UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
RESEARCH NETWORKS IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES: ANALYSIS, METHODOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES AND GUIDELINES FOR STARTINGBy Daniel Pimienta, REDALC Project Director, Union Latina, Santo-Domingo, e-mail: email@example.com
The article presents the synthesis of a part of years of personal and team activities. Several people have participated directly or indirectly in the conceptualizing of the ideas produced by the REDALC Project. Jose Soriano, actual Manager of the Red Cientifica Peruana have more specifically contribute to the thematic expressed in this paper.
The paper presents a structured set of guidelines to help starting and operating research networks in developing countries. The proposed methodology is the result of a combination of studies and field experiences in Latin America since 1989 [REDALC Project]. The introduction identifies the key factors for the success of research network creation in developed countries. A comparison is made on the respective industrial and developing countries environments which calls for a different approach. A summary list of the activities linked to network building and operation is shown which demonstrates the bulk of activities is more in managerial tasks than in technical one's. A hierarchical approach for problem solving is described, from politic, to organizational, to financial and, last, technical types. The different levels are described and to each it is associated a set of guidelines. Finally, some success prone ingredients are presented.
KEY WORDS: Research networks, developing countries, Latin America and Caribbean, methodology, guidelines.
The traditional success story for network creation have proven the unbeatable superiority of the bottom-up approach for the network building process. The putting in place of an initial kernel of users have always been followed by the emergence of a nation-wide network. The mechanisms which allow the growth from this basis have usually been considered as an inherent part of the environment.
A slight detail, among others, makes the method not necessarily transportable from industrial countries, where it have demonstrated its validity, to the developing countries.
MONEY: FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS IN RESEARCH NETWORKS
If one analyzes the factors of the growth of the EARN/BITNET model, he will discover, from the bottom to the top, the presence of this efficient tool:
-the money invested by large computer manufacturers to offer the first years telecommunication costs and telematic equipments,
-the money invested by the governments to keep on paying part of the telecommunication infrastructure,
-the money collected from subscriptions by the research institutions,
-and maybe, tomorrow, more money by the last group to pay the bill of transport networks becoming less subsidized... Money was of course not enough. Some other factors were keys to the success.
DETERMINANT FACTORS IN DEVELOPED COUNTRIES
-the existence of good national telecommunication infrastructures,
-the high level of organization and management of the research institutions [mainly the universities],
-their capacity for negotiation in front of the computer industry,
-the existence of pioneers who were able to manage the idea, create the condition of the network emergence, make it happen and keep the effort ongoing.
All that process have created a wide consensus among networkers about the validity of the "pragmatic", "realistic", bottom-up approach against the "planned", "theoretical" top-down approach.
The network architects could have been more inclined, by their profession skills, towards the second approach. However, they were put in the situation of being always in advance compared to the standard authorities, thus encouraged to build on the path and maintained an "advance technology" type of attitude.
The only low rated points of the research networking emergence are the natural consequence of a technology driven situation:
-lack of standardization,
-low involvement of the end users,
-few global efforts for structuring the application level.
PROJECTING THE MODEL INTO DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
It is not the point here to argue against the obvious validity of the historical approach. However, although we are part of the consensus on that very point, we do want to warn the reader about the illusion of projecting that truth, very specific to the industrial world, to a quite different environment: the developing countries.
On one hand, the lack of money may prevent the "growth mechanism" makes a start-up realization evolve naturally toward a national solution. On the other hand, beside money, and beside the time elapsed since the beginning of the application of the technology [should necessarily the new networks be built the same way as 10 years ago?], there are other good reasons why one should think differently in term of solutions. We will show them hereafter.
In counterpart, the experience of the emergence of research networks in developing countries should not leave indifferent the networkers of the first world: although they believe their concern is now on fat pipes and "applications" [in the OSI sense of the term], they may have to learn something, for their own future, from the experiences conducted in developing countries!
Indeed, the signals are clearly appearing of the coming of the time where research networks will evolve to a market driven growth pattern, and hence, situations where the managing power and the budget expenses will drastically switch from networking infrastructures toward end-users considerations [training, support, interfaces, user's applications]. This is why the experiences and considerations of the emergence of network in developing countries may be of special interest for the industrial countries. It may teach something about that key transformation which concern the whole world.
