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Paper presented @ IST Africa 2010


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BELIEF-II – Lessons learned on engagement and policy impacting e-Infrastructure usage and deployment in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Paper presented @ IST Africa 2010

  1. 1. PAPER FOR WORKSHOP SESSION"Emerging e-Infrastructures for Science in Sub-Saharan Africa" BELIEF-II – Lessons learned on engagement and policy impacting e- Infrastructure usage and deployment in Sub-Saharan Africa Author: Tiziana Lombardo, Metaware SpA. Co-author: Stephen Benians, Metaware SpA Abstract: This paper provides an overview on the main results and lessons learned within the BELIEF-II project lifespan (April 2008-March2010) in terms of community involvement and engagement of policy dialogue in South-Africa and in other southern regions Keywords: e-Infrastructures, International Cooperation, Policy Dialogue.1. Introductione-Infrastructures have not only become necessary to deal with increased complexity intackling scientific challenges, but also as a strategic tool fostering collaborative innovationglobally. e-Infrastructures enable researchers in different locations across the world tocollaborate in the context of their home institutions or in national or multinational scientificinitiatives. They can work together by having shared access to unique or distributedscientific facilities (including data, instruments, computing and communications). The European Commission, through the GÉANT and e-Infrastructures Unit of theEmerging Technologies and Infrastructures Directorate looks forward to expanding andconsolidating research communities that collaborate virtually in the EU and across theworld its, mainly through GÉANT, which is a high speed link reserved exclusively forresearch and education, as well as specific high-performance Grid-enabled advancedinfrastructures. It’s main mission is to change the way research is carried out, sharing access tocomputing and reliable data resources, for the benefit of Global Virtual ResearchCommunities. It particularly supports: • Development of high-capacity and high-performance communication (GÉANT) and grid empowered infrastructures
  2. 2. • Deployment a coordinated pan European scientific data infrastructure • Promotion and expansion of the adoption of e-Infrastructures by user communities • Construction of critical new facilities based on the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) roadmap for new research infrastructures of pan- European interest • Support the construction of new computation and data treatment facilities (petaflop supercomputing) • Strengthen multidisciplinary grid and supercomputing infrastructures • Stimulation of new organisational models • Exploitation of the power of e-Infrastructure as a vector of international cooperation This context, set the framework for the BELIEF-II project[1] activities as an enablerof the “efficient & effective communication of results, networking and knowledgebetween e-Infrastructure projects”. As such, it was in a pivotal position to enable twoaims of DG INFSO’s e-Infrastructures initiative:1. “Support new and replicable, working and organisational methods (based on the shareduse of resources across different disciplines and technology domains.”2. “Provide technologies for collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and experimentation.” Communication is a two-way operation that involves exchanging ideas, experiencesand knowledge. These must be interpreted and reacted on through feedback before thecommunication process is completed. Moreover, efficient communication is not just asharing of information, but sharing of information in order to achieve a certain planned orexpected result. Communication problems lead to uncertainty and make it difficult todevelop strategic partnerships in the long run. BELIEF aims to be the glue between projects by supporting their disseminationand communications activities, but also by serving as a link to the myriad initiatives thatalready exist, either outside Europe, other EU financed projects, or other member statenational level initiatives. Of course, communications - and the many tools that entails - isthe key strategy to reach this objective. Investing in the adoption of e-Infrastructures’ can really benefit not only Europe butparticularly the emerging economies. e-Infrastructures are always about development ofnew knowledge, but the impact of this on the development of economies and societies inemerging economies is potentially a much steeper growth curve. For this reason, anotherproject’s strong focus is to address the policy makers in order to support theirunderstanding of the importance of e-Infrastructures adoption. Inherent in this process therefore is a dual track approach to communications. Onthe one hand BELIEF ensures that those who implement the e-infrastructures do so in a waythat responds to researchers’ needs; on the other, BELIEF ensures that researchersunderstand the value of e-infrastructures adoption and how to link with them in order tocarry out virtual collaborative researchers that impacts society.
