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Infrastructure for the development of an information policy

Ermelinda Acerenza (Director of the EUBCA)
Teresa Castilla (Lecturer in Library Organization and Administration

1. Introduction

The developing countries are lagging behind in the establishment of national information systems because they lack the necessary infrastructures. Some countries, however - Brazil and Mexico, among others - are already making efforts to overcome this problem.

A plan for the development of an information policy may prove to be of consideral importance here.

It serves to channel general efforts towards priority sectors and also becomes an instrument for the integration of information units so as to make them more effective and functional in the future.

The situation prevailing in a given country is described by means of indicators whose preparation enables conclusions to be drawn concerning the transformations that must be made if the deadlock is to be broken and attainable development levels reached.

This strategy must be geared to relatively precise goals, and, more especially, goals that are capable of being achieved.

There is a better chance of attaining such targets with proper planning and monitoring, and this is an approach that has accordingly been adopted by the authorities in recent years.

The process of integration of the developing countries should be focused on the enhanced use of knowledge for the production of goods and services; this means that a more pragmatic approach should be adopted in appraising the course of scientific and technological development in these countries.

All of this involves a reordering of the different factors involved in the processes of creating, disseminating and using knowledge, and they should be evaluated on the basis of their contribution to technical changes in the production sector.

It is here that technical information emerges as an essential input of the innovatory process. Information constitutes a body of conceptual knowledge or data which may be transmitted and/or utilized.

The search for information, its processing, and its application constitute a type of assistance which is offered to the user.

But this is frequently not sufficient, especially when technological problems have to be identified and overcome. Supporting services accordingly come into play in order to cover the stages of the design, launching and implementation of projects.

2. Information policy

Information activities - as prerequisites for research - are essential in decision-making relating to science and technology policy and development. The transfer of information may stop certain bodies from keeping to their own narrow spheres; it may prevent the erroneous interpretation of research findings and their use in strengthening specific, elitist, technocratic positions.

The growing importance of information, in conjunction with technical assistance, constitutes an important change as a new ingredient in production; whatever divergencies there may be in economic forecasts for the coming years, the common denominator to be found in all is the fact that the service industries will probably show the highest growth rates.

Since it is the service industries, of all the economic sectors, which depend to the greatest extent on the transfer of information, it is to be hoped that there will be a parallel expansion in information as well as in the advisory services of specialists in the various branches of knowledge.

Ultimately all organizations seek gain; information services and technical assistance represent a form of investment and whoever is responsible for them is entitled to expect something in return.

The value of information and its growing cost are recognized and a market is being developed for this new consumer article with subscriptions for different types of services. Automatic communication with any part of the world is a reality today and its use is being rapidly extended. It is only a question of time and planning for these facilities to be included among the economic possibilities of information systems.

Information in conjunction with technical assistance, constitutes the basis for the progress of society, and many countries have, for this reason, studied the need for the more systematic planning of their present information infrastructures so as to enable them to make full use of the resources built up at the national level and to participate in the world information systems which exist already or which may come into being in the future.

It may be deduced from the above that planning is essential in all human activities and that information policy is no exception to this rule.

In every historical period, priority is assigned to the attainment of a certain order of things and the planning of information policies should therefore be flexible.

Planning means forecasting. In planning information policy, the form in which knowledge is growing and being systematized by culture must be borne in mind, as well as the ways and means required to transmit it to the users.

Plans should, therefore, be assessed and revised at frequent intervals.

It is also important, if an information policy plan is to have maximum effectiveness, to stress the following points:

3. Objectives of the information policy and evaluation of its practical results

Objectives should be rank-ordered and an appropriate framework defined within which information needs will emerge and develop. For this purpose:

All countries have political components which are bound to affect the system; efforts should accordingly be made, through appropriate strategies, to seek results in line with the objectives set, which will naturally differ from one country to another.

The methodologies, criteria and techniques of evaluation are essentially dynamic and should be geared to the strategic and technical modifications that may be involved in the development process.

A methodology applicable at all times and all places is inadvisable; on the contrary, it should be geared to the pace of the country's development in order to ensure its greater effectiveness.

The task of reconciling the micro-economic interests of the user with the macro-economic and social interests of the country constitutes, to a certain extent, the key to the forms of selection and the methodologies of evaluation of information and technical assistance.

