Critical look on the Gateway
This section looks at the Gateway itself with critical eyes. These points should be references in the future development and improvement of the Gateway.

Critical look on the Gateway > Home

 

Is the Gateway useful?
Is the Gateway a good website? How can it improve?
What are difficulties of the Gateway? How to solve them?
Who links to us?
What information do visitors seek for?


Is the Gateway useful?


A small survey was conducted on the usefulness of the Gateway. It was done in the form of a simple questionnaire which was sent out to our Gateway collaborators in the regions and countries; to our FAO colleagues in the regional offices and to those who have previously communicated with us in various ways regarding the content and functions of the Gateway. Responses came mostly from the collaborators. The results of the questionnaire are available at the following links.

> questnnaire_rep1.xls (sheet 1, 2, 3)
> questnnaire_rep2.xls (sheet 1)

Overall, there is a consensus that the Gateway is useful for researchers, students and planners as an entry point into a web of information on the subjects. However, it has also been commented that the information provided by the Gateway report may be too general to meet the needs of agricultural resource management policy makers. Based on these questionnaire results, a recommendation report (rtf 37kb) was compiled. The revision of the Gateway homepage (in March 2003) is intended to incorporate some of the suggestions made in this report. Work to revise the template of the Gateway based on these recommendations, will be ongoing.


Is the Gateway a good website? How can it improve?


The success of a website should be judged according to whether or not it achieves its aims. The Gateway website simply aims to be a source of concise and relevant information on the subjects and an entry point for making further contacts and further inquiries into other materials available on the Internet. The Gateway website and the information it contains must, therefore, be concise and relevant, and also technically easily accessible for all users, including those living in countries where the information infrastructure is less developed.

The goals of the Gateway can be summarized:

1. To encourage and assist governments and research institutions in countries with less well-developed information systems to collect relevant information and to develop and manage their own information systems on land and water resources on the Internet (Capacity building; incentive giving).
2. To facilitate access to global, national and regional information on land, water and plant nutrition resources for the general public, particularly for policy, planning and research communities (Facilitating access to information: raising awareness; educating).
3. To promote and coordinate networking and exchanges of experiences of the above-mentioned tasks at regional and global levels (Coordinating and networking).

One of the ultimate aims of the Gateway is that each country will establish its own national land and water information systems and maintain them into the future. Naturally, the way each country organizes and presents its information will be different, but the essential issues which will have to be included are similar, if not identical. The ownership of and responsibility for the system maintenance and the quality checking of the content of the information will rest in the hands of the national institutions. The quality and richness of the system will depend on the technical resources and infrastructure available at the moment of inception, and the systems will naturally develop according to technical innovations. The Gateway national report should become a first incentive for those countries with the least developed information systems to invest their budget, time and effort in developing their own sustainable Land and Water Information Systems. This will fulfil the Gateway's goals of building capacity and giving incentives.

A concise report on the state of socio-economic conditions, land, water and plant nutrition will form part of the system as a static document similar to the current Gateway national report. Together, it will highlight issues such as "Hot spots" and "Challenges", preferably in a way that will make it easy for a visitor to quickly grasp what are the most critical issues a country is facing and what measures are being taken. (The revision of the Gateway homepage, in March 2003, will somewhat reflect this line of thought.) In the future, the national information system should link to information systems on provincial, municipal and community levels.

Links to other 'related sites' will remain as important as the content of the report that describes the subject matter of the Gateway. Work needs to be done to find more related Internet sites owned and managed by local institutions within a country. This is justifiable as the internet is rapidly expanding and the number of relevant sites are swiftly increasing. However, it will also be important to select only completely relevant sites because it is extremely difficult, even using a key word search on a search engine, to pick out the most relevant information from the vast ocean of information sources. Directing site users straight to the most relevant information saves their time and energy.


What are difficulties of the Gateway? How to solve them?


