know about the technology and all Southern African countries have dial-up Internet access in at least two cities. There is still another level of penetration needed on a national scale. Behind the smokescreen there is very little change.

The Internet hype goes on and is fuelled by sensationalised media coverage without major transformations taking place in the lives of a majority of people. Similar patterns of too much verbal utterances with little action and change on the ground is shown by many conferences and workshops that have been convened focusing on how Africa should be part of the new technological revolution.

Fanning Internet Diffusion – people based developments

Lack of information leads to poverty – in fact there is a direct link between socio-economic stagnation and poor information services. If you do not know about it, there is no way you can make a proper decision and many businesses in Southern Africa don’t grow because they readily don’t have trade and market information on their fingertips. New technologies should therefore be used to provide such information that is critical to the survival of the organisation and one can see the potential of mobile devices designed with the African context in mind making huge impacts in the information and communication environments.

Mobile phone devices apart from the PC should be developed to widen access to Internet services. The growing popularity of mobile telephones in Southern Africa is already
solving voice communication problems. Mobile phones are still a luxury for the urban upper and middle classes, but they have penetrated Southern African societies tremendously faster than the Internet. WAP phones are still to make an impact on information services in the whole region, except for South Africa where the mobile phone sector is on the same breadth as in developed countries.

What is also needed are mobile phones designed specifically for use in the Continent and powered by a hybrid of Internet applications that will facilitate access to servers first within the national borders and later the region and overseas. It is hoped that basic and generic nationally combined Intranet services with their own unique Local Wide Web (LWW) servers will bring a taste of the technology to a majority of people that are Internet illiterate (Chivhanga, 2001).

What is however noticeable throughout many people in Southern African countries is that there is a genuine desire to use the Internet whether for business or personal purposes – that is highly positive for the future developments of the technology. There are still many negative and reactionary forces especially people that are still stuck in tradition and view any technological development as another form of Westernisation that is eroding cultural values.

The hunger is there, but what is lacking is the food – the capacity. There is a high level of awareness in most of the countries, where there are a lot of people living overseas who use the Internet to communicate with their relatives back home. These people are also playing a major role in popularising the use of the Internet in their own countries. But governments are not taking a leading role in creating enabling environments for the Internet to be a universal tool for communication and a platform to access information that is a bedrock for building knowledge based societies in economies that are agro-based. There is no trade-off between investing in Internet technologies and other core-development activities. The Internet is a tool that can actually power development in all areas and deserves top priority than what has been shown over the last 10 years in most of the countries in Southern Africa and the rest of Sub-Sahara Africa.

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