Sci-GaIA is based on several facts that represent the overall concept of the project:
ICT is a major driver of economic progress
Informational and Communication Technology (ICT) is a major economic driver and ICTs have a unique potential to fast-track African development. This is reflected in the 2007 Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) that defined long-term policy orientations between the two continents with partnerships that support complementary capacities, especially in the fields of regulation, human resources, local content and applications. As well as the Millennium Development Goals, these include the Partnership on Infrastructures for supporting the rolling-out of physical broadband infrastructures (the so-called 3rd Partnership / P3) and the Partnership on Science,Information Society and Space (the so-called 8th Partnership / P8). These align with existing African priorities and action plans such as ARAPKE (the African Regional Action Plan for the Knowledge Economy), PIDA (the Programme for Infrastructures Development in Africa), and the “Reference Framework for the Harmonization of ICT Policies and Regulations in Africa” that have all been adopted at the AU level. Based on these existing frameworks and identified synergies with the EU Digital Agenda flagship initiative, the European Commission (EC) is working hand in hand with the African Union Commission (AUC) to develop a sound Partnership, based on trust, mutual respect and interests, focused on delivering concrete results on the ground.
e-Infrastructures are key enablers of scientific progress
By offering high quality research services to users from different countries, including peripheral and outermost regions, by attracting young people to science and by networking facilities, research infrastructures help structuring the scientific community and play a key role in the construction of an efficient research and innovation environment. Because of their ability to gather a ‘critical mass’ of people, knowledge and investment, they contribute to national and regional economic development. They are therefore at the core of the knowledge triangle of research, education and innovation. Advanced, integrated collections of ICT-based scientific services, or e-Infrastructures, can therefore be key enablers of scientific progress and facilitate international collaboration across Virtual Research Communities (VRCs) or CoPs from all over the world. However, lack of connectivity and low bandwidths have so far seriously hampered scientific collaborations between African scientists and their colleagues in Europe and the rest of the world. African universities and research centres lack access to dedicated global research and education resources because they are not connected to the global infrastructure consisting of dedicated high capacity regional networks. The consequence is that research, especially e-Science, and higher education requiring such access can currently not be conducted in Africa and the continent is not well represented in the global research community. A major drawback is that internationally trained scientists from Africa when returning to the continent lack possibilities to continue their research effectively in international collaboration.
Previous and current EU funded projects have investigated and nurtured e-Infrastructures in Africa. Sci-Gaia aims at building on the results of these African e-Infrastructures projects and thus contribute to making significant steps towards their development.
Science Gateways promote easy access to e-Infrastructures
Accessing and using the services of an e-Infrastructure can be challenging to users with “normal” ICT experience. Complex user interfaces based on low-level command line interfaces that require some programming (scripting) knowledge can be a barrier to the use of e-Infrastructures despite their clear benefits. To facilitate access and use, web-based portals, or Science Gateways, are being promoted. Science Gateways are common, easy to use interface that allow CoPs to access e-Infrastructures. A CoP might develop and manage a Science Gateway, while a network resource provider such as an NREN, an RREN or specific institutes might manage the components of the e-Infrastructure. In other words, e-Infrastructures bring together services and resources, while Science Gateways bring together communities and are critical drivers of scientific excellence.
How can NRENs and CoPs develop Science Gateways and e-Infrastructures, especially in an emerging technological environment such as Africa?
There is a large amount of information on Science Gateways and e- Infrastructures. Many Science Gateways have been developed in Europe using a range of different approaches and typically in a supportive environment where there are experienced developers available for support. In Africa, projects such as eI4Africa and CHAIN-REDS have developed demonstrators to show the impact of these technologies, and have identified potential end user CoPs that are extremely keen to develop their own, and supporting organisations such as African RRENs, NRENs and Universities and Research Institutions that want to either support this development or train the graduates of the future in these technologies. However, the key problem is how to bring all this material together into a consolidated, reasonable approach to Science Gateway and e-Infrastructure development. This is the main aim of Sci-GaIA.