National Research Foundation   National Research Foundation
  CODATA Task Group Workshop

Strategies for Permanent Access to Scientific Information in Southern Africa: Focus on Health and Environmental Information for Sustainable Development

CODATA Task Group on Preservation of and Access to S&T Data in Developing Countries

South African National Committee for CODATA

U.S. National Committee for CODATA

This international workshop was hosted on 5-7 September 2005 by the National Research Foundation at the CSIR Convention Centre, Pretoria, South Africa.

  1. Review and discuss the current status of practices for sharing of and permanent access to scientific information resources related to sustainable development, primarily health and biomedical data, earth and environmental science data, and related scientific, technical, and medical (STM) literature in the southern African region.
  2. Identify and discuss the scientific, legal and policy, institutional and economic, and management and technical factors relevant to permanent access to digital scientific information resources discussed in task 1, including an examination of different possible models and their potential benefits and shortcomings in the SADC region, and drawing on examples of other digital permanent access practices in related areas. Identify and invite organizations and individuals that are already implementing successful approaches and analyze their methods and challenges.
  3. Identify follow-up activities that can be taken toward improving permanent access for each major type of digital scientific information resources discussed in task 1, taking into consideration the results of the discussions under tasks 1 and 2.
  4. Provide a networking opportunity for workshop participants across discipline, institutional, and national boundaries.

Related Projects and Links

Workshop Agenda

Summary Report

National Academies Contacts

National Research Foundation Organizers' Contact Details


Scientific research and education everywhere are increasingly driven by digital data and information. At the same time, scientific databases and information resources on the African continent tend to be difficult to manage and disseminate effectively. This is certainly true for data and information relating to critical health and environment issues in sustainable development. The successful preservation of and access to these, and other, scientific information resources is essential for advancing not only the scientific and technical progress in the southern African region, but also to build capacity in research and education, and to promote social welfare, sustainable economic growth, and good governance.

The effective long-term preservation of and meaningful access to scientific information resources in all countries increases in importance because they are essential components of the global public research and education infrastructure, which can now be integrated through the Internet. The challenges in storing and maintaining access to these growing collections of data and information are substantial, for both developed and developing countries. Moreover, although many of the challenges that require sustainable solutions are the same for digital data and information across all disciplines, others are distinct or unique to certain disciplines or types of information. Some solutions may be based on extending or emulating existing successful models, while others may benefit from entirely new approaches that are context-dependent. In addition, the growing availability of affordable and usable digital networks in even the least developed countries makes access to data and information resources from other countries, including the United States and other OECD countries, especially important.

Resolving the many different problems in the preservation of digital scientific information resources successfully today will provide great benefits for future generations; the costs of inaction will be incalculable, but certain to be substantial. It is important to recognize, however, that even the most economically developed countries have encountered various difficulties with the permanent access to digital data and information. There also are legitimate reasons for restricting access, based on important considerations of personal privacy, national security, and proprietary concerns. The identification and analysis of these and many other issues is needed to develop sustainable long-term plans for permanent access to digital information resources in the southern African context.

In light of these considerations, the 14 countries that comprise the Southern African Development Community (SADC) were chosen to provide a more cohesive geopolitical focus and structure to the project. Moreover, the sustainable development of southern African region faces important challenges relating to public health and the environment, and provides a compelling focal point for exploring these informatics issues in detail. Educating and informing policymakers and the public about problems such as the spread of infectious diseases, preventing desertification, managing fragile ecosystems, conserving water resources, and protecting biodiversity today depends on preserving and accessing many different digital information resources.

Related Projects and Links

This workshop is one of a series focused on issues related to the preservation of and access to scientific information resources in developing countries co-organized by the U.S. National Committee for CODATA in collaboration with local national CODATA committees and with the CODATA Task Group on Preservation and Archiving of Scientific and Technical Data in Developing Countries.

The workshop will take into account the results of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), which was held in Johannesburg, and the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which was held in Geneva in December 2003. Both of these U.N.-sponsored events focused on the issues related to the bridging the divideóeconomic, technical, and culturalóbetween developed and developing countries. Long-term availability of and access to scientific information resources will help accelerate progress on those goals. The workshop will also highlight examples of pilot projects and other programs that are supporting the U.N. Millennium Goals and addressing the issues identified at the WSSD and WSIS.

Workshop Agenda

The agenda for the core three-day workshop will include plenary presentations and panel discussions by policy makers and foreign experts with particular focus on policy issues; poster presentations and technical demonstrations highlighting local, regional, and international projects and initiatives that foster the sharing of scientific data and information resources to promote sustainable development; and parallel thematic sessions focusing on health and biomedical data, earth and environmental science data, biodiversity data, and indigenous knowledge systems in the health and environment areas, and the related STM literature.

Workshop outputs

  • A summary report will be prepared and published by the South African National Research Foundation, and made available on this Website.
  • A special edition of the CODATA DataScience Journal will be published to highlight presentations at the workshop.
  • The workshop will directly support many of the World Summit on the Information Society's action items, including those on e-health, e-environment, e-education, and e-science, promoting "the long-term systematic and efficient collection, dissemination, and preservation of essential scientific digital data" (WSIS Plan of Action, item 22b).
  • A CD-ROM will be distributed in the SADC region containing the summary report and other essential information of the workshop.

National Research Foundation's Organizers Contact Details

Eddy Maepa, Manager, Information Services and Advice
Henda van der Berg, Coordinator, Information Services and Advice

National Academies Contacts

Paul Uhlir, Director, U.S. National Committee for CODATA
Amy Franklin, Program Associate, U.S. National Committee for CODATA


Home Top of Page