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Home arrow Workshops arrow Western Hemisphere Collaboration arrow Information Technology Research to Solve Global Problems
Information Technology Research to Solve Global Problems PDF Print E-mail

Ruth Connolly and Heidi Rauch
Organization of American States

 Ron Cole
University of Colorado, Boulder 


Following a meeting in Central America (extended greatly by Hurricane Mitch) representatives of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Organization of American States (OAS) identified and agreed to explore joint collaboration in computer science and engineering to address global problems important for the development of the Western Hemisphere. Subsequent NSF/OAS conversations led to the "Workshop on Western Hemisphere Collaboration: Information Technology Research to Solve Global Problems," held in Orlando, Florida on February 22, 1999. The Workshop brought together 16 distinguished computer scientists from Latin America, Canada and the United States, and specialists from the OAS’ Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD).

The workshop participants identified four key areas in which development of information technologies are essential to solve global and regional problems in the Western Hemisphere. These are:

computing and networking infrastructure to support communication, collaboration, and development and delivery of timely and relevant information;

developing content relevant to the people and problems of the Western Hemisphere;

universal access and design so people from diverse cultures with diverse skills may participate in the emerging information society; and

education and training so people in all countries can benefit from and contribute to solutions to regional and global problems.

Four Workshop Breakout Groups examined the challenges in each of these areas and suggested possible lines of action for test bed research projects that would apply the latest information technologies to benefit residents of OAS nations. Topics included point-to-point low cost international connectivity; universal access for populations of diverse language, education and social class; vertical and horizontal content generation within and across national borders; and education and training needs to stimulate understanding and use of electronic information products and technology.

The primary recommendation of the Workshop, strongly endorsed by all participants, was to pursue aggressively the current opportunity for multilateral international cooperation in information technology in the Western Hemisphere by leveraging existing activities using the strengths of the OAS and the NSF. The participants recommend holding a technical meeting in the summer of 1999 to discuss further the issues raised and to elaborate specific proposals for multilateral execution. The focus of this meeting would be to identify projects in which development of information technologies will provide both immediate and long-term benefits to Western Hemisphere residents.


There is growing consensus among scientists and politicians in the United States and the countries of the European Union and Latin America that international collaboration in computer science and engineering is a necessary paradigm for advancing science and technology and for solving global problems. In the United States, the Administration and Congress have advocated international collaboration as a means of leveraging U.S. investment in science and technology, training scientists and engineers to compete in global markets, and spreading democracy. In a recent address to the United Nations, Vice President Gore announced a Declaration of Interdependence, in which he challenged the world community to create a global communications network accessible and useable by everyone in the world. A recent report from the U.S National Academy of Science "Being Fluent with Information Technology " explains the crucial role of IT in society.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has taken a leadership role within the United States promoting international collaboration in computer science. The NSF has sponsored a number of workshops that have led to international agreements and joint research programs. Workshops in the United States and Europe led to an international agreement between the United States and the European Union to collaborate in areas of computer science, and resulted in a joint NSF/EU program to develop information technologies and research test beds to support multilingual information access. A series of NSF-sponsored workshops led to joint research programs with the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACyT) in Mexico and the National Research Council (CNPq) in Brazil. The joint research program between the United States and Mexico has produced immediate and dramatic benefits, including dramatic increases in the funding of computer science research within Mexico, and the establishment of computer science-related Centers of excellence in several Mexican universities.

Stimulated by the success of these programs, the NSF sponsored a Workshop on International Collaboration in Computer Science in November 1998. The Workshop report [] concluded that international cooperation in computer science is essential to progress in science and technology, and that the potential benefits of solving global problems justify extraordinary efforts to promote and sustain international projects. The report identified bilateral research agreements between the United States and partner countries as an ineffective model for international collaboration, as such agreements require a great deal of time to implement and limit collaboration to pairs of countries. The Workshop proposed new collaboration models that stimulate and sustain collaboration among many countries simultaneously. The Workshop also recommended increased attention to international collaboration in Latin America.

Fortunately, an organizational structure which will permit the immediate implementation of the International Collaboration Workshop’s recommendation to foster multilateral computer science collaboration efforts currently exists within the Organization of American States (OAS). As the oldest international organization of countries in the world, OAS has the stature, tradition, expertise and infrastructure to develop and implement programs that can engage and benefit all countries in the Western Hemisphere. On its side, the National Science Foundation supports pioneering research in all areas of computer science and provides access to a network of top researchers. In retrospect, a partnership between the National Science Foundation and the Organization of American States (OAS) to promote international collaboration in the Western Hemisphere seems obvious and inevitable.