  3. 3. 2. ObjectivesIn this paper the authors describe the major lessons learned in terms of policy dialogueengagement in southern regions such as India and Latin America with a particular focus onthe experience gained in the Sub-Saharan Region. 3. MethodologyBELIEF-II is an EU FP7 project aiming to support the goals of e-Infrastructure projects tomaximise synergies in specific application areas between research, scientific and industrialcommunities. The project builds on the success achieved in FP6 BELIEF [2] and has the strategicobjective to coordinate the efficient & effective communication of results, networking andknowledge between e-Infrastructure projects and their users to promote worldwidedevelopment and exploitation. More specifically, BELIEF-II seeks to ensure that Europeanand international diverse e-Infrastructures projects evolve in synergy with one another inorder to: 1. Ensure common directions and efficient interaction; 2. Reinforce the relevance of Europes e-Infrastructures worldwide sustaining successful development and exploitation; 3. Network a wide range of stakeholders through a coordinated mechanism to support a vibrant e-Infrastructure community; 4. Synchronise e-Infrastructures priorities through easy to read e-infrastructure communication products; 5. Provide a unique, communication platform for projects to manage their content, communicate activities to users and the public to learn more about e-Infrastructures; 6. Ensure a global outreach of the EU projects results at international level 7. Set the basis and facilitate the international cooperation in the e-Infrastructures field 8. Ensure the communication of e-Infrastructures results at an international policy making level These primary goals have been achieved through multifaceted communication activitiesaimed at involving the e-Infrastructures community on a large scale:Networking events: • 3 e-Infrastructures Concertation meetings and related reports – aimed at facilitating the knowledge exchange among EU Funded projects • 2 Brainstorming events – aimed at identifying and discuss big-picture opportunities for e-Infrastructure applications and to collaborate to find solutions for problems identified in the eConcertations • 3 International Symposia, organised respectively in New Delhi (India) in December 2008, in Sao Paulo (Brazil) July 2009 and in Johannesburg (South Africa) December 2009 – aimed at bringing together key actors and policy makers to discuss high-level issues in e-Infrastructure development;
  4. 4. Publications: • e-Infrastructures guides: o The global e-Infrastructure for research: pushing the boundaries of innovation o Another e-Infrastructures guide is under publication • The Creative Connections dvd, available on the BELIEF YouTube Channel: http:// & the production of a new dissemination video which will be released in April 2010. • 2 EC e-Infrastructure dissemination publications on-going (titles to be finalised): o Success Stories – Issue II o Towards a Sustainable European e-Infrastructure • 5 issues of Zero-In eMagazine (Research Infrastructures News publications) - http:// building solutions: • The community portal, the e-Infrastructures one-stop-shop made for the community by the community • The Digital Library a public repository of over 15,000 e-Infrastructures related documents including videos, presentations, articles, press releases, interviews and projects deliverables.1 Creating international networking opportunities and knowledge sharing. The EU is linking up with many emerging economies, notably via the GEANT2 project,to Asia, Latin America, Africa, and across the Mediterranean and Middle East.Bearing in mind the importance and the need to facilitate dialogue among the key e-Infrastructures players not only in Europe but also beyond frontiers, BELIEF organised aseries of successful international symposia, whose outcomes have been summarised in aseries of position papers1 that have been distributed to the local and European policymakers to make sure that ‘sustainable development’ is at the core of funding policy andproject planning. The international events organised in the frame of BELIEF-II are: 1. New Delhi – India (28th-29th January 2009) on the theme of Distance Learning as an e-Infrastructures Application