One of the biggest problems of the Gateway is updating. Compiling a Gateway country report and putting it on the Internet is a one-off exercise but updates have to be carried out regularly. Currently there is no standard for the frequency of report updates. The recommendation of updates is usually made by FAO and executed by the collaborators themselves. Several country reports have been updated after their first compilation - those of Bangladesh, Egypt, China and Lithuania for example. Close communication between FAO and collaborators is essential. A central question is how to arouse the collaborators' interest in keeping the reports up-to-date so that the initiative for on-going up-dates will come from them. The ultimate goal of the Gateway, as discussed above, offers a solution to this problem - that the report should be hosted locally and updated whenever a new set of information becomes available.

The second problem is the quality control. Who is responsible for maintaining the appropriate quality of the country reports? What mechanism can be used to set such a quality standard? How can the standard itself be upgraded over time? Currently, there is no set standard of quality for the reports. We informally acknowledge that there are some exemplary country reports that are already available on-line: China, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, Lithuania, Trinidad and Tobago, Nepal, Tanzania, Tunisia, Syria, and Fiji, to name only a few. They are not perfect - most reports lack information for some sections - however, the rigor with which these reports are compiled and the attention paid to the facility of the information is noticeable. These reports should be referred to widely by the newly participating countries. They should also be shared and reviewed amongst themselves as points of reference and a source of stimuli for upgrading.

The third problem is regarding the difficulty of reconciling the conformity of the system with the freedom of the individual countries in organizing their information. The report and/or information system developed and maintained by each country will be unique as each country has its own demands, availability and presentation mode for information. Supposing that the Gateway remains as an international coordinator and facilitator of land and water information, its central role will be providing well-defined guidelines for the discussion of land and water information, presented and shared by international community. Therefore, the continual revision and critical appraisal of the content of the guidelines will become even more important. A critical look into the content of the existing Guidelines should be at the top of the "to-do" list.


Who links to us?


External web sites that make a link to our Gateway are still very few. One site is: Stockholms universitetsbibliotek — SUB (University of Stockholms Geo library - Branch Library for Earth Sciences and Geography).

The more external sites that link to the Gateway, the more the raison d'être of the Gateway will be justified and the more chances there will be that many more external sites will link to the Gateway. To this end, it is necessary to send out more PR notices to raise awareness amongst the external audience, as the Gateway is still hidden in the Internet. That the Gateway is a global asset, no matter how modest, needs to be recognised.


What information do vistors to the Gateway seek for?


The Gateway uses a keyword search system provided by Freefind ("Search Box" on the homepage). This keyword search operates across the homepage and all the files stored in the sub-directories of the Gateway. The key words typed in by visitors in the Search Box are all recorded, along with the time/date when the search was conducted.

This log of the keywords entered has been recorded since May 2000 and can be viewed in segments of six months as follows (starting with the most recent):

> January-on 2003 (txt 2kb)
> July-December 2002 (txt 21kb)
> January-June 2002 (txt 19kb)
> July-Dec. 2001 (txt 14kb)
> January-June 2001 (txt 13kb)
> July-Dec. 2000 (txt 19kb)
> Before June 2000 (txt 3kb)

It should be remembered that not all the visitors use the keyword function of the Gateway. That is, the results do not indicate the number of 'hits'. However, we can make some observations about what kind of information visitors to the Gateway are looking for, based on the most common searches.

The most frequently entered keywords include: soil, -sols, water, plant nutrients, fertilizer, crop (cotton, cassava, tobacco etc.), yield, agriculture, rainfall, irrigation, drainage, salinization (salinity) etc. Other keywords include general technical terms such as: classification, analysis, mapping, remote sensing, information, evaluation, land use, land cover, etc. The most frequently used country names are: Egypt, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Romania, Djibouti, Malaysia, the Philippines and Yemen, all of whose country reports are available on the Gateway. Country names entered whose reports are not available on the Gateway include: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taiwan, Sudan, Portugal, Eritrea, Angola, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Mali, Italy, Sri Lanka, Greece, Ukraine, Chad, Canada, Iraq, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, Ecuador, Honduras and Equatorial guinea. Other keywords include FAO's land-water information systems such as AEZ, Sdbm and FAO soil taxonomy. Though English is the primary language of the Gateway, a substantial number of keywords are written in Spanish.


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Last updated: 21 March 2003