In this chapter, we discuss the concepts of: change, innovation and diffusion (4) demand and supply factors in the adoption and assimilation of IT and IT adoption and capacity building. Then, some examples of applications of computer-mediated technologies in research, policy formulation, and management are described.

Information (5) is crucial to the exchange of knowledge. It involves the production possible sharing of knowledge. The degree of reliability, relevance and timeliness the information available would determine its value to its user. Transforming9 knowledge into information involves economic costs which bear on the nature and content of the information. The process may involve codification . The codification of kno wledge into information which often results in a more organized form of information presentation, facilitates information transfer among users. IT has helped in the efficient codification of knowledge into accessible information.

2.3 Information is now increasingly being realized as an important resource in developing countries, just as the conventional factors of production: land, labour and capital have been. The information infrastructure and services in the developing countries of Africa exhibit a cons iderable lag behind what obtains in the developed and even most other developing countries of Asia and Latin America. This situation raises serious concern, given the state of underdevelopment of the Region, and the fact that modern social and economic dev elopment is strongly associated with advances in IT.

2.4 The revolution in information technology in recent years, aptly captured by the establishment and access to a global networking of information systems, has shrunken time and space in the sending and retrieval of information both within and across diverse organizations, and also among diverse countries and regions. This development has brought about dramatic changes in the way in which decisions are reached and policies implemented in those countries with access to such networks. Electronic communication networks, arising from innovations in IT, have made practicable on-line access to a variety of technical and non-technical information, and have turned the world into a virtual workspace. In facilitat ing the move towards a more open and inclusive global system, the global diffusion and utilization of innovations in information technology will make immense contributions to the global search for efficient and effective solutions to pressing and often com plex local, regional, and global problems, of which, the multi-faceted problems of environmental degradation and management are of special interest. This is a key element in the global quest for Sustainable national and regional development in developing c ountries generally, and the attainment of the GEF objectives of reducing the four major global environmental Problems of ozone layer depletion, climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution of coastal waters in Africa in particular.

2.5 Based on the premise that human resource capacity is the most important asset in any organization, the actual and potential role of the revolution in IT use on human and institutional capacity building should be of great interest in the realization of the GEF mandate i n a developing region such as Africa . By providing the mechanism for harnessing9 the skills and expertise of professionals in both the public or private sectors, both internally and externally, and channeling such diverse skills and inventory of knowledge towards a shared and mutually benefiting environmental goals and objectives, a better articulation and solution of regional and global environmental problems can be effected. Furthermore, the strengthening of human and institutional capacity that would ac company the effective adoption of IT innovations would foster the design of efficient local and regional environmental policies and programmes, and the realization of the GEF mandate from the African perspective.

2.6 Tactical and strategic environmental plans and actions are more easily carried out under the new work environment provided by IT and networks. The greater accessibility of actors and planners concerned with environmental issues to information close to the point of need, is extremely important in the realization of the GEF mandate The view is predicated on the premise that in dealing with global environmental concerns, sharing knowledge cannot be limited to dissemination of information alone, but must also include communication among policy make rs, analysts and other interested groups and individuals within and across local and national boundaries in order to achieve a better understanding of the information that is exchanged. This is particularly important in Africa where the institutional capac ity for environmental planning and management is weak. The interactive capability provided by the revolution in IT and networks is essential to bridging9 the knowledge gap as relates to the environment in Africa. Access to global expertise and skills on en vironment-related issues is likely to bring about greater awareness of global environmental concerns in the Region, as we!! as provide a better decision making milieu for achieving an improved quality of policy solutions to local, regional and global envir onmental problems.

2.7 The diffusion of IT innovations, embodied in a vastly improved computing and telecommunications capacity, has generally been weak in much of Africa. Certainly, recent global economic and social realities, and the increasingly more globalized perspectiv es in environmental policy formulation and management, have made the widening technology gap between Africa and the rest of the world even wider still in IT.use. Efforts to help bridge this yawning gap are well placed in light of the po tentials of using IT and networks to link different and remote locations into a virtual workspace within which the vast array of global environmental resources and services can be utilized to. achieve local, regional and global GEF objectives.

2.8 The need for Africa to effectively exchange environmental information and knowledge among its components and with the rest of the world cannot be overemphasized The need to evolve innovative policies in the Africa Region to overcome the technology gap has become imperative in the increasingly information- based and increasingly knowledge-intensive world. The early warning, monitoring and contingency functions of IT-based information systems in tackling issues at the heart of the GEF mandate have been virtually abs ent in Africa. Specific projects and programmes to effect feasible strategies to eliminate the poor access to. and utilization of this enabling technology need to be given serious attention in the Region.

