Computers & Geosciences, Volume 23, Number 7 September, 1997

Paul Browning
Dept. of Geology
Univ. of Bristol, Bristol
BS8 1RJ,

John C. Butler
Department of Geosciences
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204

Comments from the Associate Editor

I first "met" Paul Browning when I posted a message to the Science Geology newsgroup back in 1995 in which I inquired how other instructors were using or planning to use the Internet in creating learning environments. Paul and I have exchanged many messages and entered

into several joint ventures since that time although we have never met. Truly, an electronic interaction!

QORM - a vegetarian approach to information

November 1996 saw the launch of the UK Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) Five Year Strategy. The JISC acts for the Higher Education Funding Councils of England, Scotland and Wales and the Department of Education Northern Ireland.

One of the strategic objectives of the JISC is to encourage and facilitate the development of Information Strategies in the higher education community. In December 1995 the JISC published a paper "Guidelines for Developing an Information Strategy".

I find myself one month into a new role - a half-time appointment as a University Information Strategy Coordinator. An obvious starting point to the whole question of developing an Information Strategy are the JISC Guidelines themselves. What follows are my edited highlights of the executive summary and some initial directions my institution is taking. It seems to me that, whatever the size or nature of your organisation, there are some generic issues to be taken on board.

Why have an Information Strategy?

Information is the lifeblood of higher education institutions. It is a resource and needs managing as such; this puts it on a par with finance and human resources. An Information Strategy is concerned with the ways in which a higher education institution makes major decisions about the future of its teaching and research. It is not just about computing or libraries.

Haven't we already got an Information Technology strategy?

We have, but many IT strategies have a tendency to seek ways of using technology to improve current processes rather than to make a fundamental reassessment of the way teaching, learning and (less so) research is undertaken.

A successful Information Strategy ensures that an institution avoids making technological investments without the necessary accompanying changes in working practices, attitudes and behavior.

What is an Information Strategy?

The best way to think of an Information Strategy is as a set of attitudes rather than as a report. It is a set of attitudes in which:

  1. any information that should be available for sharing (and most will be) is well defined and appropriately accessible (allowing for necessary safeguards);

  2. the quality of information is fit for its purpose (e.g. accuracy, currency, consistency, completeness - but only as far as necessary);

  3. all staff know, and exercise, their responsibilities towards information;

  4. there is a mechanism by which priorities are clearly identified and then acted upon.

Who creates an Information Strategy?

The information with which an Information Strategy is concerned covers teaching and learning materials (in all media),research information and data and the management information needed to plan and monitor the delivery of teaching, learning and research. Such information may or may not be held on computers and may or may not be found in libraries. An Information Strategy lies at the academic heart of an institution, that it is not an optional extra and that its creation and maintenance justifies the close attention and support of a Vice Chancellor.

An Information Strategy Steering Group (ISSG) has been formed at the University of Bristol to oversee the process of achieving an Information Strategy. It is large enough to be representative but small enough to stand a chance of being effective. It is chaired by the Deputy Vice Chancellor.

How does the Information Strategy Coordinator fit in?

The role of the ISC is to assist the ISSG in analyzing and facilitating the flow of information within our organisation, and to help bring about the cultural change that was necessary.

The ISC occupies the interface between the ISSG and departments and services within the University. I see my job as asking questions on behalf of the ISSG, to present a view of the situation prevailing at present, and to contribute to the deliberations of the ISSG which in turn advises the DVC.

What is the ISSG doing?

Part of an agenda has already been set. "Reception processes" in general, and registration of new undergraduates for e-mail in advance of the start of teaching for the next academic year in particular, has high priority.

The other area which will occupy the ISSG in the short term is the area of electronic information. Considerable progress has been made within the University in experimenting with the World Wide Web as a medium for the transmission of information both internally and externally.

Part of the role of the ISC will be to oversee the future development of the University Web.

What is the "set of attitudes" that the ISSG is hoping to promote?

The following guiding principles have been agreed:

  1. The primary source of information will become the electronic form.
  2. Printed information will be derived from the electronic form.

  3. Information should be entered only once and then used many times. Better still, the information should be acquired electronically and not even entered manually. QORM - is our acronym; aQuired Once, Re- used Many times.

  4. The provision and maintenance of primary information will become widely devolved.

  5. The training of departmental information providers will be crucial in achieving this goal.

    Since October 10, 1997

    Return to ANON Columns