|Expanding Access to Science and Technology (UNU, 1994, 462 pages)|
|Session 2a: Experiences with international cooperation and the developing countries|
|A critical evaluation of experiences and strategies|
During my last three of four years at Unesco, I had the privilege to be concerned with the project for the Revival of the Ancient Library of Alexandria . I cannot help but recall that this great library of classical antiquity was in many ways the first information and learning centre with an international dimension. Its policy was to collect manuscripts in different languages from every source, translate the texts, prepare them for use by bibliographic control, and make them available to the scientific community of the time. It was in the intellectual environment of this information centre that scholars came to explore, exchange information, invent, and study astronomy, physics, mathematics, geometry, anatomy, biology, geography, literature, philosophy, and engineering. The numerous findings and inventions born under the roof of the ancient Bibliotheca Alexandrina are clear evidence of the close relationship that has always existed between information and the advancement of science and the role that scientific and technical information (STI) plays in the discovery of new frontiers.
From the time of the international library of antiquity to the international information systems, networks, and services of today, history is rich with examples of international cooperation pointing the way for the information world of tomorrow.
The most advanced countries have indeed already entered the Information Age - a creature of information technology that itself results from the marriage of computers and telecommunications, hardware and software, information systems and services. We are told that "by the year 2000, to all intents and purposes, information technology will be able to create a nearly Information-transparent world, while fiber optics will carry libraries of information to anyone, anywhere, who pushes a button!" . It seems that three revolutionary technological changes will be required to bring about affordable individual access to global on-line information: efficient large-scale database construction and maintenance, high speed digital transmission networks, and highly precise intelligent searchware. "As these technological revolutions appear over the next several decades, they will result in a worldwide information system that will have a major impact on the entire information industry" . And, indeed, on society itself, since they will affect the way people work, the way they act and organize themselves, and even the way they think.
We are gathered in Kyoto today to explore the role of information technology in facilitating access to science and technology. The objective of the symposium is to assess the potential of scientific and technological developments for enhancing the capacity to handle, transfer, exchange, and access information. Towards the conclusion of the symposium a panel will discuss and recommend new modalities of international cooperation for the future.
It seems useful to consider past experiences in international cooperation. A shared knowledge of past efforts and a better understanding of the strategies used, their impact and limitations, will help prepare the future. This paper is not a comparative review of international information systems and programmes, nor is it an evaluation of performances and results. Although the information needs of the developing countries permeate the whole presentation, it cannot be considered a review on the subject. The panel in Session 2B, "Achievements and Limitations in International Cooperation As Seen by the Developing Countries," is complementary since it will provide a perception that the developing countries have of international assistance, international programmes, and other schemes and systems set up under the banner of "international cooperation."
The paper first describes the various patterns of international cooperation and then analyses three experiences and strategies resulting from high-level intergovernmental conferences. In the three cases sovereign states discussed the question of improving access to STI. Their recommendations and the sets of actions that emerged provide matter for a critical evaluation of the strategies selected for international cooperation.
From the outset it should be emphasized that the international support systems involved in international cooperation, whether governmental or non-governmental, bilateral or multilateral, can hope to play only a catalytic role in assisting national efforts. Decisions on the nature of involvement in new technological areas, the kind of infrastructures to create, and the areas for priority action are all primarily the responsibility of the developing countries concerned .
International cooperation among nations is founded on the belief that everyone stands to gain from the benefits of sustainable growth, prevention of deterioration of the national environment, and satisfaction of people's basic needs - including access to information.
As we approach the end of the millennium, we observe that the developing countries are recognizing the value of self-generative efforts to orient their internal development strategies as an essential precondition to engaging in international cooperation. At the same time, the international community should conceive new ways of organizing international cooperative efforts that will take the real needs of the developing countries into greater account .
A first set of questions comes to mind: What bodies are concerned with international cooperation in the field of information? What are the prevailing patterns? What are the driving forces behind such cooperation? What are the strong points and weaknesses of these different patterns? What are the implications for the developing countries?