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GATHERING, DISSEMINATING, AND ASSIMILATING TECHNICAL INFORMATION FROM ABROAD 29 4 Gathering, Disseminating, and Assimilating Technical Information from Abroad Each group in the U.S. engineering and technology community must ask itself how it can increase the assimilation of useful information from abroad by U.S. engineers through improved gathering, processing, and dissemination. The NSF, with its unique national mandate, should assess and monitor the efficiency and effectiveness of the overall system. The challenge is to avoid technical surprise, but the volume of technical information now generated outside the United States is enormous. And if the activities of U.S. industry, government, universities, and professional societies were totaled, there would be little question as to the adequacy of raw information acquisition from abroad. However, the very quantity of information is itself the heart of the problem: how to scan the sources, what to translate, and how to evaluate, analyze, synthesize, and provide perspective. No systematic analysis has been conducted of the benefits and costs of the range of mechanisms available to industry, government, academia, and professional societies for accessing information from foreign sources. The committee recommends that NSF develop performance measures for the various mechanisms for foreign information gathering, processing, and dissemination in engineering and technology, and use these measures to assess present-day effectiveness of current systems and to indicate ways of increasing their efficiency. There is a need to think more seriously about how to make information useful to practicing engineers and faculty members, and then design or redesign efforts accordingly. It is important to keep in mind that individual engineers and technologists are the essence of the technical information system, and many play multiple roles through participation in the organizations where they work, their professional society memberships, and consulting activities. Individual
GATHERING, DISSEMINATING, AND ASSIMILATING TECHNICAL INFORMATION FROM ABROAD 30 engineers, whether employed in university, government, or industry, typically are involved with a range of mechanisms for exchange of information internationally. PROFESSIONAL SOCIETIES Professional engineering societies are internationally active in a variety of ways. In some cases they have cooperative agreements and programs with counterpart societies abroad; they help arrange educational opportunities for U.S. engineers abroad and foreign engineers here; they may represent U.S. interests in organizing international congresses; they sometimes sponsor delegations to foreign countries; they organize international specialty conferences; they sponsor lectures in the United States by outstanding engineers of foreign societies; and they provide a forum for exchange between their foreign and domestic members. Most important for this report, the professional societies issue many publicationsâbooks, conference proceedings, journals, and magazines that include foreign authors and report on developments outside the United States. Thus, professional societies are a leading mechanism for international exchange of information. U.S. engineering societies have attracted many foreign members. About 7,000 of the 100,000 members of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and about 4,000 of the 100,000 members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) reside outside North America. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the largest of the U.S.-based engineering professional societies, is constitutionally a transnational organization with 275,000 members, of whom 50,000 live outside the United States. It has a geographically based structure of local sections and regions throughout the world. The Society of Petroleum Engineers has members in more than 90 countries and membership sections in 32. Several of the societies have been systematically strengthening their international structure. Professional engineering societies should develop trend indicators and make periodic evaluations of their international activities. These indicators might include counts of foreign speakers and reports on foreign technology development on conference programs, as well as the proportion of publications authored or reporting on developments abroad. Both quantitative and qualitative measures must be considered. One sample of 286 papers published recently by the ASCE showed 32 percent by foreign authors from more than 20 countries. About 15 percent of papers published in the 14 journals of the ASME recently have been generated outside the United States, and at ASME international conferences it is not unusual to have 50 percent of the papers presented by foreign participants. Professional societies should take the lead in a national assessment of the availability of information from technical publications to the U.S. engineering and technology community, and of mechanisms for improving the assimilation of such information. Some of the questions that might be addressed include: Is there a need to promote English translation of titles, abstracts,