2.9 Obviously, Africa needs international support to promote a more informed decision making process in stemming the rapid depletion of global environmental assets which are of inestimable value. In particular, access to robust and powerful IT and networks to facilitate rapid and low cost information tran sfer in a virtual workspace are desperately needed in the Africa Region. The relative low unit cost of sending information via electronic networking and other advantages of IT suggest the likelihood of a high social return to investment in IT and complemen tary infrastructures in Africa.

2.10 African countries are primarily importers of IT; local IT production capacity is insignificant. This is the basis for our focus on the capabilities of IT use in the Region. Thus, the key conceptual issues discussed in this chapter dwell principally on the appropriate pattern of adoption and utilization of IT and its linkage with capacity building. Evidently. establishing a reliable information network within which to exchange and analyze critical local, regional and glo bal environmental information, could be one of the most important priorities and initiatives that would enhance the achievement of the GEF mandate. as far as the information-poor Africa Region is concerned.

2.11 The purpose of the discussion that follows is to illuminate those conceptual issues of importance in addressing the GEF mandate concerning IT use and capacity building in Africa. The first part of the discussion examines the concept of change, innovat ion, and diffusion of IT. This is to serve as a precursor to our consideration of the inter-relationships between human and institutional capacity building and IT adoption and assimilation. Also, an important point of analysis concerns the key determinants of the demand and supply of IT diffusion in a d eveloping world such as Africa.

Concepts of Change, Innovation and Diffusion

2.12 The phenomenon of change has been a pervasive feature in the growth of human societies. Economic, environmental and social systems, structures, and relationships must stea dily respond and adapt to changing and new circumstances and conditions if they want to avoid atrophy and improve. Changes in technological conditions embodied in the adoption of innovations and the accumulation of technological capacity, have been the mai n agents for the rapid and pervasive change in human society which has brought phenomenal social and economic progress since the Industrial Revolution. The very essence of technological change is a discontinuity in the previous ways of undertaking producti on and consumption activities, characterized by certain regularities in patterns of behaviour, attitudes, values and conduct, to a new one that improves upon the old ways of doing things.

2.13 The transition from a state of economic, social and technological underdevelopment to one f de. elopment in all three sectors, usually involves the acquisition and internalization of technological innovations. The experience of the developed countrie s demonstrates this point clearly. However, the learning and adopti on process involved in technological transfer still generates considerable discussion because of the non-linear nature of the technological process and its adoption. Thus, while there may be some universal principles, it has become clear that there are pec uliarities which are culture-bound and culture-determined. In fact, there are cultural lags in the adoption of technological innovations. It is widely recognized that the adoption of numerous technology-intensive development projects has failed in the leas t developed countries (LDC) due to insufficient attention to local conditions. Identifying and dealing with such culture - and environment-specific determinants is central to the successful adoption and internalization of new technological innovations.

2.14 The significance of technological progress in economic and social development is well-known. Technological innovation and its diffusion in countries or societies with a lower technological capability than the originators of such innovations, have gene ra lly served as a vehicle for higher productivity, more efficient and larger production of goods and services to improve human welfare in the recipient societies. Ultimately, the goal of technological development is improvement in the welfare of peoples in a ll societies.

2.15 In the context of this study, the adoption of IT involves, primarily, the provision and use of a service that augments the acquisition and sharing of knowledge for the ultimate improvement of local and global environmental quality and t he welfare of humankind. IT also provides substantial value- added services in terms of data storage, rapid access to, and processing of, such data. But more importantly. the provision of a virtual workspace for accessing and sharing information locally and globally becomes a reality.

Innovation and Diffusion

2.16 On the relationship between innovation and diffusion in the process of technological progress, the conventional wisdom is a broad two-stage structure (Bell and Pavitt; 1992). The first stage in the process of technological change encompasses the original development and commercialization of innovations The factors that determine the generation of new technologies have been the subject of extensive discussion which we would not duplicate here (Do si. 1988; and David,1992). The general assumption is that the generation of innovation is almost exclusively undertaken in the developed countries. The second stage involves the widespread adoption and utilization of technological innovations. Africa and m ost developing9 countries feature primarily in the adoption process. Even then, they utilize only a fraction of the innovations and existing technologies due to their obvious economic and technological handicaps. The relative technological underdevelopment and preoccupation of Africa with overcoming poverty explain why the Region engages mostly in technology importation and the associated 'secondary' diffusion of technological innovations.

