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We are currently drawing up a multi-year strategic plan for SciDev.Net — to build on our strengths, address our weaknesses, and explore potential new activities — and invite comments from users of the website.

Next month, the trustees of SciDev.Net will meet in Brazil to draft a road-map for the organisation for the years immediately ahead. The strategic plan to emerge from these discussions will cover the period 2004 to 2008, and will have two principle purposes. The first is to establish a consensus on the best way forward for our organisation, outlining ways in which it can build on achievements to date and, perhaps, embark on new activities. The second is to provide a concrete set of proposals that can be presented to potential donors as we look for funding.

There are not expected to be many surprises in the main contents of the strategic plan. Since the SciDev.Net website was launched in December 2001, the widespread and encouraging support we have received for our activities has confirmed both our original perception of the need for this type of venture, and our confidence in the approach we are taking to meet this need. In other words, there is little sense that a major change in direction is required. At the same time, we are fully aware of the need to make sure that we continually improve the effectiveness with which we meets the needs of our user community. Which is why we are now seeking your input.

What follows is a summary of the main proposals that — based on discussions held so far — are expected to form the core of the five-year plan. If you have additional suggestions or recommendations, now is the time to let us know! They can then be fed directly into the trustees' discussions next month and, if approved, will be incorporated into our future activities.

Main priorities

Since its launch, SciDev.Net — which now has the full title of the Science and Development Network — has already established itself as the world's leading source of online news and analysis about the role of science and technology in meeting the needs of the developing world. Our broad goal is to ensure that, during the period covered by the new strategic plan, this role is reinforced and enhanced.

At the core of this strategy is the development and expansion of the website. This means building up our coverage of news, views and information on science, technology and the developing world, for example by increasing our correspondents and authors in these countries. It also means strengthening the policy-oriented 'dossiers' on key issues at the interface between science and development, and improving the 'gateways' that provide regional news and perspectives on such issues.

As at present, a second important goal will be to significantly increase the users of the website, partly by creating regional networks of scientists, science communicators and decision-makers in all parts of the developing world. The first such regional network was initiated in Africa last year, and the second will be launched in Latin America next month. Within the next two years we anticipate regional networks covering all parts of the developing world, which — as well as building our audience — will be crucial to the generation of locally relevant content.

The third component of our future strategy is that we intend, in collaboration with a range of partners, to expand our training workshops and other events. These will continue to form an essential element of our efforts to help build capacity in the communication of information about science in the developing world, both with the public and with decision-makers.

Expanding the website

In addition to the priorities outlined above, preliminary ideas are being discussed about ways in which the website might be expanded to include new specialised professional areas, addressing some of the information and networking needs of key members of the SciDev.Net community.

Three such professional areas are envisaged. The first, which is already under development — and will hopefully be launched within the next few months — looks at the needs of all those engaged in the communication of science, including science (and other) journalists, public information officers, and scientists and policy-researchers seeking guidance on how to present their ideas most effectively to both the public and to decision-makers.

A second such area might address the practical needs of scientists in the developing world. This could include information particularly relevant to young scientists (such as details of short-term exchanges), as well as a comprehensive database of funding opportunities. A third professional area might be specifically tailored to the practical information needs of those in the policy arena, including both government officials and elected politicians.

Preliminary discussions have indicated that a clear need exists for an improved information service in each of these three areas — and that the Internet is a promising medium through which this need could be met. But we welcome comments on whether SciDev.Net should pursue these areas, or whether there are alternative, more pressing, priorities.

Other possibilities

Other ideas remain at a more embryonic stage. For example:

  • in addition to its planned regional networks, should SciDev.Net set up national chapters — which would act as a focal point for individuals who share SciDev.Net's aims — as the basis of the planned regional networks?
  • What possibilities exist for revenue-generating activities, given that we remain committed to keeping free access to the main website?
  • Are there any major goals or new spheres of activity that should be considered in addition to those outlined? Conversely, are any of the proposed activities already adequately covered by existing web-based resources or outside SciDev.Net's remit?

Achieving all — or even some — of the tasks listed above is an ambitious goal. Much will depend on the extent to which we are able to establish strong working relationships with individuals and institutions in the developing world that share our goals and aspirations. Equally importantly, they will require substantial resources, financial and otherwise, to ensure that they are met effectively.

But these resources will be easier to generate if, firstly, we can present a focused (and practical) vision of what we hope to achieve in the years ahead, and secondly if we can be certain that this vision reflects the needs of our current and potential users. The goal of next month's trustee meeting is to help ensure that the first of these is achieved. This is your opportunity to help us achieve the second.

Please send your comments to [email protected] by 30 April 2003.

© SciDev.Net 2003