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On The Line: Interactive Preparations for the First Earth Summit
A Project of EcoNet / the Institute for Global Communications - April 1990


Overview:

EcoNet intends in this project to develop, manage, synthesize and make accessible information resources in order to enhance participation of all parties involved in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The primary product that will be drawn from extensive information on EcoNet will be the guide and newsletter "On The Line: Interactive Preparations for the First Earth Summit." To our knowledge, "On The Line" will be the first publication that has ever been designed for global electronic distribution as a typeset microcomputer document.

EcoNet is a computer-based communication and information sharing system which facilitates collaboration among environmentally-concerned organizations and individuals throughout the world. EcoNet, along with PeaceNet and ConflictNet (conflict resolution) -- its companion networks, are the three principal programs of the Institute for Global Communications (IGC). IGC is a division of The Tides Foundation, a California based 501(c)(3) corporation. EcoNet will work closely with its Association for Progressive Communications (APC) partner networks in Canada, England, the USSR, Sweden, Australia, Nicaragua, and Brazil. Users throughout the world will have access to this information through the other APC networks or through local or international access directly to EcoNet.


With the use of a standard personal computer -- either IBM-compatible or Macintosh -- an industry-standard word processor, a modem, phone line and printer, "On The Line" can be downloaded around the world as camera-ready copy that simply needs to be printed and reproduced. The methodology will support decentralized reproduction and distribution of the newsletter that will enable its widespread and timely publication.

"On The Line" is much more, than a microcomputer-based version of U.S.A. Today. "On The Line" is a guide and a gateway to the world of electronic conferences, and to an electronic clearinghouse of documents pertaining to the Earth Summit. In that respect, "On The Line" addresses a widely acknowledged need -- to provide a printed guide to and synthesis of UNCED-related material.


The import of the electronic distribution system for "On The Line" does not rest in its display of technical ingenuity, but in the way that -- combined with electronic conferencing -- it will help citizens and non-government organizations be effective users, providers, and disseminators of key information. The "Road to Brazil" is now less than sixteen months long, and much of the critical work needs to be accomplished in a much shorter time frame.

Above all, "On The Line" will provide practical support for citizens and non-government organizations around the world to participate in the preparations for the first Earth Summit -- the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Especially now that the United Nations General Assembly has decided that the 1992 Conference will be at the level of heads of state, many are seeing it as the most important gathering in human history.

The publication "On The Line" will be the most visible manifestation of this project, however, it is by no means the whole. The publication will be a focal point for a spectrum of interactive preparatory processes -- those that are facilitated by this project, and those that evolve independently.


Objectives:

This project will encourage the optimal use of electronic conferencing and microcomputer resources to enable effective, informed, broad-based and equitable participation in the preparations for the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit). Principally, On The Line will:

    a. Publish a guide and newsletter that will serve as a guide to the use of online resources in preparations for the Earth Summit;

    b. Support the development and implementation of strategies that enable the effective, interactive contribution of online and microcomputer resources to the Earth Summit.

The principal task of the project will be to publish a newsletter, "On The Line: Interactive Preparations for the First Earth Summit," that will serve as a guide to the use of online resources in preparations for the Earth Summit. There has been steadily growing recognition of the importance of electronic conferencing in preparation for 1992; the newsletter will provide timely and practical support for the growing number of people who are ready to take the plunge into the world of computer communications. The infrastructure and initial information on EcoNet that is in place has already attracted substantial interest. Collaborative relationships have been developed with UNCED staff in the US and Switzerland.


Methodology Of Publication:

One of the unique features of this project is that it will take advantage of standard word processing software combined with a moderately powerful microcomputer and a laser printer to produce documents that come very close to professional typesetting standards.

Conventionally, documents are disseminated via electronic networks in a "text" form, without any formatting or control codes. For the large majority of people who download such a document, it is beyond their level of skill and experience to format the document in a manner that could pass for an attractive newsletter. However, by providing for the electronic dissemination of a "binary" word processing files of the newsletter, it becomes quite a simple task for someone to download a document that is formatted and set to produce camera ready copy.


Production & Distribution:

The first task of the project will be to produce and disseminate an issue of the newsletter within the first week of the project. Because so much of the foundation for this project is already in place, getting out this initial publication immediately will provide very public exposure for "On The Line" and encourage the widest use of and participation in these activities.

Once the newsletter has been created and disseminated on EcoNet and the APC networks, an active effort will be made to encourage other major NGO organizations and networks to download and reproduce the newsletter, and to disseminate it within their own networks.