AN APPROPRIATE MODEL
This paper aims to identify a set of factors which argues, to a more balanced approach in developing countries: something which merge the best of the top-down and of the bottom-up approach, something which design is specifically based on the characteristics of this different environment.
And to keep "pragmatism" as a healthy premise to network activities, we present a methodological tool which is applicable in the field, and which have been successfully applied already in two concrete cases [Peru and Dominican Republic].
The proposed methodology is the result of a set of in-depth studies conducted, since 1988, by the author, his team and his Latina y Caribe] is a project from Union Latina, a Governmental Organization aiming at the defense of Latin language and culture, looking for a steady, regional and comprehensive solution for research networks. The study was first conducted from Europe in 1988 and 1989. Then an EEC funding was obtained in 1990 to conduct a 2 years feasibility study in the field. In mid-1991, Unesco [PGI and CRESALC branches] joins the feasibility study to address more specifically the information network content aspects. ACAL [Academia de Ciencia de America Latina] participated in the Unesco studies. Some other related studies or activities are also conducted by the REDALC team of Union Latina: a research network impact study in French West Indies, the coordination of a "listserv" informing about regional networking activities [REDALC@FRMOP11.BITNET], the coordination of the development of a state of the art, PC-based, multi-lingual, network type independent, interface [MULBRI], and last, but not least, a central participation in the launch of two national networks so far [Peru and Dominican Republic].
All this process have made involved the concept of the Latin American network since 1988, from a simple EARN projection to the region, toward something more specific and appropriate to the economical and structural reality of the region [REDALC model].
The paper, which uses the spirit of the results collected by some of the studies, is directly derived from the diagnostics made in Latin America.
We tend to believe that a large part of the experience is applicable in other regions. Readers have to check if the conditions in other regions [Africa, Asia, Middle-East, Eastern Europe] are similar so that the methodology is applicable.
III INDUSTRIAL COUNTRIES VS DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
3.1 FIGURES BACKGROUND
We gather hereafter a set of facts which we consider very significative in giving the readers a close idea of the figures involved in building research networks.
-EARN take-off was obtained between 1985 and 1987 thanks to an IBM grant for the support of international telecommunication costs, of an order of magnitude of 10 millions of US $. Note, on the way, this interesting economical fact: the research networks have allowed a large and indirect transfer of money from the computer private industry to the telecommunication national public operators!
-National networks require yearly operational budgets of the order of magnitude of the million of US $, where the main part is directed toward telecommunication cost. So far, telecommunication is the largely predominant part of the visible side of the [basically manpower and resources given free by universities] is spent in user support, hardware, programming services, local administration and national telecommunication. Yet, the largest part of the "real budget" is used to pay telecommunication cost [guess estimate between 60 and 70%]. However, the amount [and quality] of free-ware produced on behalf networking, is something worth noticing and if one could evaluate on a price basis we could be surprised by the economical importance.
-Brazil current network level [which serves less than 20% of the potential users] is strongly supported by the State of Sao Paulo which pays a yearly bill of few millions of US $.
-One of the first experiments of EARN in Africa was conducted in Ivory Coast. The level of investment for having few users gaining access was in few thousands of US $ [order of magnitude of 10,000 US$ investment per user].
-The ratio researcher population vs national population is, depending of the countries, measured in a figure between 1 and 10 for 1000 in the industrial world, let's say 10 times higher as the same figure in the developing countries.
-The Science and Technology population for France is around 200,000 persons. The same population for all Latin America and the Caribbean is also estimated at 200,000 [with much loose criterions].
-The monthly salary for a teacher in Latin America averages 150 US$.
-The salary for researchers in Latin America may in some case reach the industrial world pattern of few thousands of US $, but the bulk of the monthly salary distribution is in few hundred of US$.
-The building of the Porto Rico research network consumes a budget of the size of 20 Million of US $ [the result is a state of the art network, with multi-protocol support, full optical fiber at T1 speed between campuses, where terminals, with remote logon facility at fraction of second response time, are spread over the various campuses of several universities].
-Twenty millions of US $ is sufficient to build a Latin America proprietary regional backbone. The figure is obtained assuming a satellite transponder provided by the region as counterpart to an International Agency investment in terrestrial equipments and costs of technology transfer. The existence of such backbone will allow the decrease of the telecommunication operational yearly operational costs of an order of magnitude, says few hundreds of thousand US$.
