THE REDALC METHODOLOGY FOR BUILDING NATIONAL NETWORKS IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

By Daniel Pimienta, FUNREDES Director, Santo-Domingo, e-mail: pimienta!daniel@redid.org.do

This a reduced version of "Research Networks in Developing Countries: not exactly the same story!", a paper written in November 1991, first presented in the Network Users Training Workshop (Santo Domingo, July 92), and in INET93. The full paper will be part of the INET93 proceedings and is accessible by e-mail in the GNET archive (FTP xxxxxx0)


ABSTRACT

This paper presents a structured set of guidelines to help start and operate research networks in developing countries. The proposed methodology is the result of a combination of studies and field experiences in Latin America since 1989 (REDALC Project). The introduction identifies the implicit model and the key factors for the success of research networks creation in the industrial countries. A comparison is made with the developing country's environment calling for a different approach. A summary list of the activities linked to network building and operation is shown which demonstrates that the bulk of activities is in managerial tasks rather than in technical one's. A hierarchical approach for problem solving is described with associated guidelines. Some success prone ingredients are presented.

I INTRODUCTION

The traditional success story for network creation have proven the unbeatable superiority of the bottom-up approach. Putting in place an initial kernel of users have always been followed by the emergence of a nation-wide network. The mechanisms which allow the growth from the base have usually been considered as an inherent part of the environment.

A slight detail, among others, makes the method not necessarily transferable from the industrial countries to the developing countries: MONEY.

FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS IN RESEARCH NETWORKS

If one analyzes the growth factors of the EARN/BITNET model, one will discover, from the bottom to the top, the presence of this efficient tool:

Money was of course not enough. Some other factors were keys to this success:

All that process have created a wide consensus among networkers about the validity of the "pragmatic"/"realistic" bottom-up approach against the "planned"/ "theoretical" top-down approach.

The network architects could have been more inclined, by their profession skills, towards the second approach. However, they were put in the situation of being always ahead of the norm makers, thus encouraged to build on the path and maintained an "advance technology" type of attitude.

The only low rated points of the research networking emergence are the natural consequence of a technology driven situation:

PROJECTING THE MODEL INTO DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

There are some risks in projecting the model which was proven in the industrial world to a quite different environment.

AN APPROPRIATE METHODOLOGY

This paper aims to identify the factors which argue for a more balanced approach (in between the top-down and the bottom-up) in developing countries. Derived from that, a methodological tool is presented, which has been successfully applied in two real cases (Peru and Dominican Republic), and may be largely applicable elsewhere. Readers from other regions have to evaluate if the conditions are similar enough so that it is applicable. Obviously, the necessary cultural adaptation must be provided by network builders in exporting the methodology.

II BACKGROUND

The proposed methodology is the result of a set of in-depth studies conducted, since 1988, by the author, his team and his partners in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAyC). REDALC (Red de America Latina y el Caribe) is a project initiated by Union Latina, an International Organization aiming at the defense of languages and cultures derived from Latin. The REDALC project looks after a steady, regional and comprehensive solution for research networks. The studies started in Europe in 1988. An EEC funding was obtained in 1990 for a two years feasibility study in the field, in cooperation between Union Latina, Unesco and ACAL (Academia de Ciencia de America Latina). Other activities of the REDALC team are:

September first, 1993, the Redalc Office is being transformed, with the support of Union Latina, into an international NGO named FUNREDES (Foundation Networks and Development) aiming at the promotion of Computer Mediated Communication in developing countries.

III INDUSTRIAL COUNTRIES VS DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

Hereafter are collected various figures to provide the reader with the magnitude of the basic figures involved and the differences between both environments. All these figures are to be taken as average estimates for units, with the accepted limitation that there is no such a thing as an average country. They represent the implicit building foundations of the national research networks. The importance of the observed difference calls for different models in each environment.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
x                    COMPARISON IC vs DC                        x
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
x     I T E M                     x    I C       x    D C       x
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
x RESEARCHER BELONGS    N1        x ACADEMIC     x DISPERSED    x
x                                 x              x              x
x RESEARCHER JOB PROFILE          x FULL-TIME    x PART TIME    x
x                                 x ONE JOB      x SEVERAL JOBS x
x                                 x              x              x
x RESEARCHER SALARY               x 1000 US$     x 100 US$      x
x                                 x              x              x
x RATIO RESEARCHER PER INHAB.     x 1/1000       x 1/10000      x
x                                 x              x              x
x RATIO NETWORK BUDGET TO STATE   x              x NON          x
x EDUCATION AND RESEARCH (N2)     x MARGINAL     x MARGINAL     x
x                                 x              x              x
x RESEARCH INSTITUTION INFRA-     x              x              x
x STRUCTURE  (N3)                 x FAIR         x CRITICAL     x
x                                 x              x              x
x AFFORDABLE COST PER USER FOR    x              x              x
x NATIONAL NETWORK  (N4)          x 1000 US$     x 100 US$      x
x                                 x              x              x
x NATION-WIDE X25 OR VAN NETWORK  x MATURE       x NEW OR NONE  x
x                                 x              x              x
x OTHER COMMUNICATION MEDIAS      x              x              x
x (telephone, mail, fax)          x FAIR         x CRITICAL     x
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NOTES:

N1: It is worth noticing the special role played by Non Governmental Organisations (NGO's) as an alternative place for researchers.