2.17 The widespread adoption and utilization of IT and networks in Africa has the potential of bringing the availability of electronic " help desks " to every user in acquiring. using and communicating information resources to other individuals, organizations and countries concerning deforestation, desertification, biodiv ersity loss, climate change, pollution of coastal waters, and ozone depletion, among other concerns of sustainable development. This study is an appropriate beginning to tapping that potential.

2.18 Strong interest in the adoption of IT to provide informa tion services, has emerged in recent years in developing countries for three main reasons. First, the revolution in IT has resulted in computer hardware becoming cheaper and more widely available Secondly, the substantial utility (value added) of IT in the provision of, and access to, information services for improved planning and management has become more widely recognized. For example, the use of electronic mail, which avoids repeated phone calls locally and overseas, offers potential large savings and i ncreased efficiency. Thirdly, the international development agencies and donor countries have exerted significant pressure, covertly or overtly, on many governments in the developing countries to adopt the extensive use of IT to improve upon their work per formance and particularly economic performance.

2.19 Technology diffusion involves the acquisition and adaptation of a technique from a foreign country by a recipient country. However, the process can only be considered complete and successful when the im ported technology is internalized that is, when it becomes an integral part of the production process. Technology9y diffusion in a recipient country involves a multi-stage process which commences with acquisition of knowledge about the technology, followed by planning for, and acquisition of, the technology, and finally, the installation, utilization ,and assimilation of the technology The assimilation process is the most crucial because it involves its adaptation to the local environment. In the past sever al decades, the failure experienced by many developing countries which have imported foreign technology9Y worth billions of doll have been traceable to failure in the assimilation process. Undoubtedly, the preoccupation of Africa with overcoming poverty ex plain why the Region engaged mostly in technology importation and the associated 'secondary' diffusion of technological innovations.

2.17 The widespread adoption and utilization of IT and networks in Africa has the potential of bringing the availability o f electronic " help desks " to every user in acquiring. using and communicating information resources to other individuals, organizations and countries concerning deforestation, desertification, biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution of coastal water s, and ozone depletion, among other concerns of sustainable development. This study is an appropriate beginning to tapping; that potential.

2.18 Strong interest in the adoption of IT to provide information services. has emerged in recent years in developi ng countries for three main reasons First the revolution in IT has resulted in computer hardware becoming cheaper and more widely available Secondly, the substantial utility (value added) of IT in the provision of a d access to, information services for improved planning and management has become more widely recognized. For example, the use of electronic mail, which avoids repeated phone calls locally and overseas, offers potential large savings and increased efficiency. Thirdly, the international develop ment agencies and donor countries have exerted significant pressure, covertly or overtly, on many governments in the developing countries to adopt the extensive use of IT to improve upon their work performance and particularly economic performance.

2.19 Technology diffusion involves the acquisition and adaptation of a technique4 from a foreign country by a recipient country. However, the process can only be considered complete and successful when the imported technology is internalized, that is, when it be comes an integral part of the production process. Technology diffusion in a recipient country involves a multi-stage process which commences with acquisition of knowledge about the technology, followed by planning for, and acquisition of, the technology, a nd finally, the installation, utilization ,and assimilation of the technology. The assimilation process is the most crucial because it involves its adaptation to the local e environment In the past several decades, the failure experienced by many developin g countries which have imported foreign technology worth billions of dollars has been traceable to failure in the assimilation process. Undoubtedly the

2.20 It is important to note that a defective conceptualization of the process of adoption of IT could impede the effective internalization of such a technology. It is arguable that the defective conceptualization of technology transfer has been a central factor in the slow process of technology adoption in many developing countries. For example, a defecti ve policy framework would give insignificant weighting to the likely impact of institutional, social, economic and other constraints on the adoption of imported technology. There is strong evidence that a highly restrictive framework for making decisions c oncerning imported technologies has contributed substantially to the poor assimilation of foreign technological innovations. The tendency had often been to focus on the supply side of the diffusion problem with superficial consideration of the demand facto rs. The critical issue of the sustainability of such technologies often

2.21 Theoretically. the diffusion of technological innovations (IT inclusive) is feasible across geographical boundaries. However, the timing of the diffusion, and the main determinants of its effective adoption and assimilation have remained controversial Several questions have emerged from these considerations which have implications for the effective adoption and adaptation of IT among9 these are the following: What should be the r ole of the government ?; Should IT diffusion be based on overt government planning and intervention or in response to market forces, or a mixture of the two?; Should IT transfer be treated as a public 9good or a private good?; What are the implications of each option for the strategy of adoption and internalization ?; o relevant and sustainable is IT in the economic and policy environment of a developing country?; What is the goal of the use of IT in such environment?; What parameters are crucial to the s uccess or failure of IT adoption and assimilation?; and Finally, what a,a the cost-benefit implications in a developing country environment? Further discussion of some of the determinants may now be considered.