Note: the fact the two figures are presented sequentially is not the result of a mere coincidence! That comparison says it all island of 4 millions habitants have built a state of the art research network for its 4000 research networks users [a 5,000 US$ investment per user]. With twenty millions the whole region could reach the level of basic services for its 200,000 potential users [100 US$ investment per user]. Of course, it would be unfair not to say that the first budget includes every thing from the terminal to the optical fiber, and that the second concentrates only in the backbone infrastructure and implementation costs. But anyway, it is important to identify that this is the amount of money required by the region to definitively solve the problem of generalized affordable research networking.
3.2 SOME OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT THE DEVELOPED COUNTRIES
Hereafter are gathered a set of facts which are an obvious part of the research environment of industrial countries but are hardly verified in the developing countries.
-The researchers are generally and naturally part of the Academic world, where they split harmoniously their activities between teaching and researching.
-The salary level of the researchers [several thousands of US$] allows them to be full time employees of their institutions with no much incentives for looking for more jobs.
-The large majority of the Academic institutions offers appropriate characteristics in term of budget, administrative and managing skills, computer and telecommunication skills to conduct a node creation and operation.
-The market size of the academic world for computer products justifies global national marketing investments from manufacturers of hundreds thousand of US $ yearly.
-The national packet switching networks have been developed independently of the research networks.
-The Public Administration Education and/or Science and Technology budgets are such that the support of telecommunication costs for networking is rather marginal.
If is feasible to check, one by one, if these facts are also verified in specific developing countries. Of course, the result varies depending on each country, but, in average, the large majority of these facts are not verified in most developing countries.
These obvious facts are the implicit building foundation of the research networks in the developed world. Would it be wise to use the same building model in an environment so different?
IV HOW TO GET THE MONEY FOR BUILDING AND OPERATING NETWORKS IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES?
A full scale national network unit cost is on the size of the million US $. How can the required money be collected?
Directly from the using Institutions? The large majority of research centers cannot afford it, and it there is a general agreement on the need for networks to be democratically and openly accessed.
From Public Administration? Of course, the Governments should participate in financing such activities prone to contribute to the global development. But it is hopeless they can support it all: their budgets are narrow and they have to complete more urgent tasks in the Education and Research domains, like, for instance, improving the alphabetization rate and completing the creation of basic education infrastructures [one of the more urgent task being to increase teacher's salary].
Is there a hope to get strong enough contributions from the computer industry? Time have changed and the marginal benefits have become thinner for that market segment! And, anyway, the expectable return of investment does not justify "no free lunch gifts" of that level of magnitude for most developing countries.
Three alternatives remain:
1] Regional Integration. Substantial scale economies could be obtained by building regional transport infrastructures in a coordinated fashion. Furthermore, regional agreements must be obtained for the suppression of taxes on national and international telecommunications used for research networks. Last but not least, dedicating channels in a regional satellite is an appropriate way to offer a regional stable and independent solution.
A lot of money have been and is still expensed by EEC to pave the ground toward European integration in term of networking, primarily with the reinforcement of the normative politic and also with the financial in joint venture on specific advance technology domains. The motivations, both political and economical, are medium term oriented.
For developing regions, integration is an immediate financial urgency.
2] Trading with Telecommunication Operators. Most of the developing countries have very recent data network infrastructures or are on their way to build them, together with the value added services. The key importance of telecommunication infrastructures for the development have not to be demonstrated any more. Developing countries cannot afford what have been the rule in the industrial world: a rather Telecommunication entities. Furthermore, it is the interest of the Telecommunication marketers to use that tiny segment market which have a huge multiplicative factor on the whole market to help solving the chicken and egg problem which prevents the arising of the telematic market. Indeed, it appears to be more cost effective to invest in offering to the research sub-market than in commercial campaigning and advertising for the whole market...
There is a crucial area of common interests between the Telecommunication market players, the world of Science and Technology and finally the whole country development areas.
3] Multilateral Cooperation is probably the only financial way to trigger the process. The international Agencies may provide the funding to fulfill the basic regional infrastructure and act as reinforcing agent for the two first factors within regional programs framework.
