INFORMED DECISION MAKING
Investments on research and development by the various government departments, industries, institutional sources and others have been steadily rising. The decision-making involved in such investments is almost entirely dependent upon peer-knowledge. Without undermining a peer-review system, one can still find alternatives (or supportive) to human memory resident information, in the form of databases. These databases - bibliographic, factual, full-text, images and referral, are now widely available on CD-ROM format and also accessible online from national and international sources. These modern information facilities could help
reducing human bias, errors and omissions in the decision making system.
making the state-of-the-art on the subject comprehensive and thereby enabling identification of the gap areas and avoiding duplication of efforts.
facilitating identification of the current trends on the subject, active individuals and institutions and the like which may help a researcher to determine whether he is on the right track, who are his peers in the field, where to publish and so on.
So far, the science and technology workers and sponsoring agencies have not made much use of the facilities to access national and international sources of information available in the country. While the users are by and large ignorant of their existence, and the service providers are lethargic to reach out to their potential clientele, the sponsoring agencies are content with their archaic evaluation procedure. To keep in step with the knowledge development on a subject, it is necessary to adopt a systematic procedure:
Immediately on commencement of a project, the project investigator should carry out a retrospective search on global databases preferably using the online technology, and prepare a status report on the subject and peripheral areas.
The same exercise may be carried out (at least) on annual basis during the life of the project.
If the subject is one of the fast moving areas, such status monitoring may be undertaken more frequently.
Every project investigator should subscribe to Selective Dissemination of Information (SDI) services on the subject profile of the project, on a monthly basis.
While formulating a project proposal it is essential for the project investigators to carry out a retrospective bibliographic search to satisfy themselves that the proposed activity fits well into the global knowledge base.
If there is a patent in sight at any stage (at the beginning or during the course of the project or at the terminal stage), searches on patents databases would be imperative.
A desirable change in the scenario will not come about unless the sponsoring agencies recognize the benefits of information use and ensure the following:
The project budget may include provisions for undertaking such searches. The Project Investigator could pay for such searches directly to the service provider out of the project grant. Or, the sponsoring agency may maintain deposit accounts with service providers, and give standing orders for services for all their projects.
Besides supporting the search, a provision may also be made to facilitate acquisition of some of the full-text of document cited in the process.
Subject to the availability of funds, Internet connectivity may be extended to the project team.
In this context, it may be mentioned that NISSAT is preparing a compendium of various information services in the country for mass distribution. In the 9th Plan, NISSAT also intends to prepare multi-media information education kits for various levels of users.
The R&D activities are now supported only by way of hardware-software, intellectual power, consumables and other costs. It is essential that an R&D group has the support of a strong information base and facilities for communication.
Either we keep abreast of all that is there in the global knowledge base or invite our ruin!
- A. Lahiri