Demand and Supply Factors in the Adoption and Assimilation of IT.

2.22 We begin our discussion of the determinants of the diffusion and use of IT by examining demand- side factors. This is followed by analysis of the supply-side factors. The demand and supply perspectives would enhance a better unde rstanding of the adoption process in the Region. The objective of the discussion is to explore the likelihood of success or failure of IT adoption in terms of the GEF mandate. The need to undertake this exercise arises from the problems identified above co ncerning the poor track record of assimilation of imported technologies in developing countries.

2.23 The importance of the demand-side factors emanates from the fact that unfavourable developments on the demand side are capable of weakening or even imped ing the widespread adoption of IT. It is convenient to discuss the demand considerations under five broad headings. These include the role of public policy, factor costs, the macroeconomic environment, complementary infrastructure and skills, costs associa ted with attempts to improve knowledge about the technology.

2.24 It is evident that in contemporary developing Africa. the government has pledged and would continue to play an important role in the demand for IT . The role of the state is in two perspect ives, direct and indirect. The direct role of the state in IT diffusion related to the GEF mandate is quite clear. The public sector, through the numerous production and consumption activities of state- owned enterprises and other e government agencies, co ntributes significantly to the generation of negative environmental externalities of concern under the GEF mandate. From the public sector perspective. the desire to put in place a flexible and robust decision-making framework k GEF concerns in project, s ectoral and national planning in the prevailing more market oriented economic conditions is a key factor that would drive the demand l(for IT diffusion. Such a framework could be specific to environmental policy design and management, or used to address l arger issues, including GEF concerns.

2.25 The indirect role of public policy in IT diffusion is another important factor in determining the nature and extent of demand for IT. One important dimension concerns the strategic role assigned by policy makers to IT use in the development process. The Brazilian and Indian experiences illustrate two important developing countries that assigned strategic roles to IT in their development processes (Jacobson and Sigurdson: 1983, Nochteff; 1985). They backed their ac tions with aggressive public policies that greatly stimulated and encouraged IT diffusion in these countries. While this may not be a universal model for other countries, it does highlight the fact that the indirect but aggressive role of the state could b e an important factor of IT diffusion.

2.26 Another dimension concerns government policy towards importation of computer-mediated technologies. Of special importance in this regard is the role of tariff policies on the domestic prices of computer-mediated technologies: the higher the tariffs, t he higher the domestic prices which in turn might hinder-' the2 demand for IT.

2.27 The importance of cost of acquisition and the sustainability of IT is another important demand factor in Africa, given the difficul ty of quantifying the benefits of IT adoption in improved decision making. The widespread adoption of IT is often constrained by resource availability due to exorbitant increases in the acquisition costs of computer-mediated technologies, induced by often sharp devaluations of local currencies in the Region.

2.28 The macroeconomic condition is another major factor. Faced with severe economic pressures associated with structural adjustment, the effective demand for IT diffusion is likely to be weaker. A mor e buoyant economic situation is likely to be more supportive of IT in the region. However, financial assistance from international donor agencies could provide a way out of this problem.

2.29 Effective and sustainable demand for IT depends on a strong cap city complementary infrastructures and skills. These include human resource capacity to adopt and assimilate IT through formal and informal education and training. The relatively low supp ly of people with IT and related skills illustrates an aspect of t he factors that are likely to impede IT use. Certainly, the relatively weak science and technology base in Africa poses a serious problem for the extensive use of IT in the Region. Other important infrastructures include telecommunications and power networ ks. The poor state of these complementary resources is well known and continue to undermine the effective demand for recent IT innovations. Certainly. well- developed infrastructures are crucial for a wider adoption of IT in Africa, as examples from other countries clearly demonstrate.

2.30 The state of imperfect knowledge about the utility of IT in decision making9 may also play a role in its use. The cost of rectifying this deficiency may hinder the demand for IT. An important aspect is lack of knowledge about the existence of IT or p articular applications, such as the GEF concerns.

2.31 On the supply side, the key factors include the activities of international organizations, donor agencies, and multinational companies. The need of international organi zations and multinational companies to integrate their local, national, regional and global operations is a primary consideration. The supply and use of IT equipment at each of the nodes of their global operations easily become part and parcel of such oper ations.