Of course, one could still argues [ref 8] it is easy and cheap to build a network node, and, for the telecommunication costs, no problem: the end-user can pay a bill which is one order of magnitude cheaper than international communication by more traditional means [telephone, telex, fax]. One should also accept that this model would, without doubt, conduct to a "only-who-can-pay-research network" exclusive to the minority of third world rich universities. Is that the real credo of networking? Furthermore, is it fair to have the third world researchers pay the bill their homologous of the industrial world had subsidized?
V A PRIVATE HOT TUB VS A PUBLIC SWIMMING POOL: INTRODUCING THE TASK OF BUILDING A NETWORK
There is a common false idea resulting from the dogmatic believing toward the bottom-up magics: create a node with few users, connect it to another network and you will automatically get a network. The transformation from few users on a node toward a real national networking requires a lot of organization and engineering, and also, a lot of money!
Let's use the analogy of the hot tub and the swimming pool. You, of course, can get wet in both of them, but it is not very realistic to believe than you can offer a collective bathing service to a large community... in your personal hot tub! And if your plumber says there is no technical problem to do the transformation of your hot tub into a swimming pool, just tell him that the most delicate problem may no be the water delivery but some managing one's where he may be not skilled for, like, for instance:
-marketing the customers and their requirements in term of bathing,
-defining a billing pattern for the use of the swimming pool and
-offering swimming teachers and watching teams,
-organizing the administration and the accounting of the business,
-insuring the quality of the water, the security of the customers, and their privacy for changing clothes,
-defining a traffic pattern and hence deriving the algorithm for purification and recycling of the water,
-preparing to solve new customer requirements [towel, drinks, foods, music, sun bathing, etc.].
-and so on, and so on.
Finally, you realize that the amount of job and money necessary to transform your apartment in a public swimming pool may be such than you decide to consider professionally the problem...
This analogy does not mean to shower the intents of seeding networking by small realizations: they are necessary actions participating to the learning curve process. The point is to avoid the confusion between a 10 users mail system with a nation-wide solution!
A bad habit have been created of flagging the countries which got network access with no consideration of percentage of served users. This is a consequence of the weird solution-oriented accounting system: counting the nodes. Who really cares about the number of nodes? Product salesmen! What really matters is the number of users. The outstanding task of identifying the world accesses by country [ref 2] should evolve toward some level of user's penetration measurement. Why not distinguish at least, below 1%, below 10%, below 25%, and below and above 50%. The lack of user survey and maintained directories is not a good excuse no to do so: a best guess is better than nothing. The difference of accessing users and using users is probably more delicate, but statistical laws should apply.
The other point we want to make with the pool analogy is to struggle against the myth of the technical gurus. They are many steps to build a national research network, and the set up of the technical infrastructure, if important, is timely and money-wise predictable. Furthermore, the percentage of manpower required for a simple node connection and installation, compared with the whole task set, is rather marginal. Finally, the tasks involving organization and human relations, being much less deterministic, are more exposed to delays or failures.
Building a network have much more to do with the gathering of people under a common and structured organization scheme than installing hardwares and software!
VI WHAT IS A RESEARCH NETWORK?
A research network is a set of telematic services offered to a large user population. Beyond the setting of a network node connected to several users on one hand, and to other need be performed before the result should be qualified as such:
Briefly, superficially, and far from being exhaustive:
-Users base and needs identification [diagnostic, quantification, population growth pattern recognition, surveys, directories,...].
-Users federation within an associative structure [status, rules, partnerships...].
-Users awareness and diffusion strategy.
-Users training and permanent education.
-Users support [documentation, help desks, ...],
-Users and Service administration [profile management, security, confidentiality,...].
-Services Operation [connections and node supervision],
-Financial management [accounting and budget],
-Maintenance [prevention, detection, problem solving,...]
-Traffic Analysis and networks resource provisioning [telephone lines, X25 ports, international links, memory, modems,...].
Beyond the basic functions of e-mail, distribution lists, conferences, remote logon, file transfer, special attention must be paid, from the beginning, on the application level [directories, information networks, data bases].
Such a system is characterized by the quality of the service. The quality is a concept which summarize the global user perception of the services in regard with various system's components.
-System availability [in general for such networks, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week].
