|Bridge Builders: African Experiences with Information & Communication (BOSTID, 1996, 304 p.)|
Bridge-Builders: African Experiences with Information and Communication Technology brings good news from that continent. This volume tells sixteen remarkable stories - first-person accounts of how information and communication technologies (ICT) have been successfully introduced into institutions for the benefit of scientists and engineers in sub-Saharan Africa. The projects described by the authors are case studies that focus on the lessons learned in designing and implementing projects dealing with scientific and technological information (STI) and that examine the impacts these projects have had. For the most part, these are not big projects in terms of funding. They do, however, demonstrate just how much can be accomplished through leadership, dedication, and determination. The authors are very honest in discussing the problems they faced and the lessons they learned.
By providing this systematic examination of the lessons learned by these project managers, the National Research Council's Advisory Panel on Planning for STI Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa hopes to encourage the donor community and many others in the STI community to engage in strategic planning for STI end to strengthen the design and management of scientific and technical systems. The Advisory Panel expects this volume to contribute to the development of national STI projects that are based on a firm and educated comprehension of what is already in place and to catalyze necessary linkages between STI institutions and actors so that national STI networks can be developed to support African scientists and engineers. The stories told by these authors should also encourage managers of other fledgling STI initiatives whose objectives are similar or complementary.
This volume has been a long time in the making. Since 1989, the Advisory Panel has observed the STI scene in Africa with growing interest. Through a number of workshops and seminars in Africa and through the travel of staff and panel members, we have had the opportunity to observe, first-hand, the growing impact of STI in Africa. We have also been privileged to meet the authors from the volume and many others who are struggling to bring ICT to their institutions and countries.
The authors included in this volume are not the only successful ICT project managers in Africa and the panel regrets that it had neither the time nor the resources to bring more success stories to light. We hope that the NRC can salute additional projects in future volumes of case studies. In the meantime, we trust that those bridge builders whose work is not described in this volume will be encouraged to share their activities with us and with others in their countries who can benefit from their experiences.
This volume would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the authors themselves. They patiently wrote, rewrote, answered questions, and brought their contributions to the standards demanded of them. The editorial review committee' which I also chaired and which was composed of panel members Nancy Hafkin, Theo Mlaki, G.B. Alabi, and Alex Tindimubona, gave much of their time to read drafts of the studies and make queries of the authors. Their knowledge of the field and their expertise on the situation in Africa have been invaluable.
As chair of the Advisory Panel, I wish to acknowledge the Carnegie Corporation of New York, whose generous support of this project made this volume possible. Realizing that information and communication technologies could only be tools of empowerment for those who had access to them, Carnegie helped to "jump-start" the information revolution in Africa by supporting many of the projects described in Bridge Builders. By supporting small pilot and demonstration projects, Carnegie has helped innovative project managers overcome the social, technical, political, and economic barriers to introducing new ideas and technologies.
I also wish to acknowledge the leadership role of the Office of International Affairs (OIA) of the National Research Council. Since 1989, they have been helping donors, policy-makers, and project managers realize the benefits and problems associated with the introduction of information and communication technologies. Through this and proceeding projects, they have encouraged the Advisory Panel and others to study many aspects of STI activities and to concentrate on the role information and communication services can play in decreasing scientific isolation and in improving the effectiveness of scientific research.
Most of all the OIA, through this Advisory Panel, and Carnegie have proven that small projects can have a big impact. Projects that encourage the process of learning, familiarize users with computers and other information technologies, and demonstrate the use of these technologies in an everyday setting often have a greater impact than large projects that tax scarce resources.
Finally, on behalf of the Advisory Panel, I want to give particular thanks to several OIA staff members. First, our appreciation goes to Pamela Gamble, who made sure everyone arrived at the writing workshops when they were supposed to be there and who handled all other logistical concerns with grace, good humor, and her usual efficiency. We also want to thank Wendy White, the NRC program officer who assisted the Advisory Panel throughout its activities. Her knowledge of the African STI environment and the people involved, combined with her sensitivity to the African context, has been invaluable to the work of the panel and, in particular, to the completion of this volume. Her willingness to share her expertise and to provide moral support to all involved goes far beyond the line of duty.
Together, the Advisory Panel members, the case study authors, and the OIA staff have a broad understanding of STI, an appreciation for the unique opportunities and challenges in Africa, a thorough knowledge of ongoing STI activities, and a demonstrated commitment to create an enabling environment within which African STI networks can flourish. Their wisdom, vision, and dedication are reflected in this report.
John B. Black, chairman