2.32 Donor agencies are invariably familiar with using IT and networks, in their operations at Headquarters, to enhance efficiency and productivity. In approving funds for specific projects and programmes in developing countries they, invariably, would like to replicate, in recipient countries, the improved efficiency and productivity associated with IT use. It is increasingly the case, therefore. that the supply of IT equipment and software is seen as a logical component of approved budgets by suc h agencies.

IT Adoption and Capacity Building

2.33 The linkage between IT transfer and capacity building is an important issue in the assimilation process. It is widely recognized that a central factor in the process of technology transfer is the avail ability of the know-how and the capacity o put the technology to use in the recipient country. The human resource capacity to learn, adapt and put into use at minimum cost the new technology is crucial to the successful assimilation;On of the technology. In fact, there is a feed-back relationship between IT and capacity building. On the one hand, the diffusion of IT would be hampered if the human know-how to use the technology is inadequate or lacking. Formal and informal education to provide the skills ne cessary for the assimilation of a particular new IT becomes indispensable in this regard.

2.34 On the other hand, IT reinforces capacity building by encouraging the analyst and the policy maker to operate within an information environment that has neither local nor national boundaries. The possibilities of sharing information and getting assist ance to problems across space and time help to build up the much-needed repository of specialized skills in a developing environment. Usually, a key problem concerni ng environmental policy making and management in Africa is gross inadequacy of technically competent staff and professional services. Recent advances in IT can be a veritable tool for partially overcoming this major constraint by providing a distant learni ng and training capability, based an essentially interactive course format, to cover a variety of environmental issues of concern to the GEF. Programmes focusing on monitoring and control of the processes and factors that contribute to climate change, biod iversity loss, control of de forestation21ion and forest degradation, desertification are prime candidates for consideration.

2.36 Distant learning could be at three levels. First is within the country. This would involve, rural-urban, field staff-home office, state-local government, state-federal. and NGO-government links. The second level co could be electronic workshops traini ng programmes at regional level on for example, coastal erosion, biodiversity, tropical rain forest, or desert belts etc. The th ird level is with environmentally oriented policy and research organizations in other parts of the world. The greater ease of follow-up activities and potential availability of continual and relatively cheap advice and support through the virtual workspace provided by 1 , despite time and space, would enhance capacity building.

2.37 The multi-directional flow of information. and the forming of professional partnerships with international groups of colleagues with shared interests in sound environmental man agement. and inculcating environmentally sound development practices would ensure the maintenance of the integrity of the global environment. This would, certainly, be an excellent vehicle for strengthening Africa s environmental research and policy making capacity at the project, sectoral and macro levels, and also help to achieve the goal of sustainable development.

2.38 Certainly, promoting network access to information resources between Africa and the rest of the world would enhance the sustainability of domestic institutional capabilities to effectively and efficiently handle the several and severe environmental problems of the Region. Significant resource savings would emerge as the current large travel costs of consultants would be replaced by the si gnificantly cheaper alternative of using the lower cost computer-mediated technologies to communicate ate and share information,

2.39 In summary, it probably does not require much argument to state that information is a public good in the global environme nt. The sharing of information on the state of the global commons by all countries, through IT use is important in this regard. The positive externalities for the international community associated with the effective transfer and use of IT, and the develop ment of the complementary human resource requirements in Africa, suggest the need for urgent international action in this regard.

Examples of Uses of Computer-mediated Technologies

2.40 Having considered the conceptual issues involved in the transfer and adoption of information technology in developing countries, we shall now describe how computer-mediated technologies have been used in research, policy formulation and management, with particular emphasis on environmental management.

IT provides easy access to information

During the course of a research work. researchers often need to have access to information on previous related works, either to determine the state of research in their areas of specialization so as not to duplicate efforts, or to ad opt useful methodologies/techniques or to compare the results of their own studies with those obtained from previous ones. In the past, the practice used to be to scan indexes and abstracts to obtain bibliographic details of related works. However, such pr actice is time consuming because one has to search through several annual editions (or at least several cumulative editions) of the indexes or abstracts. Now, with the advent of online databases, it is much easier for researchers to conduct such searches. Actually, from a computer workstation consisting of a computer, a modem and a dedicated telephone line, it is possible to search the databases on any host computer wherever the host is based. Some hosts not only provide bibliographic details on previous wo rks, but make available the full text so that one doesn't have to go and look for the hard copy of such works since one is allowed to download material from the host. Environmental databases available online include BIOSIS, Enviroline, Pollution Abstracts, Toxline, and Predicasts (Freeman & Smith, 1986).