Fate also took a hand in stimulating this partnership. During a meeting of the OAS’ Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) in Tegucigalpa, Honduras from October 28-30, 1998, Gary Strong of the NSF and David Beall of OAS/CICAD discussed the possible benefits of NSF and OAS working together to promote and sustain international collaboration in the Western Hemisphere. As these discussions occurred during the devastation of Hurricane Mitch, the potential benefits of using information technology to prepare and respond to the disaster were apparent. In subsequent meetings in the United States, representatives of the NSF and OAS concluded that the time was right to work together to explore ways to use information technology to benefit OAS member countries.

A Workshop on "Western Hemisphere Collaboration: Information Technology Research to Solve Global Problems," jointly sponsored by the NSF and OAS/CICAD, was held in Orlando Florida on February 22, 1999 to explore opportunities for international collaboration in computer science in the Western Hemisphere. Sixteen distinguished computer scientists attended the Workshop from Latin America, Canada and the United States, and specialists from CICAD.


The meeting opened with an inaugural session during which Dr. Gary Strong of the NSF and Ruth Marie Connolly of OAS/CICAD addressed participants. The attendees then introduced themselves and their work. These presentations suggested several promising areas of collaboration that could simultaneously address Hemisphere-wide problems in the areas of health, drugs and/or science. Information technologies required to address these problems fell into several categories. These included (a) developing computing and network infrastructure throughout the Western Hemisphere to support information access, collaboration, publishing and education; (b) developing content (e.g., digital libraries) relevant to Western Hemisphere problems and cultures; (c) developing means to provide relevant and timely information to diverse user groups (e.g., about threats to health or crops, natural disasters, or opportunities for education or employment); and (d) developing accessible interfaces supporting human computer interaction in different languages for diverse groups of users including disadvantaged users and users in remote areas.

Following the inaugural and introductory plenary sessions the participants worked together to identify four key areas fundamental to Western Hemisphere countries’ use of information technologies to solve regional and global problems. These areas defined the focus of the discussions of the breakout groups:

I. Infrastructure

II. Content

III. Universal Access/Design

IV. Education/Training

These breakout groups enabled people to share information about the status of information technologies and problems specific to OAS countries and to suggest lines of action according to their interests. The sessions produced valuable insights and outlines of lines of action that will be considered at a subsequent technical meeting aimed at defining specific test bed proposals. This follow up technical meeting is planned for early summer of 1999. The following sections summarize the main points of the breakout sessions.

I. Infrastructure

Participants: Alberto Cabezas (Chair), Guy de Teramond Peralta, Ruth Marie Connolly, Dmitris Metaxas

The Infrastructure Breakout Group noted that collaboration between the NSF and OAS Project ReDHUCyT from 1989-1997 played a major role in connecting the Latin American science and technology community to the INTERNET. This effort needs to be renewed to facilitate interconnectivity between and among the countries of the Hemisphere. Currently, most Latin American countries communicate with each other through the United States because it is easier or less expensive to do so. This causes delays that adversely affect communication and collaboration.

Research related to low cost interconnectivity among countries using alternative telecommunications technologies (i.e. such as broadcast INTERNET) has great potential to support international cooperation across many areas, such as drugs, disaster preparation and relief, among others. Research is also needed on best practices for universal low cost access to basic services, including wireless connections for remote areas. Having government agencies, industry and academic institutions participate together in this research would be most advantageous, since it involves the construction/reconstruction, operation and future development of national and international communication networks.

From 1995-1999 commercial INTERNET service providers gained presence in Latin America, although services are concentrated in certain population centers, such as the nations’ capitals. Some countries enjoy competition among providers, whereas privatization in other countries has resulted in a single provider. There is often lack of collaboration (and sometimes competition) between the private sector and academic networks. The commercial sector (INTERNET service providers and companies) can not by itself provide the services, bandwidth and other types of access needed for academic research projects and for socially important applications.

Most Latin American and Caribbean countries are not participating in the Next Generation INTERNET II. It would be important for the United States to extend INTERNET II to the whole of the Western Hemisphere, in a way similar to its current cooperation with Canada. A good regional seminar showing what is envisioned for next generation Internet services would be of immense benefit.

