14 November 2005

New approach for AGRIS profiled in Tunis

30 years ago, in 1975, FAO set up AGRIS to improve access and exchange of information on agricultural science and technology. By 2000, it became clear that some elements of the approach were not working as well as expected. A new approach has been developed to help move AGRIS to become a worldwide distributed open access resource on agricultural information.

As part of a session on accessing, documenting, and disseminating scientific information for development in the WSIS pre-conference on research in the information society, Stephen Rudgard of the FAO outlined the new vision and strategy to enhance the AGRIS model.

The new approach has been in place since 2002 and includes the following key elements: reinforced emphasis on decentralized actions, greater diversity of participating organizations (not just one official focal point per country), greater attention to capacity building, a focus on full text documents, and a set of web-enabled standards and tools. As part of this new approach, FAO has launched several new initiatives.

According to Rudgard, "standards power information exchange." The first initiative is therefore on standards to support more effective information content capture and exchange. FAO recently launched a new website on agricultural information management standards that provides guidance and tools and acts as a focal point for the worldwide community working in this area. Ultimately, the AGRIS network is moving towards becoming an open access resource on agricultural information.

The second initiative recognizes that agricultural information specialists require additional or strengthened competencies to effectively implement the new approach. The IMARK e-learning initiative seeks to address this. Two self-learning information management modules have been launched and two more will be released in the coming six months.

Celebrating the 30th birthday of AGRIS, the FAO also convened an Expert Consultation in October 2005 to review progress and prospects for international information systems for agricultural science and technology. Participants agreed to establish a virtual space to discuss and agree a vision and activities of an initiative that will seek to broaden awareness of information management issues at the policy level (a 'partnership for advocacy'), strengthen capacity building at different levels (a 'partnership for capacity building'), and facilitate a series of content management applications on open access publishing, vocabularies and ontologies, and standards.

This is part of a series reporting on agricultural information and communication activities at the Tunis phase of the WSIS. Story by Peter Ballantyne.


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