2.42 Apart from bibliographical works, researchers also often need numeric data for model development. Such models are used to develop policy guidelines for policy- makers responsible for planning and monitoring of socio-economic activities. M,any online database hosts now offer many numeric databases (or databanks) for searching by their users. The key d,ata contained e in such databases include currency exchange, population. national income, I Dour f fo rce, rainfall and temperature, and environmental quality data. An example of an online numeric environmental database is the S National Library of Medicine's Toxicology Databank (TDB) . TDB contains data in about 60 categories, extracted mostly from monog raphs and handbooks, and to a lesser degree, from the primary literature, on more than 3,100 compounds that pose some hazard and to which there is substantial human exposure (Kissman & Wex!er, 1983) .

2.43 Access to online databases provides researchers w ith quick access to data but. such access could be expensive. For example, the cost of an online search DIALOG databases varied from $60 to $180 per connect hour in 1987 (Elkington & Shopley, 1988). However, since the advent of compact disk read-only-mem ory (CD- ROM) technology, some of the large databases previously available only through survey of multimedia developers and publishers showed that the average price of electronic publishing is less than $100 (Brock, 1993). Moreover, one does not have to p ay connect charges every time access to a database on CD-ROM is registered. Environmental databases on CD-ROM include the Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances (RTECS) and the Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB) (Ercegovac, 1992).

IT aids decision making

2.44 One of the factors affecting the quality of decision making is available information; the quality of managerial decision is directly related to the information available to decision makers. Computerized information systems are often de veloped to speed up decision-making by making information more readily available. Three of such information systems that directly aid decision making are management information systems, decision support systems . and expert systems . However. only the firs t two are explained here while the last one is discussed later.

2.45 A management information system is one that aids management in making, carrying out, and controlling decisions. Such systems store data in various forms (digital, image, sound and text), process the data and present the resulting information in the format wanted by the user.

2.46 Decision support systems are interactive systems under user control that provide data and models to support unstructured decisions (Laudon & Laudon, 1988) they play a different role from management information systems: while management information sys tems provide information to users, decision support systems provide integrated tools, data, models, and problem solving language to users; and while management info rmation systems enhance the control and monitoring power of managers, decision support systems directly impact key decisions and enhance the effectiveness of decision making.

2.47 A type of information system that has been developed to monitor changes in environmental conditions is the geographic information system (GIS). A GIS is a computerized database incorporating elements of cartography, geography photogrammetry, remote s ensing, statistics, surveying. and many other disciplines with the analysis of s patially-referenced data (Elkington & Shopley, 1988). The primary purpose of a GIS is as a tool for decision making and resource management most often by 9Government entities. A true GIS integrates: data collection (acquiring data about the earth either a utomatically or manually); data processing; data organization (using various data structures); data analysis (manipulation of the data for the user s desired result); and data output (e.g., geographical displays and statistical analyses) (Star & Estes, 199 0). A GIS is often designed for a particular management or planning application. For example, the Conservation Monitoring Centre in Kew, England, uses a GIS to support its role of conserving species and ecosystems (Elkington & Shopley, 1988) One of the dat abases in the system holds information on some 5,000 plants, 500 of which act as "green glue", covering dry ground and binding erosion-prone soils. Also included in the database are African plants that can be used as natural! insecticides and some that are unpalatable to animals which might otherwise cause overgrazing. The GIS is also being used to keep track of all ivory imports and exports within the Convention in Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) system.

IT facilitates collaboration and communication

2.48 Researchers, policy makers, and managers often need to contact their colleagues in order to obtain information or discuss research/project-related problems. In addition, researchers often collaborate with colleagues in other institutions within and outside their country of domain. Likewise, policy makers/managers also collaborate with colleagues in other branches of their organizations or with consultants in other institutions,. For such collaborative work to be effective. frequent discussion of pro gress reports and the sharing of research/project results are critical factors

2.49 Interpersonal communication used to take place, primarily at conferences or seminars, which occur once or twice in a year; postal communication, which takes time especiall y if conducted between countries; and by telephone, which is limited in terms of details that could be exchanged (for example, it is not easy to discuss how to solve a set of equations on the phone). However, with the development of IT and telecommunicatio ns devices, it has become easier and faster to communicate and collaborate. This process can be further facilitated through electronic networking9 Electronic networking is also attractive because it is cheaper than other transmission media such as fax and telex machines (Robinson. 1993; Adam. 1993; Lawrie 1993)

2.50 As contained in the report of the 1992 Workshop on Electronic Networking in Africa', electronic networking, which refers to any of several forms of information exchange between two or more computers through any of several methods of interconnection, is rapidly spreading throughout much of the world as a fast, reliable, and, in most applications, inexpensive form of communication. It is inexpensive because of its speed, and because it can use ex isting public phone lines as a medium. Multiple messages can be sent in a single phone call, lowering the cost still further, while error-correcting modems can ensure reliability of transmission.

