PAPUA NEW GUINEA - BUAI DIGITAL INFORMATION PROJECT
Prospects for book development and the small island states: contribution to ISLANDS V
BY: John Evans, A/Head, South Pacific Centre for Communication and Information in Development (SPCenCIID) and Development Manager, University of Papua New Guinea Press
To explain my presence, after the 1997 South Pacific Book Fair, which was held at the State Library of New South Wales, Grant McCall suggested that a paper on the issue of the proposal for a South Pacific Book Council might be of interest at this meeting. I provide some details of the Council in this paper. I am pleased to announce the Council held a business meeting prior to the 1998 Australian Book Fair in Melbourne a few days ago. There is also a relevant Mauritius connection as Farouk Sohawon of Zed Books informs me that consideration is being given to the formation of a University Press here.
The University of Papua New Guinea is one of those that have flirted with the idea of a university company. This is Unisearch PNG Pty Ltd. It is this company that looks after the University of Papua New Guinea Press. An odd and extremely unsatisfactory feature of the company is its use of part time managers. It is in my capacity as one of these part time managers that I am currently responsible for the UPNG Press.
This contribution focuses on the development of publishing in island states. While written from the perspective of a "big island" I am sure that one would accept that the numerous cultures of P.N.G. provide an abundance of insular situations. Also its title indicates a concern with books it is obvious that there are parallels in Internet publishing. Consider the following two quotes1: -
Thus, in addition to the issue of the Council, the paper describes two projects in these two areas that, by chance, will come into operation in Papua New Guinea at about the same time. The main focus is on problems and potential solutions and as in all such cases the diagnosis and the treatment are capable of reinterpretation. That is the function of exchanges such as this.
As to Papua New Guinea the immeasurably species rich forests, wetlands and coastal marine systems of PNG harbour a significant wealth of resources that are of current and potential benefit to the world at large. Most conservationists agree that the potential value of Papua New Guinea's natural environments far exceed their current economic productivity. However, the rapidity of ecological degradation is a cause for considerable concern. Awareness of issues and challenges that face conservation in Papua New Guinea and the severity of long term threats to bio diversity are relatively poor worldwide. The global importance of PNG's eight hundred plus traditional cultures (each defined by a distinct language) may equal that of its forest resource. The future of these two resources are, without doubt, closely linked, These cultures are of the importance to the world at large because they hold a large body of un-transcribed knowledge - which, along with the ethno biological data, are under threat of extinction. 1
PNG has great potential for economic development. Few countries are endowed with such abundant natural resources. It is located in a geographical area where extremely dynamic economic progress has been made. But despite a rising level of average income and high level of public spending in the past decade, PNG has some of the worst social indicators in the world and they are now deteriorating. Eighty percent of the population earns less that US$350 per annum. 2 As regards supply of information 3: -
It is possibly a further reflection of the low priority attached to information in PNG that the country was one of the last countries to be fully connected to the Internet (in March 1997). Service is provided via the Telikom Tiare Gateway to 5 Internet Service Providers and these have estimated 2000 subscribers at present. Tiare Gateway bandwidth is 256kbps. Historically UUCP dial up e-mail service had been available from 1990 and there are also Pactok connections.
Regional Book Development for Small Island States
An account of the origins and initial work of The Press, University of the West Indies1 shows how a situation where scholars and local authors had little opportunity to publish locally, despite interest in works about the region. This account also shows how it was possible eventually to make progress in a situation of scant resources.
There is another worthwhile record of achievement in the South Pacific region at the over 400 titles have been produced involving contributions from over 2000 Pacific islanders. Interestingly enough sales are often very satisfactory: -
While these are examples of progress by parts of large institutions, there is also an indication that commercial publishing can also develop. The association of commercial ventures in the South Pacific Book Council may further encourage this.
It is to be noted that regional activities in the South Pacific are also provided through the medium of APPREB - Asia-Pacific Co-operative Program in Reading Development and Book Promotion, coordinated by the Asian Cultural Centre for UNESCO. This has published an useful journal Asian / Pacific Book Development since 1969 and conducted some 30 workshops. However, as a program rather than an association of institutions it capacity to make representations on issues must be rather weak. The Asia Pacific Publishers Association is an important regional body with a membership of National Publishing Associations. However, almost all the island states have populations that make the formation of publishers associations unlikely. There were changes in the APPA constitution made in early 1998 that may well improve on this. We await the next APPA meeting in Sydney in 1999 to see if progress is possible for the South pacific region publishers.
There are other examples that can be looked at from Africa, such as APNET - a network of indigenous publishers. The Bellagio Network publishes the interesting Bellagio Newsletter and Occasional papers - on the African publishing scene in the main. An good example of a centralised sales and distribution centre for African books is to be found in the work of the African Books Collective, based at Oxford. Another useful network is INASP - the International Network on the Availability of Scientific Publications. But while such examples are of interest discussions with them indicate that there is little they can do for the small island states. This is an issue for self help on a regional basis.