In addition to the U.S. Citizens' Network on UNCED and the UNCED Secretariat, with whom substantial discussion has already taken place, a broader set of organizations will be approached to explore their willingness to reproduce "On The Line" and disseminate it within their own networks. Through networking, in person and online, collaborative relationships have already been established with organizations including the Global Tomorrow Coalition, Centre for Our Common Future, Canadian Council on International Cooperation, Environment Liaison Center International, International Environmental Negotiation Network, Environment and Development Resource Center, Alliance of Northern People for Environment and Development, and Environmental Lawyers Alliance Worldwide.


Format And Translations:

In order to provide for the different computer resources of organization, the project will facilitate translation of the primary edition into alternate formats for different combination of microcomputer hardware and software. NGOs in developing nations will be encouraged to translate the newsletter into other languages. Several word processing formats for "On The Line" will be developed to make its professional printing as simple as possible for all organizations. In addition, a text file will be available that can be printed as a plain document from any personal computer.


"On The Line" As Model Project:

The development of this publication in a manner designed for re-publication by other organizations raises an assortment of issues that will be addressed in the course of the project. The essence of the way in which these issues will be addressed is through the development of collaborative relationships with people and organizations who are willing to undertake responsibility for translations into other formats or other languages, or who are willing to re-publish the newsletter.

As part of the process of encouraging re-publication of the newsletter, the project will examine and evaluate policies and guidelines that would address copyright and economic implications of online publishing in a cooperative nonprofit context, and perhaps develop a model framework for cooperative publications.

In conjunction with the process of creating and publishing a newsletter, attention will also be given to the development of a model for the use of this methodology as a publishing medium. In this context, the project will also provide technical assistance and support, as needed, to organizations for the electronic dissemination of their newsletters concerning UNCED.


Editorial Board:

The project will assemble an editorial advisory board in order to facilitate broad-based input into "On The Line" and to maintain close coordination with electronic information clearinghouse activities. The editorial board will be drawn from key members of NGO networks, and from people and organizations who are active in electronic networks.


Training In Electronic Conferencing:

The publication of the newsletter, in conjunction with the substantial level of interest that has already been generated in the use of electronic conferencing in preparation for the 1992 Conference, can be expected to generate increased demand for training in the use of electronic conferencing. In order to facilitate more effective use of electronic conferencing, the project will also support, compile and make available appropriate training resources in print and online, and will also facilitate in-person training sessions in the effective use of electronic conferencing.

In addressing the availability of training resources and opportunities, it will be important to pay attention to the development of personal contacts and the provision of hands-on opportunities to find out about electronic conferencing and the practical ways in which it can help to meet their information and communication needs. Many early advocates of computer communications were disappointed that their enthusiasm was not translated into widespread use of the methodology -- a failure that may have reflected two key missing ingredients: a concrete project in which to apply the methodology (and the Earth Summit is clearly such a project), and an underestimation of the support and hand-holding that is needed by many novice users before they feel comfortable online.


Networking:

Another factor in facilitating a transition to more extensive use of electronic networks is the value of personal contact as a means of translating new ideas into reality. The active participation of the project staff in UNCED-related meetings and conferences, will develop and strengthen personal contacts with key people involved in the 1992 process, and will provide opportunities for access to personal responses to questions and concerns about the use of electronic networking. Already seeds have been planted regarding other ways that EcoNet and the APC networks can serve UNCED at its Preparatory Committee meetings and during and after the Conference. Accordingly, it is essential that this project both be successful in its precise objectives while being involved as appropriate in planning longer range activities.


Contents & Publication Schedule:

While the maximum value of the newsletter will be to someone who makes use of electronic networks, the publication is being designed so that it will also be of interest and value to people and organizations that do not have effective access to computer communications. The newsletter, with an initial monthly publication schedule, will generally contain the following feature sections:

  • Updated information on UNCED-related electronic conferences
  • Reprints of (excerpts from) key documents that are available online
  • Provision of annotations of selected documents and discussions that are online
  • Profiles of key people who are active online in UNCED-related electronic conferences
  • Calendar of selected events and conferences related to UNCED
  • Articles about electronic conferencing, and tips on how to be more effective in using electronic networks
  • Reviews of books and publications on electronic conferencing, environment and development
  • Contact names and addresses of key people involved in online preparations for the Earth Summit
  • Information about how to access key information resources.

During the Preparatory Committee meetings, which will be attended by the Project Director, supplementary issues of the newsletter will be published. Special issues will also be published at other times as the need arises.

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For more information, contact: Robert Pollard, Project Director, On The Line: Interactive Preparations for the First Earth Summit at rpollard@gn.apc.org


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