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Synergistic Community Communication & Interaction Processes

May 1992

"A key contribution [of the International Synergy Institute] to the Conference will be in the application of information technology in support of effective communication, access to information, and broad-based participation in environment and development decision-making through its Synergistic Communication and Interaction Processes Project that incorporates two and a half years of work on Conference-related communication, information and participation issues." (From A/CONF.151/PC/L.28/Add.13, a United Nations document listing non-government organizations accredited to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development)

1 Overview

The Earth Summit or United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), to be held in Rio de Janeiro from June 3-14 will be -- in conjunction with the '92 Global Forum -- one of the most important meetings in history. An estimated 25,000 leaders of governments and non-government organizations will be gathering to address the challenge of reversing the destruction of the earth's resources while providing for the needs of present and future generations of humankind. It is expected that intergovernmental agreements will be reached on Conventions (Treaties) on the Global Climate and on Biological Diversity, on Agenda 21 -- an action plan to prepare for the 21st century -- and on a Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

    1.1 The Role of Information Technology

    The Synergistic Community Communication & Interaction Processes project has evolved from an assessment that the power of emerging information and communication technologies can play an invaluable role in responding to critical challenges of the Earth Summit, through supporting timely, effective communication, access to information, and broad-based participation. Utilization of the growing power and portability of microcomputers has been central to the project; until recently, the project had been developed on a fifteen pound laptop; its place is now giving way to a much more powerful seven pound notebook computer.

2 Information & Communication Treaty/Agreement

The unifying theme for the project in Rio is the Information & Communication Treaty/Agreement among non-government organizations (NGOs) -- one of almost thirty proposed Treaties/Agreements that are being developed in response to a widely-held perception of inadequacy in the intergovernmental agreements that are being developed for the Earth Summit. The International Synergy Institute is serving as a co-convener of the Information & Communication Treaty/Agreement process with NGOnet, an organization in Montevideo, Uruguay that is committed to strengthening international communications among NGOs.

    2.1 Focus of Treaty/Agreement

    The Information & Communication Treaty/Agreement will include a statement of principles on information and communication and an NGO plan of action involving tangible commitments by NGOs. A key theme of the Information & Communication Treaty/Agreement will be the effective utilization of information and communication technology to support effective and timely access to, and dissemination of, information and to enable communication among NGOs.

3 Da Zi Bao

Da Zi Bao -- Chinese for "wall newspapers" -- is an interactive bulletin for participants at the Earth Summit / '92 Global Forum that will be the visible centerpiece of the project in Rio. Da Zi Bao will be the principal means of communication among the 10-15,000 participants in the more than three hundred conferences of the '92 Global Forum. Da Zi Bao incorporates a sophisticated integration of a relational database with advanced word processing/desktop publishing features. Da Zi Bao incorporates breakthroughs in interactive conference processes, as well as being a new form of interactive free press.

    3.1 Key Da Zi Bao Elements

    Several elements of the Da Zi Bao process have particular significance on their own, in addition to the value they contribute to the implementation of Da Zi Bao. Among these are the compilation of a database of NGOs and the selection of software programs and applications that are used in the Da Zi Bao, not least of which is the planned use of multilingual translation software.

4 Multilingual Translation Software

Da Zi Bao is planning to make use of the Atamiri multilingual translation software to support the translation of selected messages. Language is one of the key barriers between effective communication among diverse groups from around the world, and Da Zi Bao is designed to accept messages in any of four languages -- English, French, Spanish & Portuguese -- and to provide for translation of selected messages. While the concise, 50 word, format of the Da Zi Bao messages simplifies the task of translating, the sheer volume of messages to be translated makes the overall task a formidable one. The Atamiri software, developed in La Paz, Bolivia, translates text making use of the well-defined linguistic structure of an indigenous Bolivian language as an intermediate step that allows the rapid production of a draft translation in several other languages.

5 Comprehensive NGO Database

The integration of a database of conference participants is one of the key features of the Da Zi Bao; not only does it simplify the task of recording who has submitted the messages, it is a key to the ability of Da Zi Bao to support networking and communication among those whose messages address similar issues, and makes it easy to generate a mailing list of participants with common concerns.

    5.1 Directory of Global Forum Participants

    The integration of the database of participants with desktop publishing features of WordPerfect will permit the production and distribution of a directory of Global Forum participants, with organization, address, phone, fax, telex and electronic mail information during the conference, greatly facilitating follow up contact between participants. The information compiled for the directory will be fed into the publication of a more comprehensive directory that will be published in book form after the conference. Preparations are being made for diskette-based distribution of the database.

6 Software

The implementation of Da Zi Bao has relied heavily on a number of microcomputer programs; while WordPerfect and DataPerfect, its companion database, have been the software foundations of the process, many of the other programs have played an invaluable support role, without which the whole process would not have taken form. An annotated listing of key software products has been compiled, and will be used in the information technology transfer component of the program; the programs will be used in developing recommendations for a model portable office.

    6.1 Other Diskette-based Resources

    The compilation of software programs is part of a broader development of diskette-based resources, and a mechanism for distributing them. A recent successful example has been diskette-based distribution of Agenda 21, the proposed plan of action that is being developed in the UNCED negotiations. The draft of Agenda 21 for the final Preparatory Committee was distributed in five different formats, with text and database versions for MS-DOS and Macintosh computers. Also being planned are diskette-based resources providing resources for capacity-building & training in the effective use of information and communication technologies.

The Synergistic Community Communication & Interaction Processes is a project of the International Synergy Institute (now Information Habitat: Where Information Lives), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. For more information, contact Robert Pollard at

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