GATHERING, DISSEMINATING, AND ASSIMILATING TECHNICAL INFORMATION FROM ABROAD 31 or full articles beyond current practices? Should international coverage in professional society magazines be changed or expanded? What patterns or problems emerge from a critical evaluation of foreign authorship in present publications? Are review journals sufficiently international in their outlook? Are opportunities for on-line access, use of compact disc read-only memories (CD ROMs), and machine translation of articles being exploited? Could programs such as that of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics to locate and translate foreign abstracts be usefully expanded? In the light of these and other evaluations, U.S.-based engineering societies should continue to develop their international activities for the benefit of the U.S. and international engineering and technology enterprise. ACADEMIA Universities play major roles in gathering, processing, and disseminating information on technology developments abroad. Universities usually fill these roles in diffuse ways, through the mix of research, teaching, travel, visitors, lecture series, and other activities characteristic of campus life. As discussed in the preceding chapter, a more deliberate approach to the role of academia in international developments in engineering and technology could substantially benefit the U.S. technology enterprise. There are opportunities both for individuals and for centers or other large organizational units in this regard. In many areas, developing a better international exchange of research results and practical applications will rely on one-to-one interactions. These can be achieved by a foreign visitor spending time with a U.S. counterpart at a U.S. institution, or vice versa. New technologies, such as the international computer network BITNET, offer fast and efficient complementary means to strengthen person-to-person interaction and collaboration. Although lack of funds or language deficiencies may often be barriers to information gathering and exchange, problems of attitude and effort may be greater obstacles. U.S. engineers often spend more time talking to foreign visitors than listening to them. The committee recommends that the NSF and other organizations expand programs to fund lecture tours by foreign experts in engineering and technology to U.S. universities and industry. The visitors should be asked to provide review and perspective lectures in their fields of expertise and also to indicate promising trends and opportunities. The committee recommends that NAE in particular consider conducting a program of lectures by prestigious international visitors in engineering and technology that would involve contact with a spectrum of interested communities around the United States. There is a lack of effective means to ensure that U.S. academic travelers (or engineers who serve on program committees of international conferences) make consistent efforts to share with their colleagues at home what they have learned abroad. Funds for U.S. travel abroad might be linked more closely with the responsibility to share, through writings or talks, what is learned with U.S. colleagues in academia and industry.
GATHERING, DISSEMINATING, AND ASSIMILATING TECHNICAL INFORMATION FROM ABROAD 32 The establishment of on-campus centers dedicated to international technology assessment would benefit the synthesis of technical developments and the organization of ongoing information services to a variety of constituencies. The committee thus recommends that the NSF establish an experimental program of several on- campus international technology assessment centers (ITACs) that would have the following responsibilities: â¢ To keep abreast of foreign developments and centers of excellence in specified technology areas and encourage the flow of technical information to the United States for the benefit of U.S. engineers and technologists; â¢ To develop outreach programs to provide information about engineering progress abroad to researchers at other U.S. academic institutions and researchers and practitioners in industry and federal laboratories; â¢ To help develop curricular and other educational materialsâfor example, development of technical language courses, audio and video cassettes, and textsârelated to increasing the capability of U.S. researchers and practicing engineers to appreciate developments abroad in a timely manner. â¢ To offer short courses and other programs or activities that can help increase the value of travel abroad for U.S. engineers and technologists; â¢ To serve as a catalyst for encouraging visits by outstanding foreign technologists to the United States; â¢ To develop programs to increase the effectiveness of government employees concerned with technology and international affairs. ITACs might be especially effective at existing or emerging centers of research excellence, such as the Materials Research Labs, Engineering Research Centers, and the proposed Science and Technology Centers. ITACs should be selected on the basis of a review of proposals. Criteria for selection would include the importance of the area of technology to be assessed, plans for sharing and transferring information to key cooperating groups in academia and industry, and plans for evaluating the effectiveness of the proposed program. As with the Engineering Research Centers, subject areas for the ITACs should be established in response to unsolicited proposals by the engineering and technology community. The operation of each ITAC would probably require several hundred thousand dollars per year, and multiyear grants should be awarded so that meaningful evaluations of utility are possible. Evaluations should seek to ensure that the centers are both cost-effective and competent at dissemination. The experience and functions of government groups and commercial vendors of technical information should be taken into account in designing the centers and determining the focus for programs that would contribute most toward meeting U.S. needs. Support from industrial associates should be looked upon as an indication of utility, and other agencies such as the departments of Commerce and Defense should also be encouraged to contribute financial support. Leading researchers at the host institutions for the centers would be expected to commit a portion of their time to the centers to provide guidance for the evaluation and sorting of information. Other staff