attended by over 100 participants from Europe and India (, 2. São Paulo – Brazil (16th-17th July 2009) on the theme of e-Infrastructures for sustainable development ( international-symposium) 3. Johannesburg - South Africa (7th-9th December 2009) in conjunction with the CHPC annual meeting on Advancing research competitiveness through collaboration: towards an integrated South African cyberinfrastructure The importance of these International Symposia lies in the fact that there are variationsin national funding priorities. Some countries have well funded national grid services andsupercomputers, others do not - and this is not necessarily an East-West or North-South1 By the time this article was written, the South African Symposium position statement was under preparation
  5. 5. divide. This makes the role of e-Infrastructures all the more important for those that do nothave access to such ‘national’ faculties. The EU, via investment in this technology iscreating a single ERA, so that regardless of political boundary, the researchers acrossEurope can collaborate without leaving the confines of their laboratories or office. Thesame idea can be scaled up to global level, where there are of course massive disparities inresearch infrastructures generally worldwide. The BELIEF symposia in Latin America, South Africa and India facilitated thedialogue between developers of e-Infrastructures, policy makers and the e-Infrastructuresusers in these regions: this dialogue is key for sustaining those links since if technologydoes not serve the specific needs of a region, it will die away, unused. As discussed above, e-Infrastructures are always about development of newknowledge, but the impact of this on the development of economies and societies inemerging economies is potentially a much steeper growth curve. Education or healthapplications may need to be more targeted towards ensuring primary care or education inrural areas for example, rather than collaborating with developed world researchers inpioneering new drugs, or analysing patient data. In a sense, the benefits of adopting e-Infrastructures are whatever we want them to be. Each region will have a different strategicpriority for e-Infrastructures applications, but the result will always be - if the planning andimplementation is effective – societal and economic development. The South African Symposium had the ambitious goal to be the meeting point ofstakeholders not only from the local region, but also from India and Latin America. Thus,the event in SA was also a global forum facilitating collaborations between south-southpioneers (Latin America and South Africa), e-Infrastructures representatives from emergingeconomies (India), and EU stakeholders.Specifically, this “South-South” symposium brought together the most relevant e-Infrastructures initiatives already in place in South Africa (through its SANReN initiative)and in the Sub Saharan region (such as UBUNTUNET) , Latin America (EELA &CLARA), India (GARUDA, Indian National Knowledge Network), and Europe (EGEE,GÉANT) to boost the possibility to work together towards a shared e-Infrastructure.2 Engaging policy dialogue in South AfricaBridging the digital and scientific divide within African countries and between Africa andother regions, as well as fostering cooperation on space applications and technology tosupport Africa’s sustainable development objective underlie the Africa-EU Partnership onScience, Information Society and Space [3]. The South-Africa and EU partnership in Science and Technology is not only supportedby the South-African participation within the EC Framework Programmes (FP4-FP7) but isreinforced also by a constructive policy dialogue around the affirmed role of science andtechnology as instrument for sustainable development. South Africa is from its side a verydynamic emerging economy: after years of academic isolation, the country’s highereducation institutions have eagerly rejoined the international research environment. The country puts out more research than any other on the continent, generated by 12500 academics and as many researchers based at research councils, institutes andcompanies. There are hundreds of researchers who have achieved international recognitionas leaders in their fields of research.
