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GAIA   (INCO 950809)   A Multi-Media Tool for
Natural Resources Management and Environmental Education

FINAL PROJECT REPORT: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

January 1996 - June 1998

Author:   K.Fedra, ESS GmbH
    Email: kurt@ess.co.at

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

GAIA is an innovative Multimedia Tool for Natural Resources Management and Environmental Education, which supports the promotion of conservation and sustainable development.

At the same time, GAIAit is both an on-line environmental information system, accessible on the world wide web that is attracting a considerable number of users world wide, and a conceptual framework and toolkit for environmental systems analysis projects.

Setting the Scene

Modern information technology, and in particular, multi-media methods integrated with geographical information systems (GIS), simulation models, and expert systems, implemented and accessible via wide-area networks provide powerful tools for resource management. They can also support the training in resource management at institutions of higher and continuing education, and NGOs with an educational mission.

With the rapidly developing communication infrastructure and the ever more affordable computer and communications technology, also in developing countries, environmental information systems provides opportunities for global integration and cooperation for researchers, educators, planners and managers in developing countries and their European counterparts.

Approach

GAIA has a multi-facted approach: this includes

  • a political,
  • a technological,
  • an environmental,
  • a didactic, and
  • an institutional component.
From a political point of view, GAIA is firmly based on the recommendations of the Rio Conference (UNCED - Agenda 21) concerning research in developing countries, and issues of environmental information in particular. Easy Access to decision relevant information is the central theme.

The technological component is based on the multi-media information technology and the Internet;

the environmental component is based on the conceptual framework of Agenda 21, and sustainable development;

the didactic approach is based on a general conceptual framework of issues and indicators, illustred by a set of concrete case studies;

  • the institutional component is based on a broad international network of institutions that all contribute as equal partners within one common and compatible conceptual and technological framework.

    The primary objectives of the project are:

    1. To improve the management of natural resources and the environment through better management and training tools, based on modern multi-media methods and wide-area networking information technology.

    2. To develop an information network of collaborating institutions, linking European institutions with partners in a number of developing countries that have traditional or emerging ties with European countries.

    3. To develop and disseminate, together with the partners in the DCs, a multi-media training tool with illustrative case study applications for natural resources and environmental management.

    4. To help develop the institutional capabilities in the developing countries, both with regards to the methods, tools, and approaches used in natural resources management and the teaching of these methods, as well as with the information and networking technology required to access and disseminate resource management information.

    The GAIA system was developed by three European institutions together with seven key institutions in developing countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

    Concentrating initially on a number of centers of excellence and primarily educational institutions in countries that have already achieved a higher level of technological development, the project has aimed to achieve a multiplier effect through regional diffusion of results and the underlying technology in the medium term.

    A growing number of informally associated partners and users now access the system through the Internet, providing feedback and continuing contribution to the case study examples, as a contribution towards the development of a global information society.

    Results and Achievements

    In a joint development and implementation effort by ten partners from European and developing countries the GAIA multi-media software system for natural resources management and environmental education has been implemented as both a stand-alone version for project work and classroom teaching, and on the Internet.

    The system can be accessed at http://www.ess.co.at/GAIA or through its mirror installations at a number of key institutions in developing countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

    The primary installation links to a number of partner sites, that not only mirror the basic GAIA system but also provide additional, regional content, partly in the local language (e.g., the installation at CESIMO in Merida at the Universidad de los Andes, Venezuela, that provides an extensive Spanish version of the Deforestation Case Study).

    GAIA addresses both issues of environmental planning & management and information technology. The general information system framework provides a hierarchical structure, starting at a global geographical scale to provide context and a basis for comparative analysis at a regional and local scale; it is based on a logical framework of Issues and Indicators, with their underlying data, derived from Agenda 21.

    Within this geographical and conceptual framework, individual regional and local case studies, concentrating on specific priority issues, have been embedded. They use detailed regional and local data, as well as specific models to address specific priority issues of local and regional concern, linked to the global framework of Agenda 21.

    The case studies use hypertext descriptions with extensive imagery, including maps, satellite imagery and photographic material. The same multi-media interface is also used to access and exercise specific simulation models that simulate resource management WHAT-IF scenarios linking dynamic models into the multi-media system seamlessly.

    Case studies are again structured in term of Issues (related to the Agenda 21 framework) and Indicators, linked and evaluated through the expert system and derived from underlying data bases, models, and user specifications of preferences and decision rules.

    In addition to the Internet system also a workstation version for local area networks, e.g., for classroom teaching, has been implemented. This system provides access to more sophisticated analysis and visualization functions based on X11 graphics which require high-bandwidth network connections currently only available on local area networks.

    The Internet and the local systems are now being used at all DC partners institutions and the Internet system gets more than 200,000 hits a year on the main server alone.

    Conclusions and Plans for the Future

    Designed for a 30 months duration, and funded at a level of 700,000 ECU, the project falls under two sectors of the INCO Work Programme:

    • Information and Communication Technologies, and
    • Sustainable Management of Renewable Natural Resources.
    This inter- and multi-disciplinary, as well as cross-sectoral setting provided a good starting point for the development of an interesting and quite unique product.

    The Internet as well as the workstation system are currently being used at all DC partners institutions and the Internet system gets more than 100.000 hits a year on the main server alone - documenting a world wide interest in GAIA.

    The GAIA installations are used, at the partner institutions, for diverse teaching and training activities. This ranges from introductory courses in environmental sciences to graduate and post-graduate courses on specific topics, as well as applications in continuing education.

    Future plans are now to actively offer the system (and related services, eg., localization) to other educational institutions in developing countries and - together with the project partners - to approach governmental and regulatory institutions with proposals to further develop the environmental management components of the system to meet their specific needs, thus fully exploiting the educational and the managerial components of the system.

    The exploitation of the GAIA project proceeds, in parallel, along the following major lines:

    • continuing use by the academic partners for teaching and training in environmental sciences, resource management, etc.

    • as the basis of specific project activities by the partners; this may be academic projects like masters and PhD thesis, or consultancy projects;

    • as the basis for further development, both by the DC partners as well as by the development partners;

    • as the basis for an on-line information service, accessible by subscription.

    First and foremost however, GAIA has created an active network of partners with shared interests in the management of sustainable development, linked by a common approach, set of shared tools, and the Internet as a communication medium.

    Contact Points

      DDr. Kurt Fedra
      Environmental Software & Services GmbH
      Kalkgewerk 1   PO. Box 100
      A-2352 Gumpoldskirchen   Austria
      Phone: +43-2252-63305
      Fax: +43-2252-63305-9
      Email: info@ess.co.at

      The Project
      Consortium

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