The South Pacific Book Council
The problem to be addressed is the overall lack of indigenous book production and utilisation within the countries of the developing South Pacific - one of the last regions to be touched by systematic book development activities - with apologies to APPA, ACCU, APPREB. The major strategy is a collaborative alliance to build on strengths, correct weaknesses and promote the issues on a broad front.
In August 1996 institutions from the South Pacific region attended the Australian Book Fair with the support of the South Pacific Trade Commission. The main contributors were the Institute of Pacific Studies (IPS) of the University of the South Pacific and the University of Papua New Guinea. Both of these publishers had consolidated a number of titles of other publishers from their respective areas and UPNG had produced a combined catalogues of the major institutional publications in Papua New Guinea. The range of titles available was impressive and it was interesting to note that this was the first such pooling of resources in the region.
The exchanges developed during the fair were extremely valuable. It was agreed to work towards a more formal alliance for book development in the region. While there were Asia Pacific and Afro Asian groupings it was noted that there was no group concerned specifically with South Pacific (and its small island states) book development issues and there was significant potential to grow on from the institutional base available. A proposal for a South Pacific Book Council was agreed upon.
The proposal was publicly launched during the South Pacific Book Fair held May 1997 at the State Library of New South Wales. At this point, SCOOP another islands publisher based in French Polynesia, came on board in support of the Council. These three institutions constitute a Steering Committee for the development of the Council. They provide a comprehensive range of contacts and geographical coverage within the region of operations. Each of the three has been in contact with other individuals and institutions in respect of the concept of the Council and feed back has been positive.
Given the enormous area to be covered (this will be taken as that of the South Pacific Community organisation) there will be initial costs that will be beyond those available from the institutions originally involved. It will be necessary to have meetings to formalize the scope and directions of the Council and to set up an initial programme of activities that will make membership worthwhile.
The region is undergoing a period of rapid expansion of education and there is only a limited supply of locally produced books within this process. The production of more relevant local materials will benefit both students and pupils through the educational spectrum. Through the setting forth of opinions views and beliefs of regional writers there will be a fostering of regional cultures in a period of rapid change. In addition there are prospects in the area for small business development and some exports in the book trade. Overall they can be widespread benefits in the educational and cultural area, and some economic benefit.
PNG Internet Content Project
This part of the paper describes a project that may allow the country to catch up with the opportunities that ICT can provide in the service of this diversity, and development of the capacity of individuals to participate more meaningfully on the Internet.
The 1997 Waigani Seminar was held on the subject of "Information and the Nation' from 27th-29th August. Waigani Seminars are open forums held on a variety of issues at the University of Papua New Guinea. They have been run on a yearly basis since the start of the university and as such are a respected and popular forum for discussion. The 1997 was felt to be extremely timely and generated many ideas. The theme was - "To know and be known" since as the first World Science Report 1993 of UNESCO points out the gap between rich and poor countries today is not so much a resource gap as it is a knowledge gap. The Seminar heard in depth from Taholo Kami and determined that Pacific Island content was required on the Internet if it was to be a source for local groups and that PNG content was required in all media and content could be in local languages. Recommendations also supported local publishing to serve development.
Internet usage will be conditioned by the relevance of material to users, at present there is very little PNG content on the Internet and there seems no prospect of improvement unless institutions are systematically encouraged to publish their research information electronically. It is apparent from evidence in country that print based systems are not allowing institutions or researchers proper dissemination of, or access to, valuable research findings. As costs escalate and subscriptions decline there is no real hope of improvement with print publishing. At the same time the requirements of researchers in this diverse country continually increase and anything which can speed up the communication between researchers will be of significant value. It is believed that sufficient ICT infrastructure exists to enable a push to be made to increase PNG content on the Internet.
To main objective is to improve access to international networking and information technologies by the Papua New Guinea research and development community and to assist in formulation of new research agendas by increasing PNG information content and publication on the Internet
The specific objectives of the project are :-
* to establish an "Internet Publishing Group" within PNG representing the common interests in electronic publishing of a group of selected institutions; and the support of at least two meetings of this group.
* to establish a Training and Access Facility at UPNG hosted by SPCenCIID to build capacity for Internet awareness, access and utilisation within the community of research and publishing organisations in PNG;
* to provide selected institutions in the research and development community with modest direct assistance for net access and publishing, through small grants for such purposes as equipment installation, telephone line installation and Internet access fees
* to build the base of PNG Internet accessible indigenous research data through facilitating electronic publishing activities and an appreciation of the need to link to Internet sources of information relevant to PNG institutions, and
* to provide an avenue for informed discussion and investigation on pressing issues of the Internet and its development in Papua New Guinea, including access in rural / remote areas via telecentres, access for women's groups and other NGO's, and to the disabled
The alliance may become more formal in due course and a PNG Electronic Publishers Association could make broader regional and international links. The group should encourage meetings to promote awareness and to encourage other institutions to follow suit. Synergy with other in-country and regional initiatives to be sought wherever possible. T
Recording The Diversity of Papua New Guinea
This is an account of an UNESCO funded project which address a range of problems that include that of the dveliopmnet of indigenous publishing. At present there is a lack of a forum for the generation of ideas and strategies for the advancement of the social sciences in Papua New Guinea. This is not to say that there has not been real growth in the number of social scientists and their capabilities, however, no high level body covering the area has emerged.