  6. 6. Most research capacity in the higher education sector is located in the country’s top 12universities, but the National Research Foundation is spending R43-million each year in anequity drive to boost research activity in the historically disadvantaged institutions.Altogether, the higher education sector contributes 34 percent of the country’s research anddevelopment initiatives. [4] If this shows a very positive scenario that is reflected also in the support that policymakers gave to the CHPC&BELIEF event, it is important to underline that, as in eachcountry, the communication gap to be filled is not only among policy makers from differentcountries but especially among local policy makers and the science community. Much ofthe literature on the science-policy interface, in fact, concludes by advocatingintermediaries to remedy the divide between scientists and policy-makers [5] that existpractically in each country. Concerning the BELIEF project case study, the liaison with the South African policymakers, as well as in the organisation of the 5th International Symposium, showed a verypositive trend in terms of filling this divide between science and policy dialogue. The roleof the South African partner of the BELIEF project - the Meraka institute [6] - washowever a fundamental pillar for this successful experience. 4. ResultsBELIEF-II has the objective to promote a deeper understanding of what e-Infrastructuresare and to highlight the benefits of adopting this new way of doing research. The activitiescarried out in its framework, from the eMagazines to the Brainstorming and Concertationprocesses, have been then carried out in order to achieve this major and ambitious goal. Inparticular, it has to be pointed out the innovative process adopted within the eventsorganised, that facilitated and created an effective ideas exchange and fruitful interactionamong participants. The project has strategically impacted the FP7 priorities providing thee-Infrastructures stakeholders with:• Support of emerging fields within e-Infrastructures by offering a multifaceted forum for the exposure of new ideas and by facilitating the efforts of individuals pursuing these ideas• Foster the creation of Global Virtual Research Communities• Encouragement for the pooling of resources between e-Infrastructure operators at European and International level• Spread of good practices and encouragement to the use of e-Infrastructures to attain a more equitable development and distribution of knowledge.• Dissemination and promotion of research and development activities on e- InfrastructuresConcerning the International Symposia in particular, the concrete outcomes can besummarised as follow: • New user communities engaged by providing an understanding of the level of activities and resources in the four countries (EU, Latin America, India, South Africa). • Enablement of "latent" collaborations between international research teams • Support of the complementary national-level resources so that the user communities across the four regions would be enhanced by working closer linked.
  7. 7. • Support in building technical community cohesion between the four regions: • Support in the increase in the partnership between international HPC centres, data repositories, advanced eResearch R&D organisations • Support to increase the level of exchange of novel ideas, best practises and technical expertises. • Support the establishment of mutually beneficial areas of work at international level 5. Conclusions The interactions the consortium had, especially with the international projects,showed that there is a great need for efficient and effective communication: projects have tocommunicate to each other in order to avoid time consuming in the exploitation of the sameapplications. Bi-lateral communication is also needed to facilitate the interaction betweenusers and providers. In fact, whilst e-Infrastructures are well known in the academia andresearch area, the same cannot apply to the industry/SMEs for example. It is fundamental tobring together different user communities and providers in order to guarantee that scientificinformation, and the tools to access this information, is heterogeneous and globallydistributed & accessible. For the rich and efficient use of information, seamless queryingacross and along the different axes and stages of the information chain is needed, alsowithin and across scientific communities and domains. There is still a low level ofinteroperability, particularly across different domains which has to be overcome. This lack of proper communication is more evident at a policy level, where fewactions have been put in place in order to make the “e-Infrastructures message” penetrate. The policy makers approached in the lifespan of the project showed great interest onthe themes presented. The more efficient communication strategy is the one that adopts a“multiple media” approach: involvement of the policy makers with an active presence atevents (in roundtables for example), a follow up after their participation at the event iscertainly needed. The follow up can be maintained at a midterm by sending the eventproceedings and event position paper while, to maintain it at a longer term, further supportare needed: hard copies of the e-Magazine sent to the policy makers, proved to have a greatimpact as well as the different publications (DVD, e-Infrastructures success stories, etc)more than e-mail and e-Newsletters. Communication in general, must be however drivenwith accurate attention: the quantity of information each individual receives day by daythrough the multiple media channels available in the era of the web 2.0 is impressive and isdestined to grow, however, the quality of this communication is often scarce and themessages are hard to understand. In an international context, it is fundamental to focus the communication by payingconstant attention to the specific country needs and priorities. For this purpose, not only anaccurate study of the country is needed, but also a strong link with a local organisation isnecessary. Last but not least, as a general and obvious conclusion, language plays afundamental role: the message must be clear and understandable at all levels: “You do notreally understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother” - AlbertEinstein
  8. 8. References[1] BELIEF-II Project website –[2] BELIEF project website -[3] First Action Plan (2008-2010) for the implementation of the Africa-EU strategicpartnership [4] South Africa’s official gateway website:[5] Political Science – Strengthening science-policy dialogue in developing countries,Nicola Jones, Harry Jones and Cora Walsh, Overseas Development Institute, 2008[6] Meraka website -