-System reliability [the confidence than the data does not get lost]
-Maintenance [mean time between failure, mean time to solve a problem]
-Users interface quality [time to learn them, easiness in using them, functionality]
-Users support quality [mean time to resolve a user problem, confidence from the user to have his problem considered and fixed, clarity and efficiency of the documentation]
-quality of resource provisioning [if there is too much of them compared to the real traffic the bill is too high, if not enough it can seriously affect other quality factors as response time or availability]
-Migrability [ability to plan and conduct harmonious upgrades in answer to technology moves and traffic increase]
These quality concepts translate in complex engineering and managing requirements on the system, like for instance:
-system components duplication,
-remote maintenance procedures,
-queuing theory modeling for resource provisioning,
-telecommunication interfaces [protocols and hardware] strategy,
-least cost routing strategy,
-plan and control procedures.
Everything explained here-before is in fact generic of any computer based services offered to a large user population, and one should never forget that, as for any of such system, the fundamental objective is to serve the maximum of the potential users at an appropriate trade-off level between cost and quality.
Let's now be much more specific and show a set of rules, steps and statements which have been specially designed for the launching of networks in developing countries and experimented twice.
VII GUIDELINES FOR BUILDING A NETWORK IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
Learning to build and manage a network is obviously a never ended task. What we want to share hereafter is the level our team have reached based upon our studies and experiments. We know there is still a lot of work to do to improve the method and we urge the readers to share with us its reactions, critics and suggestion of improvements. Of course also, the presented rules may need to be adapted to particular circumstances or specific regional or national contexts.
We are presenting three group of elements which together we name "methodological tool".
1] PROBLEM SOLVING PRIORITY SCHEME: A logical and hierarchical grouping of the type of problems, usable as a priority scheme tool.
2] STEPS: A chronological organization of the development, a task scheduling tool.
3] OTHER INGREDIENTS: An identification of the driving patterns and the appropriate ingredients which contribute to success.
7.2 PROBLEM SOLVING PRIORITY SCHEME
The problems should be treated with descending priorityfrom the top to the bottom of the pyramid presented hereafter.
I POLITICS I I O R G A N I Z A T I O N I I F I N A N C E I I T E C H N I C S IPOLITICS: What Institutional model? What areas of the civil society participate to the project? In what terms and conditions? What type of relationship with the Public Administration, the Telecommunication Operator, other regional networks?
ORGANIZATION: What form of Institution? What model of development? What model of operation?
FINANCE: How to get the money? How to expense it?
TECHNICS: What network architecture and design? What implementation choices?
The hierarchical point is based on these sometimes forgotten evidences:
-It is not very satisfactory to get a perfect technical plan if there is no money to finance it. Hardly technical arguments help to get the money for a project!
-Having the money without the appropriate organization is a risk of wasting the money without getting the result done. Next time it is going to be tougher to get the same money!
-Having the technical solution, the money to buy it, and the right organization scheme, without the political will to get across the development is probably the most frustrating situation!
This pyramid does not necessarily imply a chronological order but it does imply a priority scheme for problem solving.
Next, we present a set of guidelines, deriving from the diagnostic made, and associated with each level of the pyramid.
-Associate and federate in the same project Institutions from all the areas which host researchers: Public Universities, Private Universities, Academic Research Centers, Public Administration Research Centers and Councils, Non Gubernatorial Organizations, International Agencies.
-Manage a good trade-off for the development process, maximizing the level of independence from each group and, and, at the same time, the level of participation.
-Involve directly in the development process active researchers [future end-users] and obtain, on the way, political support from their institutions on the project and on their representativeness.
These three objectives represent together the biggest challenge of the whole process.
-Use, as a constant guideline for decision making, the regional integration factor, first at the sub regional, second at the regional level.
-Look for International Agencies and/or bilateral cooperation support in a non exclusive fashion, and manage, with independence, the federation of such contributions.
-Participate to the promotion of the national data telecommunication sector [mainly X25 networks]. Integrate representatives of this sector in the process. In counterpart, negotiate the best level of support in term of tariffs for national X25 access and international links.
-Develop cooperative relationship with the industrial sector.
-Maintain, as a side-objective, the support to the Science and Technology domain. In countries where exist official and strong structure avoid to appear as a competitive structure. In that case, develop a full integration with the Official sector. An important niche of responsibility remains where the Science and Technology Council [or other Official Institution] is a driving force for networking [for instance where it provides the technical layers]: the constitution of a networking user group which can and should orient the decisions in the direction of the users general interest.
-Get participation of the end-users in each step of the development.
