Introduction: Information and the Nation: the PNG 1997 Waigani Seminar
By: John Evans South Pacific Centre for Communication and Information in Development, UPNG
Introduction: Information and the Nation: the 1997 Waigani Seminar
In late June a consortium of some 40 donor agencies held a meeting in Toronto, Canada on the subject of Global Knowledge for Development. This saw some 2000 delegates from 120 countries discussing a wide range of issues - a process that continues today on an active GKD list. After this, the World Bank conducted a virtual conference on Knowledge Assessment in the Pacific Islands which ended on 29th August 1997. In contrast to such extensive global and regional experiences this volume includes papers from a local seminar that covered information issues in the much more modest circumstances of Papua New Guinea's Waigani Seminar series
The Waigani Seminar is a free, open forum held over a week at the University of Papua New Guinea's Waigani Campus in Port Moresby. Currently they run every two years and have discussed a variety of topical issues. They date back to the early days of the University and are a respected and popular forum for discussion of PNG issues. Given a stream of other problems and uncertainties "information" has yet to become an issue in Papua New Guinea - although attempts have been made to carry on discussions, whether on the issue of libraries or information technology. It is important therefore that, with the approval of the University's Academic Board the 1997 Waigani Seminar, 27-29th August, was on the subject of "Information and the Nation'' and the theme - "To know and be known." The seminar goals were:-
As opposed to the earlier library meetings which really consisted of insiders preaching to the converted and to little effect, this seminar was different in that it broadened the range of speakers and participants and tried to develop a corpus of thought on information and the PNG situation. Political figures also gave their views with contributions from the Acting Minister (Michael Nali) and the Vice Minister (John Waiko) of Education, a Port Moresby MP (Lady Carol Kidu), and closing remarks from the Leader of the Opposition (Bernard Narakobi).
Understandably, the initial focus was traditional knowledge, and this came before discussion of ICT and the rest - it being well realised in PNG that knowledge was not the prerogative of rich or of advanced post-industrial societies. The second day of the seminar related to publication and how that can be increased in respect of Papua New Guinea material. Both print and electronic sources would only be used if people can relate to them and this meant the generation of far more local content is in a variety of formats. Sectoral sessions on the same day led to the consideration of information solutions being applied in a variety of sectors - something not common in this country. The third day of the seminar turned to human resources and to ICT issues nationally and regionally.
It will be seen that the Waigani Seminar concentrated on the people side of information development. It was felt that technological developments and designs needed to be determined by social and cultural conditions and this was felt to be enough for the agenda! However a number of major issues still need to be covered, thus the issue of development of the PNG National Information Infrastructure is to be the subject of a further seminar.
Traditional knowledge was felt to be highly and efficiently organized but now eroding. There was a need to maintain it, to study its mechanisms, and to recognize its continuing role for the 21st Century. It was noted that the mother tongue was to be used in early years in school to foster local traditions. Some of the wide range of traditional communication methods (other than speech) also deserved to be properly considered especially as new methods of communications were being introduced. There was a need to celebrate PNG's linguistic, genetic and cultural diversity and its contribution both nationally and to humanity in general.
Study of the situation required a Commission of Inquiry into Traditional Knowledge and Folklore. Resources were needed for oral tradition and the collection of village experience which goes deep and needs to be recorded to construct local history. Traditional medicine was also of value and traditional methods in teaching and learning should be utilized as models at educational institutions.
Content - More national writing and the collection and making available of local history was needed. Pacific Island content was required on the Internet if it was to be a source for local groups. PNG content was required in all media and content could be in local languages. Local publishing served development and needed to be improved. Authors would be encouraged by better opportunities to publish.
Key sector information - PNG had generated a large amount of sectoral policy and this was useful for guidance. However sectoral studies show that information can make a difference - but that supply of information is often deficient. This was remarked in papers on the issues of small business and credit; disabilities; land owners rights; democratic process; law and order; natural disasters; human rights; science. In addition women's policy was not implemented and information for women was another urgent need. There were observed high costs in the public sector as a result of lack of information. Existing services were generally poor and worsening and at UPNG - traditional sources not being bought, coupled with poor access to ICT.
