9th EuroAfrica-ICT Concertation Meeting

EuroAfrica-ICT The 9th EuroAfrica-ICT Concertation Meeting, organised by the CSIR – Meraka Institute with the support of the EuroAfrica-ICT EU/FP7 Project Coordinator (Sigma Orionis), successfully took place on June 6, 2011, at the CSIR Campus, Building 43, Auditorium in Pretoria, South Africa.

The aim of the Concertation Meeting was to facilitate a closer interaction and the development of synergies between the EuroAfrica-ICT initiative and other related initiatives addressing Euro-Africa S&T cooperation on ICT research in South Africa. Over and above this objective, the meeting was organised to allow FP7 stakeholders and researchers to share success stories, experiences and innovative practices on ICT research, development and innovation and to encourage industry participation on the FP7 programme. This meeting was organised in partnership with Segopotso Moshapo (the South African FP7 National Contact Point), Thato Foko (Deputy FP7 National Contact Point) and Dr Barend Taute (FP7, National Contact Point for Security Theme in South Africa).

Facilitated by Tshepang Mosiea and Thato Foko (EuroAfrica-ICT project team members at the CSIR Meraka Institute) the meeting was attended by 30 participants mainly coming from South Africa.

Presentations

The first session of the event was divided into four distinct presentations:

1. The first presentation was delivered by Segopotso Moshapo (FP7/ICT National Contact Point) who provided an overview of the 7th Framework Programme (FP7) and its ICT thematic area. Mr Moshapo also introduced how to participate in the EU Programme, highlighting in particular how South African researchers can participate in the next call to be published in July and closing in January 2012. Segopotso also presented an overview of various objectives that researchers should respond to.

2. The second presentation was delivered by Tshepang Mosiea (Senior Project Manager, CSIR Meraka Institute). Tshepang introduced the EuroAfrica-ICT initiative and outlined the project’s results and outcomes, besides the benefits for African researchers to get involved in the events of the EuroAfrica-ICT initiative. The second part of his presentation focused on the Research Priorities study, which is one of the core objectives of the EuroAfrica-ICT project. Tshepang presented the results of the online survey and of the interviews to key ICT stakeholders carried out in the framework of this study. A comparison of the responses on how African and European research community ranked and prioritised the existing FP7 thematic topics was the core of his presentation.

3. The third presentation of the morning session of the meeting was presented by Dr Anwar Vahed (Research Group Leader for the ICT4EO Research Group, CSIR Meraka Institute). His presentation covered three FP7 projects namely: Cluva, EO2Heaven and IRMA. The core of his presentation addressed the importance of these projects for managing and monitoring risks related to disasters and climate change, and the impact thereof on cities and human health. He described how these projects will develop a suite of tools and methods for the mitigation of risks, analysis, explore and model risks and disasters related to climate change. Cluva, for example, will explore the issues of climate change vulnerability, resilience, risk management and adaptation in selected African cities with local case study partners. The outcome is to improve capacity of scientific institutions, local councils and civil society to cope with climate change.

4. The fourth presentation was delivered by Ms Adele Botha (Senior Researcher, CSIR Meraka Institute), Adele presented the VOICES EU/FP7 funded project, whose aim is to provide technology tools to support the use of under resourced and under researched languages in order to harness local content creation. The VOICES project intends to make a major step forward in realizing the potential and uptake of mobile ICT services, particularly in the African context, by an integrated bundle of activities that will resolve key challenges in terms of ICT services.

The project aims at delivering:
1. An open and wider access (VOICES will improve voice-based access to content and mobile ICT services by building a toolbox for the development of voice services that will be made available to local communities and entrepreneurs as Open Source),

2. An integration of Local Community Radios and ICT (among its features and functionalities, the toolbox will enable the bridge with local community radios, by offering a Web archiving option and off-line individual access, making the broadcasted content available to people, through a mobile voice-based application, independently of radiophonic programming schedules),

3. A better support of languages (the project will deliver supporting tools and methodology for under researched and under resourced languages that facilitates the local creation of content in African languages),

4. A long term sustainability (to ensure the local adoption and exploitation of the VOICES tools and methods beyond the project, it will provide a sustainable architecture and business model for its results, co-developed with local partners and communities), and finally

5. A faster uptake (VOICES will furthermore enhance uptake by delivering a mobile training lab that offers education for local partners and entrepreneurs in developing mobile ICT and Web services). VOICES will strive to demonstrate the adaptability of its results to the African context by extensive local pilots and associated community building (focused on health services in Senegal, and agricultural and re-greening knowledge sharing in the Sahel countries).

“Questions and answers” discussions took place at the end of each presentation contributing to exchanging ideas and opinions about ICT RDI in general and on the importance for African players to participate in the FP7 programme. Also, several breaks throughout the day were used to develop fruitful networking opportunities among participants. From the comments that were noted during the discussions it emerged that cost and policy are the main hindrances to technology uptake in Africa. Scientific research has to move to the next phase of implementation: it does not have to end when the research projects are done, but there must be modalities to allow exploitation of research results in Africa. It also emerged that there is a need to use FP projects as a foundation for marketing and launching new projects. There is general consensus around the fact that latest technology innovations seems to be driven by a few companies in the world and they seem to be having a big share on global ICT market sector, while a lot of people, especially in Africa, is still excluded and do not have digital access.

Group Discussions

The afternoon session of the meeting was dedicated to group discussions focusing on the following topics:

Group 1: EuroAfrica-ICT Research priorities, facilitated by Tshepang Mosiea
Group 2: African participation in the FP7 ICT Theme, facilitated by Barend Taute

The important points emerging from each group is summarised below:

Group 1

Since ICT is composed of different sectors, the approach of identifying ICT research priorities for Africa will not yield many results if this is done in silos. Also, there is a need for creative ways to solve problems through technology: technology research and innovation should address real problems afflicting the African continent. Both the African and the European research communities should study innovative technology solutions, even if this means bypassing the restrictive regulations existing in this field. It is important that the Euro-Africa collaboration becomes a catalyst and a driver to solve problems mutual to both regions: it should become the key driver of innovation.

There is a need for EU–African research stakeholders to understand how politics and the global environment are linked together and decide on projects/partnerships based on that assumption (for example, ICT could be exploited in Africa to enhance and strengthen trade through the application of common technology architectures).

Digital accessibility through cognitive radio will ensure universal access to broadband in Africa.

Group 2

There was consensus on the fact that FP7 participation has significant personal and organisational benefits in terms of networks, learning, collaboration and relationships, but it has also a potential real impact on local needs, priorities and policies. Challenges for participation include: the complexity of the Programme, the difficulty on building a good partnership, co-funding, the level of effort required, IP protection and the local take-up of results. These challenges can be overcome through a clearer identification of regional/national research priorities, by measuring the benefits of current projects, by partnering with local and EU industry and by empowering champions to make it happen.

The meeting was closed by Hina Patel (Strategic Research Manager, CSIR Meraka Institute). The following points emerged from the concluding remarks: return on investment is key for collaboration with other partners; these partnerships work well when they are driven by tangible objectives; developing FP7 proposals should be all about delivering valuable and tangible results in order to realize return on investments; the African ICT sector does not have to be the consumer of imported technologies but should represent a competitive edge or advantage for such industry.

Presentations, agenda and attendees list are available here.

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