Friday, December 10, 2010

Show Stoppers

I’m back… it seems that more delegates were able to make it to the conference yesterday, to the relief of the organisers. And there were many topics on discussion. These included a call for the development of ICT infrastructure networks in collaboration with the needs of researchers and scientists that will eventually use them. And the need for champions to evangelise ICT research to governments that haven’t had a traditional culture of supporting scientific research initiatives. Another panel member stated that while Europe has opened up its boundaries to enable people to move freely within its borders, it is unfortunate that data boundaries are far less developed. Open access data is the key component in encouraging the use of high-bandwidth research networks.

In my opinion, the most interesting parts of the conference were the question and answer sessions after the main presentations, where some attendees candidly expressed their views and concerns. One example of this was from a member of the audience who stated that there needs to be clear outputs resulting from the eI-Africa event. He elaborated that an online platform should be established and a working group set up to ensure continued momentum of the topics discussed. Another issue that was brought up was the fact that using African research networks is expensive for the user and these costs need to be reduced if these infrastructures are to be successful.

It is also clear there must be more dialogue and collaboration between key stakeholders, because establishing high-speed research networks is only the first step. A representative of the World Bank emphasised: “It takes two to dance”; and that it is not enough just to give money away and expect things to work out. The financier and recipient need to work together so that their partnership brings return on investment to both parties. One audience member highlighted to the delegate panel that she didn’t like the phrase “donation”, but preferred the term “multi-stake partnership.”

Other urgent requirements for the newly established African research networks are that the content that will fill their fibre optic wires must be defined, as well as more I.T. literacy training for end users. While many topics were discussed at the conference, cementing the multitude of next steps is equally important. In conclusion, building awareness of the success stories from African ICT research networks and engaging all people involved from policy makers, technologists and users of the technology are essential.

Adrian Giordani

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