Performance assessment of technical reports as a channel of information for development : a Lesotho case study.
Moshoeshoe-Chadzingwa, Matseliso M.
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The study aims to assess performance of Technical Reports as a channel of information for development in the Lesotho context. It concurrently evaluates how a specialized information unit of the Institute of Southern African Studies (lSAS) has performed in its obligation to devise adequate mechanisms for managing the report literature and meeting the development-related needs of users. In order to achieve that aim, the study contextualized development as a process, state, and condition and highlighted some development indicators for Lesotho. Agriculture and gender were selected as sectors of development. Global conferences, as one of the many development strategies that generate technical reports heavily, were used as a benchmark. In the performance and impact assessment methodologies, case study techniques were applied with ISAS as a site and one unit ofanalysis. Technical Reports (TRs) on Lesotho were studied. Triangulation approaches were applied in sourcing data. The academics, information workers, government officials, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and aid agencies based in Lesotho were surveyed. Research questions that guided the study centred on the productivity, distribution of technical reports, their management by intermediaries, use, non-use and the effects thereon. Seven types ofTechnical Reports feature in the development process, namely Academic, Project, Conference, Survey, Enquiry, Official and Special Committee Reports. Technical Reports are produced at varying levels depending on needs and approaches to development by producers or commissioning bodies. Academic Reports are authored mostly by the academics. The Government, Aid agencies and NGOs produce widely through external consultants/experts, who utilize centres such as ISAS where commissioning bodies do not have information services. TRs productivity is high and diverse in Lesotho, but capacity to manage the output is seemingly low, and hence under-utilization results; ISAS's out-dated mission, lack of, or limited resources and dejure national support in the form of acts and statutes affect the Institute's Technical Reports' services. Production is gender biased, thus making for imbalance in reporting on development. Agriculture as a sector is heavily researched and reported about, but the benefits to the populace are either few or non-existent. Restricted materials are estimated at 30%, but most ofthe TRs are unaccounted for. Hoarding and poor records or information management leave a vacuum that leads to a duplication of previous studies and production. The study confirmed that technical reports are required by all the surveyed groups. Technical Reports are not ofa transient nature even though they reach a peak oftopicality and use at certain periods. Where the channel conveys factual data timeously, there are developmental benefits. Low or non-use is common where there are no specialized information services especially within the civil service. Such negative factors cause delays and infrequent currency, inadequate reporting and erroneous budgetary allocations, for example. Seeminglythere is no clarity on what restricted, secret and limited materials mean. Major recommendations were made. One concerned an integrated approach to managing the channel. This would involve preparing a Manual for the production of Technical Reports which would clarify how to prepare them; for instance, the caliber of personneVexperts who should author reports, the conditions to be observed, the timeliness production, reliability of data used, and centres that would be acknowledged to then qualify for commensurate financial and other support. The other proposes that the envisaged National Research Council be given the powers to enforce the guidelines ofthe manual and related functions. The last recommends assigning to the documentalistsfor classified Technical Reports, the role of managing classified items. Consideration should also be given to important issues raised in the study, being the role of Information, Communication and Technologies (lCTs), sectors of development to be attended to, training and networking in technical report\s. Further studies are also recommended mainly for the causes and effects of the closures of information services that managed technical reports' in southern Africa; longitudinal studies on the impact of non-use oftechnical reports in major sectors ofdevelopment like Agriculture; comparative studies on the impact of specialized centres in the developed and developing countries. Further action is urged under the aegis ofbodies like the Standing Conference ofEastem, Central and Southern African Librarians (SCECSAL), Standing Conference of National and University Librarians.
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