Evaluation for what purpose? What should be evaluated? How should it be evaluated? When should it be evaluated?

Once the context has been ascertained, then the guidelines and criteria which may be used to set up an evaluation structure fall into place.

Evaluation is a rational and political process. It should be carried out at both the micro- and the macro-economic levels. At the micro-economic level, the factor of cost-effectiveness and the question of the utilization of information might be used as evaluation criteria. At the macro-economic level, the basis for evaluation is the use of information as an instrument of change in regard to the country's social and economic conditions which would subsequently enable the community to draw closer to its chosen goal.

The general features of the plan or the national programme have to be sought so as to obtain specific and practical criteria for use in evaluation. The establishment of criteria is of value only in providing a specific framework on the basis of which the evaluation itself might be made.

What is essential is to avoid a theoretical, general approach and to make the analysis as objective, feasible and practical as possible.

The cost of overall evaluation may turn out to be so expensive that it is no longer feasible. It is therefore important to evaluate services that are centralized by areas and are essential for the development of the country or for the strategy that it has established.

It is necessary to select leading sectors in which the operational bases of the nationally-organized mechanisms involved in development may be established.

Integrated evaluation should, from the initial stage of planning information policy seek to determine: the effects of the system as regards the benefits to be gained by those who will be using it; the basis for improving, justifying or giving up the system.

It is then, important to concentrate the use of the evaluation techniques, taking into account the following points:

  1. formulation of national policies;
  2. design of national information systems;
  3. implementation of systems, considering:

The effectiveness of the evaluation of the practical results of the information policy may be gauged from:

4. Goals and stages

The conceptual and philosophical framework described above constitutes the starting-point for the appropriate systematization of the stages to be covered.

The system is designed to be developed at the national level in successive stages, with distinct goals for the different periods.

In the stage to be planned first, the field of application will be confined to priorities established in national development plans. In subsequent stages the necessary steps will be taken to extend it to other sectors within the national territory.

The following points should be taken into account in implementing the system:

The following methods will be employed in working towards the objectives set:

5. Structural aspects

The strategy for developing structural aspects includes, as its first stage, the generation of a process of 'outward' growth so as to provide the foreign currency required to finance investments.

Various methods may be used, individually or jointly, in drawing up the strategy:

Use of the first two methods requires general agreement concerning their application.

In the case of the second, it should be pointed out that it has the advantage of being the development strategy which leads to the most rapid growth in information processing.

The third method, that of increasing effectiveness, should remain the fundamental basis of the strategy for developing the system.

Countries should make considerable efforts to step up the process of introducing technology and modernizing the whole of their resources.

Once all the data have been compiled, a reply can be given to all the queries concerning the technological level (use of inputs, current practices, information processing, outputs, human resources, etc.). This, in turn, calls for the effective interrelating of the various capacities so as to ensure that the technological progress achieved is turned to full account.

As a result, there should be a focal point or central unit - whose purpose is to carry out all the necessary studies and research, formulate policies and co-ordinate programme implementation - which will work with the information units in each specialized area, namely those units responsible for putting into effect the methods approved. This whole process will be carried out under the technical guidance of the central unit.

The success of the system calls for:

In anticipation of these operations, the countries concerned should strengthen and improve:

6. Professional training

This aspect should not be neglected in librarianship studies. The institutes which provide such training should come under a university or have university support, and they should also be recognized by the competent authorities.

The important thing is for the librarian to be an information specialist, trained to participate in the preparation of new structures in the developing countries, responsible for all aspects of research concerning the design, supervision and development of information systems at a high level, capable of taking decisions regarding operational, executive, technological, organizational and administrative matters in libraries and archives.

He should also be able to operate at the following levels:

There will be a potential for development at each level, providing bases and points of growth that will enable new practices to be implemented in order to further national development.

The decade of the 1970s took the developing countries - which were going through transitional stages - by surprise in regard to the use of new methods for information handling. Traditional methods were abandoned and replaced by more sophisticated procedures regarded as semi-automatic, including the system of co-ordinate indexing known as the uniterm method.

Since programmes should contribute to national understanding, curricula should cover two main sectors:

In the teaching of library science, the fact has to be faced that we have entered a period in which libraries are abandoning current structures and are becoming part of national systems, with a view to integration at the international level, involving mastery of advanced techniques. As the number of libraries using traditional methods decreases, so studies should be directed towards support for national information policy.