In terms of potential areas for international cooperation, a major issue is the design and construction of network infrastructures that will allow INTERNET access points that are widely available and also affordable. In this context, research is needed on physical network infrastructures that will allow the use of technologies such as ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode). Another potential research test bed project would relate to the use of new technologies and techniques (SDH – Synchronous Digital Networks, WDM – Wave Division Multiplexing). Technologies to be investigated could be: wireless technologies, alternative connection technologies for remote areas, voice communications over the INTERNET, the use of the broadband spectrum (diluted frequencies where permissions are not needed), the use of "cache" or "proxy" servers, and the facilitation of user access to "cache" information repositories. Other areas of cooperation include training workshops, professional and technical exchange, joint research projects in areas such as digital libraries (seen as vital), tele-medicine, and security issues.

In terms of policy issues telecommunications companies and government agencies need to come to an understanding regarding the challenges of the next generation INTERNET. It will be necessary to study future needs and ways in which the research community can collaborate without having the private sector feel that the community is in competition with it. This is likely to require educating national telecommunications companies so they understand the benefits of participating in multilateral research projects that will create the next generation of communication technologies and infrastructure.

II. Content

Participants: Jill Austin (Chair), Abel Packer, Alfredo Sanchez, Jack Gelfand

In keeping with Vice President Gore’s Declaration of Interdependence presented last October to the United Nations, it is crucial that information produced in Latin America and the Caribbean be available both locally and internationally. This is necessary to enhance development and improve regional quality of life through access to timely and credible information.

Latin American and Caribbean countries lack the resources to make their local data readily available. There is a need for solutions, tools and standards to facilitate organization and publication of local data.

A set of research test beds is proposed for developing and integrating technologies around topics selected on the basis of their relevance to national and regional problems:

a) Develop a network of inter-operable information resources from different countries in Spanish, Portuguese and English around common topics such as health, education, agriculture and bio-diversity. Deal with issues of digitizing existing and producing new information.

Note: The network should be universally accessible – i.e. from the community level through to universities, the government and then internationally, taking advantage of the capabilities of educational institutions. The demonstration chosen should be a difficult one and worked across different countries, bottom to top (vertically) and also horizontally.

b) Sponsor a workshop in a Latin American country to discuss these issues and elaborate a project to develop a network of information resources on an agreed upon topic from different Latin American and Caribbean countries.

It was suggested in the plenary session that heard the Breakout Group reports that two topics be selected as different foci are needed.

III. Universal Access/Design

Participants: Judy Brewer (Chair), Jorge Rios, Ron Cole, Kathy McCoy, Johanna Moore

The Breakout Group on Universal Access/Design examined the immense challenges inherent in its implementation in some OAS countries (i.e. Peru) due to factors such as diverse populations, culture, different languages/dialects, and vastly different infrastructure capabilities and requirements. These diverse and different problems require different solutions. There is no single model that could be applied across the board: local contexts are very important.

For example, a typical scenario in a developing OAS country would involve at least four different populations (farmers; residents of isolated towns; squatter people in cities; middle class city dwellers). The provision of universal access would require a thorough analysis of each user group’s needs and social conditions, and different test beds/models. Before formulating any test bed proposal, the Group felt that field visits to two or more target areas would be vital. The scenario is complex, and there are no easy solutions. Any test bed project would call for an analysis of the problem by the users (i.e. farmers; the "man in the street;" key individuals and technicians in the region).

The Group suggested that test bed projects proposed could learn from and perhaps be modeled on existing efforts, and that multiple bodies of knowledge could be delivered through the same test bed.

IV. Education/Training

Participants: Jerry Feldman (Chair), Ana María Prat, Heidi Rauch, Kathleen McKeown

The Education/Training Breakout Group first defined education within the context of Workshop objectives, recognizing particularly the importance of promoting international collaborative learning environments through information technology in order to increase educational opportunities, expand the educational technology knowledge base and strengthen regional linkages.

1. Education is helping people understand what is available and how to use it – at all levels as well as in all the conventional modes.

As computer-mediated, video and telecommunications technologies change the ways that educators construct and deliver instruction, education is needed to help teachers, students, development practitioners and other users understand what new technologies are available and how they may be applied to enhance student and teacher performance and to tap into different forms of intelligence. There is great need to enable individuals, particularly those in developing countries and communities, to use current and emerging technologies on a lifelong basis. This is particularly important for active participation in the global knowledge environment.