-Get all the concerned Institutions at the same level in the final organization.
-Offer the same right and obligations to the Institutions coming afterward.
-Establish a consensual juridical form on non-profit making Association. For the statutes, use models from other countries and adapt them.
-Start with an informal and open step where the institutions are non officially represented by future and motivated end-users.
-Only start to formalize the juridical structure when there is a good level of consensus and a good level of participation.
-Consider user training as prioritary compared to technician training.
-Consider from the beginning the integration on the network of national information networks. Use the momentum to catalyze the building of new ones.
-Change from an "assembly" to a "committee" pattern when a sound coordination group is formed and the number of active participants is too large to maintain efficient decision making assemblies.
-Maintain global information and transparence of the coordination group activities.
-Consider the diffusion of the knowledge about networking the task of each one, and maintain openly accessible all the documents generated by the development process.
-Wehter there is a node installation phase with external support, or a Telecommunication company global offering, be organized to start technology transfer and introduce it as part of the agreement.
-Get International Agencies or bilateral cooperation support for the development and the education.
-Get the maximum support from National Telecommunication Operators, in particular in term of X25 access and international links.
-Try as much as possible to get your internatinal traffic flow via a neighbor country.
-Get time limited free offering for commercial Scientific Data Bases from the main vendors.
-Get national industries support for operational costs.
-Get hardware gifts from vendors.
-As a rule of the thumb, it is much preferable to formulate sponsor requirements than to receive non requested donations [we all know cases of offers of hardware where the additional costs in equipment is higher than the whole bill of purchasing a complete appropriate solution].
-Other rule which better respects freedom of selection and independence is to get donation in form of contracts with a symbolic fee.
-Establish sub-regional and regional agreements for the minimization of international connection costs.
-If exist regional training structures functioning, use them.
-Keep some level of auto-financing as a sane objective, and establish an Institution subscription fee.
-Minimize the number of nodes. For countries where users count in few thousands try to manage a unique node model.
-Use UUCP as the more affordable entry solution. Introduce TCP-IP in the plan and stay open for OSI out-coming.
-If there is a reliable X25 network, enforce the usage to get to the node. If not, and if the telephone system is particularly on bad shape, consider a VSAT hub system as an alternative.
-At the user level, encourage the use of PC's as the natural way of accessing the node. Get the best free PC interface available.
Four main steps are distinguished.
START: Whenever somebody shows the interest of research networks to some part of the research community, being at a personal or institutional level.
END: When every potential user have reached the right level of awareness. That implies this step will overlap all the other one's for quite a while!
OBJECTIVE: Get the maximum potential user awareness.
KEY WORDS: Learning curve. Awareness.
TASKS: Operations of demonstration and promotion via different type of medias. Direct contacts with key people and Institutions.
CRITICAL PATH: Maintain the motivation of the first interested people if the process is slow. Trade-off between the will to satisfy the created expectatives and the awaiting of the critical mass.
COMMENTS: Depending of the level of maturation of the country the process may stay at this level from several months to few years. It should be taken advantage of this step to build a pattern of mutual understanding with the telecommunication operators. It should be obvious to show that most of the promotional operation beneficed to them, and it is recommended to ask for punctual sponsorship during the shows [free data network use for show for example] so that to create the natural habit.
START: When there is an homogeneous, representative and motivated group of end-users ready to meet toward generic objectives.
STOP: When the critical mass of participating users is such that have appeared a coordinating steering committee and the need for task division in other committees.
OBJECTIVE: Form a user group. Get consensus inside the user group on the main objectives of the whole process.
KEY WORDS: Group meeting. Motivation. Participation. Dynamic. Federation.
TASKS: Large group meeting to get agreement in basic principles. Global diagnostic and strategy for the various components [networking efforts, telecommunication, computers, research].
CRITICAL PATH: The managing of group dynamic phenomenon in term of struggle for power, leadership or hidden interests.
COMMENTS: A well rhythmed action plan is necessary to maintain the necessary momentum. The process consist to progressively transform the unstructured levels of intention of the participating users into organized and articulated committees which very concrete objectives. Note that the nature of the proces is as much important as the results, in the sense it builds the user group dynamics.
START: When the previous one stopped, meaning sub-groups meet toward specific and coordinated objectives.
STOP: When both the User Association and the network service are launched.
OBJECTIVE: Form the user Association and the network service.