Further, while some research is done, frequently outside researchers are involved and the results are often published overseas. Local research capacity needs significant enhancement for real impact to be made in developing the range of studies and data required for future planning. Indigenous knowledge is also not adequately taken account of because of lack of an adequate mechanism to set out and appreciate its values or be responsible for its collection and utilisation. Information present in the country is not adequately disseminated and there may be gaps in coverage and overlaps as a result. Similarly information on the country present overseas does not flow adequately back into the research process.
The expected results of project are an enhanced national social science profession capable of assisting in national development, with a good supportive institutional structure, improved research capacity and agenda, and benefiting from enhanced mechanisms for the generation and capture of information. From experience elsewhere the formation of the proposed Social Science Council should lead to:-
At one level the project will effect professionals and policy / decision makers in priority areas of health, environment, gender issues, and human resource developments. At the operational level the two way flow of communication envisaged by the project will also benefit many other groups involved in development efforts and will contribute to the participation of citizens and grassroots in development efforts. The net results will be expected to benefit all citizens in a long term and continuing fashion as improved information flows and research results impact upon policy, projects and programmes in key areas nationwide.
Beneficiaries will be social scientists in academic institutions, government and NGO's who will have greater opportunity for collaborative ventures and activities and for enriching their projects at work. By generating extra research funding more significant projects will be launched which will benefit both rural and urban sectors of PNG in their struggles with development.
The strategy involves
The project is designed to set up structures which will continue on their own at the end of the project. For example initial strengthening of the School of Social Sciences at the University of PNG will ensure that an important impact is made during the first few years. Networking links created then will stay in place. The creation of COPSS ( the Council of PNG Social Sciences) as a broad based confederation of interested parties in the field provides for the county wide enhancement of the social sciences. It is planned to link COPSS with the UNESCO supported International Social Science Council and the regional AASSREC. Both bodies have indicated they would welcome COPSS as a member. As an NGO COPSS will be able to move in other funding areas to gain support for its projects.
The overall objective of this project is to develop the capacities of the social science institutions and professions in Papua New Guinea to assist in overall national development. This will be done in areas of institutional support, generation of new information through research, as well as improved access to information and dissemination of relevant existing information.
Immediate objectives are:-
* Setting up of a Council of PNG Social Sciences - The mission of COPSS is the enhancement of social science activity within Papua New Guinea and the contribution of the social sciences to national development and to the solution of social problems. Given the difficulty and expense of setting up this within the government structure it is suggested that the Council is set up as an NGO with consultative status and be registered with the IPA when suitable documentation is available.
* Support of the School of Social Sciences and Development at University of Papua New Guinea - The school will require excellent administrative talents and the university will be recruiting a full time dean for this purpose. However, it will also need leadership in developing its research agenda and here it is suggested that an UNESCO Chair be established, upgrading one position of the School establishment.
* Research Upgrading Meeting - A wide ranging set of discussions on expansion of the research agenda and identification of problem areas is to be organised with especial attention to provincial input.
* Research Networking - Researchers to be connected to relevant groups, mainly by the Internet and parts of UNITWIN. Training to be provided in locating and corresponding via the networks.
* Training in Research Methods - A series of seminars to be provided for those responsible for research in provincial areas in particular. This will flow from the requirements identified in the research upgrading meeting.
Dissemination of existing information and knowledge
* Social Policy Review and Newsletter - It is proposed to enhance the existing (and successful) Social Development Newsletter to a more substantial biannual publication.This will provide:-
The Newsletter element will be quarterly and be in a similar format to that of the Social Development Newsletter and would have a wider readership than the Review, but would act as a means of collecting information for it.
State of the art survey
Developing the pool of authors
Developing the publishing structure
Training the human resources
Media and Technology
Equipment and resources
* Indigenous Knowledge - It is acknowledged that the greatest untapped information resource in this country is its indigenous knowledge. The project allows for a component to establish an IK Centre in PNG - a chain of these is being developed around the world and for a small meeting to establish guidelines for the Centre.
* Information Support
* Information awareness
* Guides to existing sources
* Provincial information development
* Tools on information support
BY: John Evans, A/Head, South Pacific Centre for Communication and Information in Development (SPCenCIID) and Development Manager, University of Papua New Guinea Press
1 Knowledge Societies: Information technology for Sustainable Development / Robin Mansell and Uta When for UNCSTD. OUP, 1997. P. 106 and
1. - Papua New Guinea Country Study on Biological Diversity / edited by N. Sekrhan and S. Millar. Department of Environment and Conservation, 1995.
2. Economic Survey of Papua New Guinea: August, 1997. AusAID, 1997.
3. Children, Women and Families in Papua New Guinea: a situational analysis, UNICEF Papua New Guinea, 1996.
2 Linda Crowl, "Local and Regional Book Publishing for Local and Regional Information." Paper presented to the 1997 Waigani Seminar on Information and the Nation. Port Moresby, August 1997.
e-mail author: John Evans
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