2. Information must be packaged appropriately.

Technology can be used as a vehicle for constructing knowledge and can search, retrieve, and disseminate information on a local and global scale. However, technology is only as good as the content it supports. In addition, teaching about technology in isolation has limited value. Relevant content must be generated, and the user as producer paradigm plays a crucial role in the creation and packaging of relevant content. Thus the education thread interacts with the content thread of Section II.

3. Collaboration mechanisms will play a key role

When teachers and students actively engage in collaborative information technology projects and develop technological expertise, the results are both innovative and empowering. It has been demonstrated that learning and motivation increases by engaging in collaborative distance learning projects. Collaborative environments also give crucial peer support to teachers and other workers in training. Through unique collaborative projects, opportunities are created to build innovative community and private sector cooperation. All these factors underscore the importance of collaborative software and joint design applications. In addition, using low cost networked environments such as the Internet may help to preserve local cultural values and contribute to the body of world knowledge by enabling developing countries to produce and disseminate materials for worldwide consumption in a cost-effective manner.

4. Paradigms for Implementation

One major area of concern unsolved throughout the Hemisphere - and one that is not just a problem for the South - is how to use information and communication technologies for formal and non-formal education in non-mainstream communities. There is great interest in sharing best practices for community access, the creation/digitization and application of relevant content and human resource development from both North and South. It was recognized that there is at least as good a chance that the breakthroughs can be achieved in the South as in the North, and that best practices should be gleaned so researchers and educators may learn from each other.

One possible test bed topic would be to couple best practices gained from working with rural and inner city communities in various parts of the Americas and tapping reserves of Latin American social capital in working in non-mainstream communities. There are successful test beds in both North and South America, the critical question is scale. The panel agreed that IT is the key to scaling up.

The Group also discussed the idea of twinning research centers in the North and the South to expedite collaboration on test bed topics. Facilities would be interdisciplinary (computer science, human computer interaction, education, psychology, sociology, anthropology, linguistics) and include research, deployment, professional exchange, training, and evaluation. Twin centers could facilitate horizontal cooperation and promote information sharing among the scientific community. As part of the collaborative process, best practices in terms of the creation of educational modules, training methodologies, and models of access and diffusion would be considered. An added attraction of this plan is that the twin education test beds would inherently involve and exploit the other three topics: infrastructure, access and content.


Following the Breakout Group sessions, Workshop participants returned to hear the conclusions of the respective groups and to offer their comments.

All of the participants were uniformly enthusiastic and unanimous in their opinion that an NSF/OAS partnership offers an historic opportunity to advance knowledge and to develop and apply new technologies to improve quality of life in the Western Hemisphere and solve global problems that affect all individuals.

In the closing session, OAS representative Ruth Marie Connolly, and NSF representative Gary Strong commended the participants for the progress made and thanked them for their collaboration. Dr. Strong also framed the meeting in terms of the need to correlate the development of people and technological capability, particularly in terms of the need for an anthropologically motivated intervention that will help indigenous populations prosper and participate in the emerging information society.


The Workshop was in full agreement that the opportunity for Western Hemisphere collaboration in computer science and information technologies should be pursued as aggressively as possible. It was proposed that a technical meeting be held in Summer 1999 to identify specific test bed projects and collaboration models for carrying out these projects. The participants at this meeting should represent a balanced mix of technical experts from North, Central and South America, and delegates with expertise in planning and implementing national and international programs.

The Workshop also agreed that the four focus areas—infrastructure content, universal access/design and education/training—together provide the essential foundation for studying and establishing the procedures, knowledge and technologies needed to solve problems of importance to the Western Hemisphere through international collaboration. These focus areas should be combined in test bed projects that serve best the needs of the Western Hemisphere

Finally, workshop participants recommend that the organizers and participants of the summer 1999 workshop follow procedures similar to those established and implemented at the Orlando Workshop. The participants felt that these procedures were effective in identifying issues and reaching consensus on difficult and initially ill-defined problems, and should therefore be extended to the next meeting. The approach recommended in the summer 1999 technical meeting is to group participants interested in similar technologies to propose projects and procedures for applying these technologies. The meeting could then break into small groups to develop projects for selected topics, utilizing all relevant technologies to insure positive results. Care should be taken to select topics that would permit the application of different sets or subsets of technologies and allow for the utilization of state of the art research.

For example, if health care, alternative agricultural development or preserving culture were to be selected as themes, following identification of the populations to be involved, a battery of technologies could be deployed to serve the needs of the specific groups of individuals affected. Alternately, a particular lead technology – such as a virtual library - could be chosen and information channeled to a particular group of users (epidemiological researchers or nurses working with drug addicts) through the implementation of relevant technologies that would best serve their needs.