KEY WORDS: Committees. Action.
TASKS: Get a coordinated action plan. Get done all the elements for the association [statutes, logo, signatures, etc]. Prepare technical solution functioning.
CRITICAL PATHS: Maintain the participation while changing to a more hierarchical form of organization. Maintain the active transparency pattern from the steering committee to the whole group. Obtain Institutional support on a user group. Obtain the right mixture of people skills and institutions in the steering committee. Distribute the sensitization process to avoid bottleneck and negative effects on development schedules.
COMMENT: This is a no joke step! There is a lot of thing to do and the point of no return after take-off is reached. The group have to go from a spectator to an actor pattern. This is very selective: during this step are going to appear the key people able to incorporate the first board of direction of the association.
d] INITIAL USE
START: When the network service is ready.
STOP: When the number of active users cross the line of 10% of the potential base and a stable operating budget is in function.
OBJECTIVE: Check of the basic elements of the model and adjust parameters.
KEY WORDS: Benchmark. User training and support. Tuning parameters.
TASKS: Formalize the pending agreements. Execute systematic user training plans. Get offices. Get a workable accounting scheme. Get a systematic diffusion scheme. Get a growth plan. Enroll employees.
CRITICAL PATH: Maintain the group motivation meanwhile they are not yet provided network accesses. Link the user training and the access providing. Create new habits for user support and avoid the telephone bottleneck. Organize systematic access distribution.
e] STABLE USE
START: When the network service is stabilized and the user growth reach a steady pattern..
STOP: Hopefully never...
OBJECTIVE: Maintain quality of the network services and serve additional user requirements.
TASKS: All the tasks involved in network operation.
CRITICAL PATH: The user satisfaction.
7.4 DRIVING PATTERNS AND OTHER INGREDIENTS
The key to the success is to maintain the cohesion and the dynamics of the group of participating people thru all the steps. Some ingredients have been identified as essential for that purpose.
A] A right trade-off between leadership and participation.
The experience have shown the need for leadership to conduct the process. The leader should be an experimented networker with an orientation toward the end-user [rather than towards technics]. It is better than the leader, who will concentrate on making happen the convergence of efforts from people of areas with different objective and interest, be clearly identified as above or aside these sectorial interests. It may be easiest to obtain from a person from an International Agency [it helps too if there is a real belonging pattern to the country] but that should not be necessary. It is required a lot of communicating enthusiasm, a good negotiating skill, and the ability to make the other participates.
Developing people participation without economic incentives is not an easy task. The success elements are the ability to make people feel they are participating to a nation-wide priority action and a permanent attitude of active transparency. The last is a very heavy objective to maintain without the use of a network! If it has to be done again, we should have opened a BBS, at the conception step, to kill two birds with one stone: provide permanent open information and start the telematic learning curve.
It is of the outmost importance to leave always the door open to other people involvement. Since all the participants offer their times on a benevolent basis, the experience shows than the level of involvement of individuals varies during the different steps of the process, the key point being that there is always a critical mass present.
B] A right trade-off between people and Institutions.
Although people are, by definition, key in the process of building a user group, institutions are the necessary foundation of the targeted result. The key people are those who manage together the end-user and the institutional points of view. They have the capability to get official representation from their Institutions when required. It should be payed attention not to leave out a complete sector because of the lack of motivated people. Finally, the success indicator is the ability to obtain Institution official support on a user based methodology. In the case of the Dominican network, the 25 Rectors, Directors or Manager of the Institutions founding the Association were asked to express formally their compromise both on the Statutes of the Association and on the name of their representative: 20 of them formally agreed upon.
C] A federative attitude implemented in the acts.
It is key to obtain, as far as possible, the identification and implication of all the persons who have an history of trying to build networks in the country and to make all the current intents join a national coordinated effort.
Experience have shown in the Latin America region a natural tendency for multiplication of national solutions and, as a consequence, some level of tensions derived from centralist attitudes.
The difference between centralistic attitude and federative is fundamental but very tricky to determine from the outside. The centralist wants to promote his/her solution as the unique solution and tends to act in order to make the competitive one's disappear. The federative wants to conglomerate the various potential solutions in a pattern of commonality, where the originality of each contribution is preserved as far as possible.
