14 September 2005

Making agricultural information services more coherent

On 19 and 20 May 2005, a group of agricultural information specialists met in Lexington to discuss how information systems and services in agriculture could be made more coherent. The problem identified is that the many information services we have access to do not necessarily communicate with each other, they do not even refer or link to each other, and the common standards necessary for them to do so are lacking. Users are easily confused by the many options available and there is much duplication and competition. Many pieces of our global 'jigsaw' do not fit properly which restricts our ability to see - and benefit from - the whole picture.

It was suggested that the FAO-led coherence initiative needs to create a common exchange layer between distributed datasets held by different organisations. Using controlled vocabularies and other standards, information service providers could develop and deliver user-oriented services based on the distributed data archives. The group agreed to: establish a pilot for a working system that would integrate agricultural project information; test a methodology to exchange metadata on electronic documents; use web services and/or RSS aggregation to share calendars of events and news services; and develop a website or a 'clearinghouse' showcasing activities and progress of the initiative.

The group will meet again in October 2005 alongside an Expert Consultation on 'International Information Systems for Agricultural Science and Technology: Review of Progress and Prospects' being organised by FAO. People wishing to participate in the initiative can join a discussion forum. The report of the initial phase of this project was published in 2004 with the title: Fertile ground - Opportunities for greater coherence in agricultural information systems. The report of the Lexington meeting is on the FAO web site.


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