N2: The telecommunications are the largely predominant part of the visible side of the yearly operational budgets.

N3: This refers to the appropriate characteristics in term of budget, administrative and managerial skills, computer and telecommunication infrastructures to set up, operate and maintain a node.

N4: As example, the building of the Porto Rico research network (CRACIN) consumed a budget of approximately US$ 20 Million. The same amount is sufficient to build a Latin America proprietary regional backbone which would decrease the telecommunication yearly operational costs, says only few hundreds of thousand US$ per year, for the whole region. The figure is obtained assuming a satellite transponder provided by the region as counterpart to an International Agency investment in terrestrial equipments and technology transfer costs. Porto Rico have 2000 some users and the whole region an estimate 200,000.


IV HOW TO OBTAIN THE BUDGETS FOR BUILDING AND OPERATING NETWORKS IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES?

The three following alternatives does not bring the right solution.

  1. Directly from the end-users.

While, researchers from the industrial countries have never been asked to contribute as end-users, there is a perceived trend in developing countries for such pattern. It is possible to argue that the communication are cheaper (and more reliable) using data communication than traditional means (telephone, telex, fax). But is it fair to have third world researchers pay the bill which their counterparts in the industrial world had and still have subsidized? The user toll model would lead to a "only-who-can-pay-research network" reserved to a minority of third world wealthy universities. Is that the real credo of networking?

  1. Directly from the user Institutions.

The large majority of research centers cannot afford it, while there is a general agreement on the need for networks to be democratically and openly accessed. It is fair and recommended to have the Institutions participated to the administrative costs, but it is questionable to have them subsidize the telecommunication part.

  1. From Public Authorities.
Of course, the Governments should participate in financing such activities prone to contribute to the global development. But it is very difficult for them to support it all: they have to complete more urgent tasks in the Education and Research fields, with narrow budgets. For instance, they must improve the alphabetization rate and complete the creation of basic education infrastructures (including teacher's salary).

  1. From the computer industry?

EARN start-up costs in the order of ten millions of US $ were obtained, between 1985 and 1987, thanks to an IBM grant for the international telecommunication costs. Later, other companies like Digital participated, and it becomes traditional to observe the financial support from the computing industry. However, times have changed and the benefits have become thinner lately for that market segment! And, anyway, the forecasted return of investment does not justify "no free lunch gifts" of that level of magnitude for most developing countries.

Three alternatives remain applicable together:

  1. Regional Integration.

Substantial economies scale could be realized by building regional transport infrastructures in a coordinated fashion. Furthermore, regional agreements should be set up for the leverage of taxes on national and international telecommunications used for research networks. Last but not least, dedicating channels in a regional satellite is an appropriate way to offer a regional stable and independent solution.

For developing regions, integration is an immediate financial urgency. Furthermore, networking is a typical area where inter regional, and more generally, south-south cooperation should apply.

  1. Dealing with Telecommunication Operators.

Most developing countries have very recent data network infrastructures or are on their way to build them, together with value added services. The telecommunication infrastructures are essential for the country development and what has been the rule in the industrial world (lack of cooperation between networkers and telecommunication operators) is unacceptable there. Furthermore, the interest of the data communication operators is to use that small market segment which such a huge multiplicative effect on the whole market (university teachs the future decision makers of the business world). The offer of special discounts to the researcher community could be a wise solution to help solve the chicken and egg syndrome which prevents the arising of the telematic market.

Networks are a crucial area of common interests between the telecommunication market players, the world of science and technology and, eventually, the whole development area.

  1. Multilateral Cooperation
This is probably the only way to trigger the financial process. The International Agencies may provide the funding to fulfill the basic regional infrastructure and act as a reinforcing agent for the two first factors, within regional programs frameworks.


V A PRIVATE HOT TUB VS A PUBLIC SWIMMING POOL: INTRODUCING THE TASK OF BUILDING A NETWORK

There is a common mistaken idea which results from a dogmatic faith about the bottom-up magics. Create a node with few users, connect it to another network and you eventually get a national network. The transformation requires a lot of organization and engineering, and indeed, a lot of money!