Access to ICT suffered from low participation rates and high participation costs. A two way flow - from and to - was required and there was a need to strike a balance between top-down, bottom up information flows. Community service obligations were being recognized by the newly set up telecommunications regulator - PANGTEL. Information imbalance exists with a western dominated media market, and strategies were needed for democratic media. The reality of the rural condition required proper planning of communication for development. While the cost of Internet access needed to be reduced both urban and rural information centres / telecentres needed to be made available - though there would be problems that need thinking through with regards rural centres.
Human resources - These were vital for development of infrastructure and there was a need to invest in future productivity through ICT and libraries and for all students needed to be immersed in IT. An information management programme for those handling information in organisations was required while information skills should be taught widely. In place of current partial and ad- hoc approaches educational institutions and systems should teach information skills which were integrated to other curricular areas and use a well developed model for ease of acceptance and delivery. There would need to be a shift towards resource based learning so the trend towards negligible provision of resources would be reversed, acknowledging that resources can both be traditional and of western origin and recognising that both have roles to play. Other training areas required were development communication training for industry liaison workers; and information/ IT aspects in training for teachers. Improved attitudes among LIS workers were required. There could be a consortium in information and communication training to save duplication given the urgent need to implement the human resource aspects of the National Policy on Communication and Information.
Networks - There was to be a national network for educational institutions and it should be possible to connect key points around the county at least as an initial measure. Libraries needed to be included in networking. PNG Intranets needed development and improved IT in Government was required. There should be full participation in NII, APII, GII initiatives. There was a need to form associations, (and restart the association for librarians) and influence Government.
Getting into Print - introduced potential authors into the ways and means of getting their books published by a reputable publisher - conducted by Linda Crowl, Publications Fellow, Institute of Pacific Studies (IPS), University of the South Pacific.
Communications and Democracy - outlined issues relating to defining the right to information; new communication technologies; experience and future directions from the point of view of local broadcasters, women's media groups, and people in the so-called developing world - conducted by Brij Tankha, Centre for the Development of Instructional Technology, New Delhi
Information Management : Concepts and Human Resource Requirements - conducted by Andrew Treloar, School of Mathematics and Computer Science, Deakin University
Research Methods for Library and Information Services and APINESS Research Upgrading Meeting conducted by Dr. D E K Wijasuriya, Visiting Professor, Department of Library and Information Studies, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia. In addition to research methodology and profiling information needs in their organisations this aimed to inform participants of further stages of the Key Sector Information Support Project and of developments of the UNESCO APINESS network and the Pan Asia Network of IDRC.
A common experience in Papua New Guinea and similar countries has been the limited range of initiatives with regard to use and awareness of information. Political awareness was needed, with commitment and vision from above. There was a need to look for information solutions and a need to look at relevant projects and experience elsewhere. NGOs should make use of technologies for awareness purposes - and there was need for advocacy in relation to information skills and training issues. Steps have to be systematically taken in order to raise the awareness of the entire society about the importance of information, and to prepare it for entering the information age, although the seminar showed that traditional knowledge had always been a key feature for survival and development of local groups.
Doubtless the Waigani Seminar helped the awareness issue, however, it is really a contribution towards work that needs to begin. For real effect such a project requires efficient organization, a careful selection of the themes to be addressed, a coordinated and well planned implementation process. Also required are good material and human resources, and, more especially, the existence of political will on the part of the decision makers.
To expect such a process to emerge in Papua New Guinea at present would be optimistic. However the seminar did reach a degree of common feeling amongst a wide variety of groups, and efforts are being made to continue the good work. This will be possible if we take adequate stock of what we have and discuss openly and comprehensively a future that will allow us to make more effective use of both the knowledge of Papua New Guineans and the information we need to use from outside networks and sources.
John Evans, South Pacific Centre for Communication and Information in Development, UPNG
The above artilce: Introduction: Information and the Nation: the 1997 Waigani Seminar is Copyrighted © 2000 by John Evans,
South Pacific Centre for Communication and Information in Development, UPNG
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