Information policy is bound to make steady progress over the next five years and the developing countries will require more efficient systems involving the use of the necessary data-processing technology. They must therefore establish appropriate forward plans so as to be able to cope with the changes that will take place.

7. Conclusions

The plan submitted must satisfy the acutely felt need for the efficient dissemination of the knowledge built up in the country and abroad; it should increase the total sum of knowledge and improve the individual capacities of each country. It is impossible to move from a complete absence of activities to full operational level in one stride. Since implementation will certainly involve considerable effort and outlay, it seems appropriate to consider the real possibilities of putting such a plan into effect. From the point of view of implementation capacity, it has to be recognized that this is one of the variables to be considered in the short term. On this basis it should be possible to attain the growth rates required, and this accordingly means that there is a greater possibility of being able to reach the goals fixed.

The financing of the plan should be ensured more especially by the generation of resources through public or private enterprises, as appropriate. This would be the best way of guaranteeing the achievement of the planned targets.

8. Bibliographical references

Libraries in factories and large firms, Maria BRAZ, Unesco Bulletin for Libraries, Vol. 22, No. 5, September-October 1968, pp. 236-240.

Ciencia e industria: un caso argentino/Alberto Araoz, Carlos Martinez Videl - Washington: OEA, 1974.

DEVSIS diseño preliminar de un sistema internacional de información para las ciencias del desarrollo/Grupo de Estudio DEVSIS, Geneva, 1975 - Ottawa: CIID, 1976.

Directrices para la evaluación de seminarios, reuniones de trabajo prácticos y cursos de formación sobre información y documentación cientificas y técnicas/ F.W. Lancaster - Montevideo Unesco Regional Office for Science and Technology for Latin America and the Caribbean, 1976.

Guidelines for the organization of training courses, workshops and seminars in scientific and technical information and documentation/Pauline Atherton; Paris, Unesco, 1975.

Information science education and development; Tefko Saracevic; Unesco Bulletin for Libraries, Vol. 31, No. 3, May-June 1977, pp. 134-141.

Final report of UNISIST/Seminar on the Education and Training of Users of Scientific Information, Rome, 1976 - Paris, Unesco, 1976. Information services in industry: the future prospects/B.C. Burrows - ASLIB Proceed.-s 25 (10): pp. 364-374, October 1973.

Information transfer in the industrial environment: the requirements of industry/David Rowe - ASLIB Proceed.-s 25 (11): pp. 425-429, November 1973.

Informe sobre servicios de información y asistencia técnica a las empresas/ Reunión del Grupo de Trabajo creado por la resolución AG/RES. 233 (VI-0/76). Washington, 1977 - Washington: OEA, 1977.

National planning of documentation and library services in Arab countries/ Expert Meeting, Cairo, 1974. Bull. Unesco Libr.-s 28 (4): pp. 182-187, July/ August 1974.

NATIS preliminary survey of education and training programmes at university level in information and library science/D.J. Foskett - Paris, Unesco, 1976.

Pay as you go: plan for satellite industrial libraries using academic facilities/James B. Dodd - Spec. Libr.-s 65 (2): pp. 66-72, February 1974.

Plan nacional de desarrollo 1973-1977/SEPLACOD (Uruguay) - Montevideo. Presidencia de la República, 1977.

Problems and prospects in information service for small industry/ K. Bhattacharyya - Jour Librarian 5 (4): pp. 264-292, October 1973.

Proposed terms of reference for the implementation phase of the Latin American Technological Information Network (RITLA): paper prepared for the Meeting of Experts, Mexico, 1977/Personal invitation, convened at the Headquarters of the Permanent Secretariat - Mexico, 1977.

Service to industry by independent research libraries/William S. Buddington Libr. Tre.-s 14 (3): pp. 288-294. January 1966.

Sistema cientifico y técnico nacional/CONYCYT - Montevideo, 1974.

La transmisión rapida de información preliminar en ciencia y tecnologia/ T. Ohoherha-Bol. Unesco Bibl.-s 27 (4): pp. 221-224, July/August 1973.

Uruguay: sistema nacional de información científica y técnica/Betty Johnson de Vodanovic - Montevideo, Unesco Regional Office for Science and Technology for Latin America and the Caribbean, 1977.

Model for a national information system (DRAFT)

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