Since it is useless and endless to enter in polemics about who is really who, it is strongly recommended to maintain a coherent attitude in the action plan:
-negotiation with competitive action to try to federate efforts, -if the negotiation succeeds, do integrate [vs assimilate] the originality of the federate actions [and, of course, the people],
-if the negotiation does not succeed, maintain in the facts a cooperative and transparent attitude with competitive actions.
One should never forget that the real goal is to give access to the maximum number of satisfied users. Every solution which concourse to this objective should be treated with respect and cooperation. The competitive pattern, if sometimes difficult to understand in countries lacking resources, does provide some advantages, and at the end, the answer belongs to the users.
Each solution will eventually be measured in term of the satisfied user bases and not in term of national or international political alliances.
D] An efficient participation of national networkers residing in foreign countries having network access.
Use must be made of national researcher residing in foreign countries to support the effort, in particular for the initial use step. It is logical than new users get a bit tense on using a new communication tool. The best way to start the learning curve is the use of national cultural distribution lists involving nationals living abroad. The use will provide a natural and progressive learning mechanism and create opportunities for direct contacts. It is strongly recommended to maintain from the beginning user directories and to publish them.
This article will hopefully get obsolete in a few years time-frame when all the countries will have gain consistent user's base accessing research networks. Once this is done other challenges await the networkers to make their users satisfied: like, for instance, keep on with the technology, develop applications, maintain directories, provide good training and user support.
1. "The Matrix: Computer Networks and Conferencing Systems Worldwide", J.S. Quaterman, Bedford, Digital Press, 1990.
2. "International Connectivity", L. Landweber, Internet Society News, Vol 1, Nx2, pp49-52, Spring 1992.
3. "Latin American and Caribbean, networking perspectives", D. Pimienta, Internet Society News, Vol.1, Nx1, page 8, Winter 1992.
4. "E-Mail for Developing Countries- What they never tell you about it", I. Chukwudozie Ezigbalike, Shem J. Ochuodho, presented at AITEC South Conference, Harare, Nov 1991.
5- Various papers related to research networks in "Calidad, Tecnologia y Globalizacion en la Educacion Superior Latinoamericana", UNESCO/ CRESALC, July 1992.
5.1- "Preface", G. Lopez Ospina
5.2- "Dimension tecnologica de la calidad en la educacion superior", J. F. Silvio,
5.3- "Un nuevo modelo de acceso al conocimiento", M. Cartier
5.4- "EMEREC, la comunicacion audio-scripto-visual y la telemediatica", J. Cloutier
5.5- "Calidad y tecnologia informatica en la educacion superior latinoamericana", M. Casas Armengol
5.6- "Impacto de la informatica en la educacion superior de America Latina y el Caribe", H. Castillo-Bescanza
5.7- "Integrar la comunidad academica latinoamericana: un desafio para las redes telematicas", D. Pimienta
5.8- "Nuevas tecnologias e integracion academica en America Central: experiencia de la red universitaria centroamericana de informacion cientifica (REDCSUCA), E. Richards
5.9- "La red CUNET y la integracion academica en el Caribe", R. Loran Santos, R. Perez Colon
5.10- "Uso de redes electronicas y cooperacion hemisferica en la educacion superior", S. Lanfranco
5.11- "Hacia una Universidad Global Electronica Latinoamericana", T. Utsumi
5.12- "Un modelo conceptual para el analisis del mercado potencial de servicios telematicos", P. Liendo
6- "Guidelines for a computer network interconnection of the African Countries", Unesco, IIP Program document.
7- "Special edition on information and research networks", Carta Informativa NTC/NCT, Vol VI, Nx 14, Lima, IPAL (Instituto para America Latina
8. "The South American Scientific Network: an attainable, low cost, high yield reality", S. Ruth, F. Utreras, R. P. Brescia. Interciencia, Vol.15, Nx5, Sep-Oct 1990.
9- "Main Science and Technology Indicators", OECD Publication, 1992.
10- "Statistical Yearbook", UNESCO, 1992.
11- "Encuesta para el Diagnostico de la situacion de la investigacion en America Latina y el Caribe", Academia de Ciencia de America Latina, ACAL, 1991.
12- "Vision Cuantitativa de la Eduacion Superior en America Latina y el Caribe", UNESCO/CRESALC, April 1991.
13- "Telecommunications and Economic Development", R. J. Saunders and al., Washington, World Bank.