The projects developed by the working groups could then be selected (or ranked) by the meeting plenary—perhaps a maximum of three could be selected—and a call for proposals issued to implement the projects by multilateral teams composed of universities, national and international funding agencies and perhaps other organizations (e.g., industries and community organizations). The committees could evaluate the project proposals and, in coordination with OAS/NSF, assign responsibilities and oversee execution of the project’s timetable. The committee chair would be responsible for coordinating with the heads of the committees for the other projects to insure the replication of their work in the other project areas. Overall OAS/NSF representatives to whom the committee chairs would report could exercise coordination.



Dr. Abel Packer
Interim Director
Rua Botucatu 862 Vila Clementina
São Pãulo, São Pãulo
Tel:(5511) 5723226
Fax:(5511) 5723226


Dr. Jill Austin
National Clearinghouse on Substance Abuse
75 Albert Street, Suite 300
Otawa, Ontario K1P5E7
Tel:(613) 2354048 ext. 232
Fax:(613) 2358101


Dr. Ana María Prat
Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología
Casilla 297-V
Canada 308, Providencia
Santiago, Chile
Tel:(56-2) 365-4450
Fax:(56-2) 655-1395

Dr. Alberto Raúl Cabezas
Red Universitaria Nacional
Canada 239
Santiago, Chile
Tel: (562) 3370300
Fax: 2040865


Dr. Alfredo Sánchez
Director de Biblioteca
Universidad de las Américas/Puebla
Apartado Postal 100
Santa Catalina Mártir
Cholula, Puebla 72820
Tel:(52-22) 292257-292076
Fax:(52-22) 2292078


Dr. Guy F. De Téramond Peralta
Centro de Informática
Universidad de Costa Rica
San José, Costa Rica
Tel:(506) 2834814
Fax:(506) 2255911


Dr. Ronald A. Cole
University of Colorado, Boulder
Campus Box 258
Boulder, CO. 80309
Tel:(303) 9382580
Fax:(303) 9382584

Dr.Gary Strong
Deputy Director, Information and Intelligence
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, Virginia
Tel:(703) 3061928
Fax:(703) 3060599

Kathleen R. McKeown
1214 Amsterdam
450 Computer Science Building
Department of Computer Science
New York, N.Y. 10027
Phone: (212) 939-7118
Fax : (212) 666-0140

Jack J. Gelfand
Department of Psychology
Princeton, University
Princeton, NJ 08544
Phone: (609) 258-2930
Fax : (609) 258 1113
E-mail: jjg@phoenix.Princeton.EDU

Jerry Feldman
International Computer Science Institute
1947 Center St.
Berkeley, CA 94704
Phone: (510) 643-9153
Fax : (510) 643-7684
E-mail: jfeldman@ICSI.Berkeley.EDU

Gregory D. Abowd
College of Computing & GVU Center
Georgia Institute of Technology
801 Atlantic Drive
Atlanta, GA 30332-0280
Phone: (404)894-7512
Fax : (404)894-9442

Kathy McCoy
University of Delaware
CIS Department
University of Delaware
Newark, DE 19716
Phone: (302) 831-1956
Fax : (302) 831-4091

Johanna Moore
Computer Science Department, and
Learning Research and Development Center - University of Pittsburgh
519 LRDC
Pittsburgh, PA 15260, U.S.A.
Phone: (412) 624-7050-
Fax : (412) 624-9149

Judy Brewer
Director, Web Accessibility Initiative International Program Office
World Wide Web Consortium
MIT/LCS Room NE43-355
545 Technology Square
Cambridge, MA, 02139, USA
Phone: +1.617.258.9741
Fax: +1.617.258.5999

Jordan Cohen
Thanet Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
609-924-3061 fax



Ms.Ruth Marie Connolly
Chief Information Systems and Services
Coordinator Inter-American Drug Information System (IADIS)
Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD)
1889 F ST. NW Room LL-10
Washington D.C 20006
Tel:(202) 4583809
Fax:(202) 4583658

Mr. Jorge Ríos
Specialist in Alternative Development
Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD)
1889 F ST. NW Room LL-10
Washington D.C 20006
Tel:(202) 4583739
Fax:(202) 4583658

Ms. Heidi Rauch
Specialist in Demand Reduction
Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD)
1889 F ST. NW Room LL-10
Washington D.C 20006
Tel: (202) 4583629
Fax:(202) 4583658