2.51 The most common network application is electronic mail, whereby messages originating from one computer can be sent via some medium to another computer or computers that are connected to a network and have an electronic address. The medium may be publi c phone lines, private dedicated lines, or a radio frequency. It is also possible to use electronic networks to transfer binary files between computers and to "log on" to a remote computer in order, for instance, to search a database for information.

2.52 Other common applications include "bulletin board systems" (BBS), generally used for the posting and retrieval of information items, and "c onferencing systems", which allow multiple users to post messages that are seen and responded to by other users, creating an electronic conversation. Both services are usua lly organized around some common theme or themes, including provisions for private e-mail messages, and may be contained within a single software package.

2.53 The group-decision support system (GDSS), the latest application of electronic networking, has emerged to improve organizational decision making and ensure that members of an organization will feel that they are part of the organization's decision- m aking efforts and therefore will support resulting changes (Palmquist, 1992). Essentially, a GDSS f unctions as a real time, electronic brainstorming session among members of a decision-making work group. It uses the computer to conceal the contributors' identities so that ideas can be suggested and selected according to merit rather that the contributor 's organizational role. The GDSS was created to address some of the shortcomings of computer conferencing, teleconferencing, and e-mail. The primary benefits to be derived from GDSS are an improved sense of group cohesion and an increase in the individual' s interest in group activities. Such system . are believed to transfer some of the protocol of decision making to the system and

2.54 In general, the use of electronic communication has been found to affect the structure of an organization. Studies have shown that electronic communication breaks down social and organizational hierarchies and power structures (Erlank, 1994). First, structures of relative hierarchical positions are losing their traditional grip; there is developing a hierarchy of competence (Nkhalambayausi, 1994; Steinfield, 1986; Rice, 1980; Sproul & Kiesler, 1991; Malone & Rockart, 1991). Second. is a change in organizational protocol. An organizational member does not, for example. normally pop into the vice-president's office for a quick word whereas it is possible for such

IT provides good substitutes for unavailable experts

2.55 Many organizations, especially in the developing countries. are often Unable to carry out a project or research due to non-availability of expertise to carr y out one or more aspects of the work. However, with the development of expert systems in many areas of human endeavour, it is now possible for an organization to use an expert system to perform certain tasks in which it lacks expertise. Such a system can also be use to train the organization s personnel on how to perform such tasks.

2.56 An expert system is a knowledge-based system that solves a problem that normally requires human expertise (Laudon & Laudon, 1988). It tries to incorporate human judgment and experience into a knowledge base It then assists decision- making by asking relevant questions and explaining the reasons for adopting certain lines of action. According to Holsapple and Whinston (1988), the benefits of an expert system include: (i) a n expert system is able to provide timely advice when a human expert is unavailable. Unlike its human counterpart, an expert system can operate around the clock, every day of the year; (ii) unlike the human expert that it an expert system can be readily replicated. The same expert system can be used simultaneously in many sites across the country or around the world. Once an expert system has been constructed, it is relatively inexpensive to distribute; and (iii) an expert system provides consistent, unif orm advice. It is thorough and methodical Unlike the human expert. an expert system does not have lapses that cause,e it to overlook important factors, skip steps, or forget. It is not politically motivated, temperamental, or biased (unless the developer d esigns it to be so).

2.57 Though early developments in expert systems were in medical diagnosis and mineral exploration, there are now many expert systems for planning, management and even in the environmental field. For example, expert systems have been used to analyze atmosp heric data from polar satellites; they have also been applied by aid agencies to the task of logistic planning for famine relief in Ethiopia, while Technica International has developed an expert system called WHAZAN (World Bank Hazard , Analysis Software) which includes a library of hazardous materials, and can model the dispersion of liquids and gases, and the resulting human health impact (Elkirlgton & Shopley, 1988). In fact. so many computer-based expert systems are now available i n the environmental field that Battelle Incorporated has produced an expert system - SOPHIE (Selection of Procedures for Hazard Identification and Evaluation) - whose sole purpose is to identify appropriate hazard analysis methods for specific plant and sa fety applications .