Let us make the analogy of the difference between a hot tub and a swimming pool. You can be wet in both of them. Yet, it is not very realistic to believe that you can offer a collective bathing service to a large user community ... in your personal hot tub!

And beware your plumber if this person tells you there is no technical problem to transform your hot tub into a swimming pool. The most delicate problem may not be the water delivery but some management one's where your plumber is not skilled for, like, for instance:

Finally, you realize that the work to transform your apartment in a public establishment is such than you decide to consider the problem professionally.

This analogy does not mean to make wet the intents of seeding networking by small realizations. They are required actions participating to the learning curve process. The point is to avoid the confusion between a ten users e-mail system with a nation-wide solution!

A bad habit has been created of flagging the countries which have network access with no consideration of percentage of served users. This is a consequence of the weird solution-oriented inventory method: counting the nodes. Who really cares about the number of nodes? Computers products salespersons! What really matters is the number of users!

They are many steps to building a national research network, and while the set up of the technical infrastructure is important, it is predictable time and money-wise and only represent a small part of the whole investment. The tasks involving organization and human relations, being much less deterministic, are more exposed to delays or failures.


Building a network has much more to do with the gathering of
* people under a common and structured organizational   scheme  *
* than installing hardwares and software!                       *
*****************************************************************

VI WHAT IS A RESEARCH NETWORK?

A research network is a set of telematic services offered to a large user population. Beyond the setting up of the nodes and the connections a set of necessary tasks need be performed, without being exhaustive:

Beyond the basic functions of e-mail, distribution lists, conferences, remote logging, file transfer, special attention must be paid, from the beginning, on the application level (user and conferences directories, information networks, data bases).

Such a system is characterized by its quality of service. The quality is a concept which summarize the global user perception with regard to the various components:

These quality concepts translate in complex engineering and managing requirements on the system, like for instance:

The fundamental objective is to serve the maximum of the potential users at an appropriate trade-off level between cost and quality.

VII GUIDELINES FOR BUILDING A NETWORK IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES


7.1 INTRODUCTION

We are presenting, as "REDALC methodology", the result of a process which has gone through:

Neither of the two countries in the experiment can be considered as "easy". Peru, for the size of the research world, the complex socio-cultural situation, and the dense history of trials in networking. In the Dominican Republic, the smaller size and the good telecommunication environment made it simpler, however the networking learning curve has to be drawn from scratch, and the researchers are not identified and organized.

The methodological tool includes three basics:

  1. PROBLEM SOLVING PRIORITY SCHEME: A logical and hierarchical grouping of the type of problems, usable as a priority scheme tool.

  2. STEPS: A chronological organization of the development, usable as a task scheduling tool.

  3. OTHER INGREDIENTS: An identification of the appropriate ingredients which contribute to success.

    7.2 PROBLEM SOLVING PRIORITY SCHEME

The problems should be treated with descending priority from the top to the bottom of the pyramid presented hereafter.


V                               .

I                          INSTITUTION

I

I                    O R G A N I Z A T I O N

I

I                F    I    N    A    N    C    E

I

I      T      E      C      H       N      I      C      S

I

V




INSTITUTION: What institutional model? What areas of the civil society participate to the project? Under what terms and conditions? What types of relationship do they maintain together, with the Public Administration, with the Telecommunication Operator, and with other regional networks?

ORGANIZATION: What form of Institution? What model of development? What model of operation?

FINANCE: How to get the money? How to expend it?

TECHNICS: What network architecture and design? What implementation choices?

The hierarchy is based on these sometimes forgotten evidences:

This pyramid does not necessarily imply a chronological order for problem solving, but it does imply a priority scheme.

Next, we present a set of guidelines which are associated with each level of the pyramid.

7.2.1 INSTITUTIONAL LAYER

These three objectives represent together the biggest challenge of the whole process, and for that reason they deserve some additional comments. Being a researcher in Latin America is generally not an easy task. There is more negative incentives than positive one's and it requires a lot of guts and persistence. Except in strong institutions (well organized universities and research centers, which do exist, but do not hold the majority of researchers), pluri-employment and budget hunting is the norm). The NGO sector has played a fundamental historical role in providing back-up structures where the level of institutionalism was weak. Any research project should, of course, consider its duty to reinforce the official and academic research sector, but it would be an unresponsible attitude to leave aside those dynamic NGO's which struggle for more structures in the social and economic layers of the society.

In complying these objectives, one may discover, afterward, that building a networking user group have another important hidden content: it participates to the building of institutionalism within the country (institutions are, by the way, the basic foundation of development).