Network Issues Paper : Part 2

In order to place the following paper in context, one must refer to the document: Discussion Points for Preparation of Networks Issue Paper, dated April, 1999, and discussed with the Board of Directors of ORBICOM and at its Annual General Meeting on 17 April, 1999. For ease of reference, this paper is attached as Annex 1.

Specifically, the points in the present document address the following issues:

  • Does a viable Network in the field of communications exist, as originally envisaged by the founding members? If not, why not? If it does exist, in what ways can it be improved?
  • It is essential that all members of the Network accept that in the short term collaboration and partnership may have a cost, but in the long term there is the unwavering belief that the benefits of collaboration far outweigh the costs.
  • While it may be easy to identify common broad program areas of research, there must be no uncertainty about the implications of collaboration in research and applied research activities with respect to time, financial and human resource investment, and shared ownership of research results and outputs. Unless these implications are understood and fully accepted by all the key stakeholders, less than total commitment will lead to a Network in name only.

One of the important results of the International Conference on Connecting Knowledge in Communications was the ACTION PLAN, that was endorsed by the participants after a full and dynamic discussion. Building upon past initiatives in the field of Communications, Information and relevant technologies, as well as incorporating the valuable contributions of the speakers and panellists at the conference, it was agreed that:

access to and effective use of knowledge and information are key ingredients of the emerging global knowledge economy and essential tools for sustainable economic and social development at the individual, community, national and international levels;

significant investment will be required - from both private and public sources, including the academic - to strengthen the information and communication infrastructure of developing countries, as well as their ability to generate and disseminate content;

the world community will need to develop a plan of action that enhances the utilisation of information and communication for educational, cultural, social and economic development.

Keeping these three broad principles in mind, it is important to identify two critical roles and functions of the evolving ORBICOM network. Borrowing terminology from a conceptual review of networks, by Anne Bernard, in September, 1966, ORBICOM is both a Projective Network, and a Network which serves as a Platform for Action.

ORBICOM clearly fits the profile of a Projective Network, for is was created with a broadly- stated initial vision, aiming to defining a new research agenda by providing the opportunity for independent action on the part of its members reflecting a wide range, but hopefully complimentary, of interest with the CTI research and policy community.

Although the reports from the UNESCO Chairs, for the most part, do not mention ORBICOM in their statements of goals, main areas of research activities, and future priorities, as critical members of the ORBICOM community, it is evident that there is congruence on the broad visions and goals. When reference is made to ORBICOM and linkages between the Network’s program and the program of the Chairs, it is clear that the end product will be effectively achieved due to participation in the larger ORBICOM community. The challenge is how to make this linkage universal amongst all UNESCO Chairs and Associate members of the Network.

A most critical role for ORBICOM is its functioning as a Network for a Platform of Action. ORBICOM has the potential to serve as a forum of support for a variety of stakeholders in the university, public, and private sectors, who wish to achieve greater influence on global communication issues; to provide moral support on common issues of concern; and to increase their expertise. All of these aspects were evident at the recent International Conference on Connecting Knowledge in Communications.

What is apparent, and indeed most interesting, is that the concept of Networks as reflected in the earlier Issues paper presented to the members of ORBICOM in April, 1999, has not been internalized by a large number of the members, neither the UNESCO Chairs, nor the Associate members. While the reason may be in part to the embryonic state of the Network, it is much more likely that there does not exist at the present time a concrete issue around which members of the network can address and join their intellectual forces to resolve the stated problems. It is necessary therefore to obtain, initially, a buy-in to the importance and benefit of a Network prepared to address the principles agreed to in the April International Conference.

Equally important, there is a requirement for the members to reaffirm the agreed upon parameters of the ORBICOM Network that were framed around the seven broad areas, cited in the Network Issues Paper:

Communication and International Development

National Information Policies and Communication Law

Access to (transfer of) New Technologies and their Uses

Institutional or Organizational Communication

Media Development and Management

Publication Relations, Public Affairs and Advertising

Professional Training and Ethics

To build upon and strengthen the Platforms for Action and Projective characteristics of the ORBICOM Network, it is important to consider two additional critical inputs. Firstly, it is necessary to review the Report of Activities the UNESCO Chairs, submitted for the 1998 - 1999 period. All of the submissions received to date have been posted on the ORBICOM web site. This information is extremely valuable for what has not been reported as much as what has been reported. As mentioned, earlier, the majority of reports make no reference to the ORBICOM Network, yet their research activities and priorities for the future are compatible with the Network’ program areas, as well as being integrated into the broad principles agreed to at the April International Conference. It might be assumed therefore that it is only a matter of time before one sees the specific research agendas for the respective UNESCO chairs being totally compatible with the research agenda created by these same members for the ORBICOM Network.

Secondly, in order to bring greater clarity to this discussion, it may be appropriate now to move from the theoretical to a more concrete level. In other words, it may be easier to understand how a dynamic and effective Network may function if a specific issue is presented and a mechanism outlined as to how the members of the Network can move a research agenda forward.

Returning to the Action Plan endorsed by the participants at the International Conference on Connecting Knowledge in Communications. Following upon the basic agreed upon principles, 6 possible Strategies and Responses were identified:

Communication professions have a vital role to play as both designers and providers os content in the information economy.

Human resources are at the hear of economic development - we have the people, what the need is meaningful training, skills development and access to appropriate technologies.

Information technologies must ber harnessed to induce individual creativity and innovation, and for equitable social advancement globally.

Massive public and private investments are urgently needed to develop national communications infrastructures, capacities and content.

Training must be multidisciplinary, intellectually flexible, socially mobile, multilingual and culturally sensitive.

The information revolution requires a new generation of trainers with a different skills profile.

Examining these Strategies and Responses within the context of the specific theme of the International Conference: BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN TRAINING AND EMPLOYMENT IN COMMUNICATIONS, it seems obvious that the concerns of:


Human Resource Development and Capacity Enhancement;

Appropriate Application of Communication and Information Technologies;

Legislation relating to Access; and


represent a focus for the first set of issues around which all members of the ORBICOM Network, representing all sectors in the communications community can bring an important perspective. The resulting dialogue, identification of a research agenda, the establishment of global research teams to undertake the necessary studies, hopefully will generate important outputs should influence policy making at the national and international level. If successful, the ORBICOM Network will be recognized for its holistic expertise and its multifaceted voice that must be heard.

Again referring to the International Conference, many important single voices were heard from the University community, the private sector, the NGO community, and the public sector. If a dialogue can begin within the membership of the ORBICOM Network, where all of these communities are represented, it is not difficult to imagine the impact that will be felt on the new profile of the communication professional, the openness of the marketplace, and most importantly the governmental policies that will be formulated to respond to and support the new knowledge society.

To move this current discussion further, which can be considered in two parts:

    • The acceptance of the concept of the ORBICOM Network, as outlined, and have a total buy-in by its members; and
    • An agreement by the members that the first theme for consideration by the Network, which is consistent with the research activities of the members, and meets the fundamental principles of the endorsed Action Plan, will be Employment and the related sub-themes as outlined above,

it is proposed that a closed moderated electronic discussion group be created on the ORBICOM Website. This would be the mechanism to determine the degree of acceptance of the points presented in the two network papers, and reactions, modifications, and suggestions regarding the proposed theme that would serve as a basis of a Platform for Action and a dynamic Projective Network.

Prepared by: Martha B Stone
Senior Partner
MOENSTON Associates
DRAFT (1) : April, 1999