2.58 Another way through which unavailable local expertise could be provided is through electronic networking. The expert, wherever he/she is located, could be contacted by electronic mail. The problem to be solved could then be relayed to him and the solu tion sent back the same way. It is also possible to put together a research team comprising members located in different parts of the world to tackle a problem. The leader of the team would have to coordinate the activities of the rese archers via electronic mail and a computer conference called once in a while to provide dialogue on areas where joint action is needed or to deliberate on some important issues related to the research project. For example a study on ozone depletion in Afr ica would require a perspective from each of the sub-regions Hence, it would be necessary to put together a team that would comprise of at least one researcher from each of the sub-regions Each sub-regional team would have to carry out the study in its own area and the project coordinated via electronic communication

IT aids learning

2.59 Computers are now being used in many educational and training applications Computer programs are being developed to directly instruct students. Such pros, grammes are categorized as computer assisted instruction (CAI). computer-based training (CBT) or computer-aided learning (CAL) packages (Davenport & Cronin, 1991; White & Hubbard, 1988). These CAI programs. often recorded on a diskette or CD-ROM, usually present materi al through a sequence of frames or screens of information on a monitor. The earlier use of linear programs restricted student individuality and satisfaction. More recent programs provide alternative pathways, or branching; thus, better-informed students do not have to go through the same sequence of frames as a less well-informed or less able student. In this way a student need only see the number of frames needed to cover the material. An example of a CAI program- has been developed for instruction on env ironmental issues is the Sand Harvest", a computer game produced by the Centre for World Development Education. The program enables young people to get involved in environmental issues through role playing. The focus is on desertification in Mali and they can pick one of three different roles: Nomad. Government Officer or Villager Annual reports are provided throughout the simulation, to give those involved a sense of the impact that t their decisions - and the decisions of the other groups - are having on the environment and on the competing communities who depend on it for their living (Elkington & Sl opley,-- 1988).

2.60 Computer-aided learning can also be facilitated through electronic communication networks (Steinfield, 1986). For example. a CAI program on, Say, how to model an environmental system. can be placed on a network. A researcher or student on the netwo rk would then learn the technique e by connecting to the network and assessing the program at his own convenience Electronic Communication can also be used for distant learning and t tutoring (AA S. 1994). For example. a member of staff on sabbatical leave may continue to remotely tutor his or her student, or a foreign professor can co- supervise a post-graduate student based in a developing country.

IT enhances productivity

2.61 The use of IT enhances the productivity of researchers, policy makers and managers This is manifested in so many ways, some of which are described here.

2.62 With the development of powerful word processing and d esktop publishing packages, the researcher/manager has a new-found independence. No longer is he or she totally dependent on document preparation staff, for drawing diagrams or incorporating images into documents: these facilities are now supported by almo st any software package available on the store shelf. This means that journals , proceedings and papers can be produced faster than before and, in most cases. with higher quality and consistency (Erlank, 1994).

2.63 The use of computer software, such as spreadsheet. statistical packages, modeling and simulation packages, has increased. the ability of researchers to quickly Solve complex problems and to obtain more precise solutions. For example. before

(6) Indeed, some publishing houses now ask for a diskette copy of a paper being Submitted for publication. This saves the publishing house the trouble of retyping the edited copy as the editor can easily edit the diskette copy and then just re-print the th e paper

the widespread use of computers for modelin g, hardly could a researcher solve a model with more than five equations with the use of a calculator . It has also been noted that the computer's capability of bringing together models of different environmental subsystems is most important in overcoming the fragmentation of study and policy making into subsystems, each dealing with a different aspect of the real world; a failure to capture the interactions between these subsystems hobbles research understanding and policy effectiveness (Harris, 1988).

2. 64 Finally, IT has eliminated the necessity of workers to work only in their office environments. For example, a policy maker/manager who is working on a report in the office can continue to work at home by copying the document to a notebook computer. Even in some cases, if he is on leave or out of town for a conference, he can send reports to, or obtain documents/data from, his office with the use of telecommuting equipment. For a researcher, who has a PC at home and a modem. if he develops a brain wave or an idea occurs to him all of a sudden on how to solve a particular problem he was working on in his office, he is able to pursue it immediately by accessing his data as well as the software package in his office.

2.65 Of course, there are some drawbacks to the use of IT. For example, there is no way to notify the recipient of a pending electronic message until he or she turns on the terminal, while the availability of an inexpensive expert system may tempt an organ ization to deny job opportunity to a human expert. However, the advantages Of using IT far outweigh the d;i6advantages, and hence, its adoption should be encouraged in the developing countries.