GATHERING, DISSEMINATING, AND ASSIMILATING TECHNICAL INFORMATION FROM ABROAD 33 members of the centers would include information services experts, writers, editors, and people skilled in various aspects and modes of communication. GOVERNMENT Many nations have developed governmental mechanisms for monitoring foreign technological developments and reporting them back to government agencies and domestic industries. The U.S. government has not developed an overall strategy or organization for this purpose. It does, however, fund and operate numerous services and programs relevant to the flow of information and technology to the United States from other countries. There is a need to rationalize diverse activities, reduce duplication among them, increase their effectiveness, and bridge critical gaps. One example of an imbalance that needs review is that only about 1 percent of the $30-million annual budget of the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) of the Department of Commerce is applied to foreign acquisitions. Yet some 60 percent of publications in engineering and technology worldwide come from sources outside the United States. The following federal agencies are among the principal supporters of unclassified foreign information services and programs in the U.S. government: Department of Commerce â¢ The NTIS Foreign Technology Acquisition Program â¢ International Trade Administration competitive assessments â¢ Economic Development Administration - Industrial Research Institute business technology assessments â¢ Japan Technology (JTECH) Evaluation Program (operated by Science Applications International Corporation) â¢ Patent Office Department of Defense â¢ Office of Naval Research, London and Tokyo â¢ Air Force Office of Scientific Research â¢ Army Research Office â¢ Foreign Applied Sciences Assessment Center Department of State (science attachÃ©s) National Science Foundation Department of Energy (through its national laboratories) National Aeronautics and Space Administration National Library of Medicine Congressional Office of Technology Assessment Appendix A contains background information on several programs of the agencies mentioned above. The committee finds a need for government agencies to reconsider their roles and missions with regard to information from abroad on engineering and technology. The National Science Foundation should organize and lead
GATHERING, DISSEMINATING, AND ASSIMILATING TECHNICAL INFORMATION FROM ABROAD 34 an interagency study of the adequacy and coordination of federal efforts with regard to gathering technical information worldwide, tracking and analyzing trends in technology abroad, and ensuring effective dissemination of knowledge to the concerned government agencies, private companies, and universities. Among the issues that need to be examined are â¢ adequacy of funding levels and distribution of funds; â¢ adequacy of translation and evaluation capabilities; â¢ adequacy of interagency cooperation and opportunities for integration of efforts; â¢ balancing government efforts to limit and encourage information flows; and â¢ potential effectiveness of establishing âInternational Technology Assessment Centersâ of the type described above at national laboratories, as well as at universities. An objective of the study should be to define personnel needs and policies that would enable the government to benefit from foreign engineering and technology developments more fully. More vigorous recruitment of engineers from industry, academia, other federal agencies, and national laboratories to serve on a temporary (one- to two-year) basis in U.S. embassies abroad and in agency offices in the United States would be desirable. There are many competent technical professionals who would benefit from and agree to spend a year or two abroad on assignment. Though numerous suggestions have been made over the years to expand directly the capabilities of the State Department's science and technology sector, there is debate on whether an agency that focuses on diplomatic policy objectives, has a largely nontechnical constituency, and offers limited career opportunities for technologists, could attract and retain the appropriate personnel. Several nations, including France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Japan, and the People's Republic of China have notably more effective science and technology attachÃ© systems. The programs of these nations are generally characterized by activism by the attachÃ©s with regard to clienteles in industry and academia, as well as government. The study should also include examination of opportunities to improve programs for the dissemination of technical information. One proposal is to prepare graphic displays (âroad showsâ) for presentation at industrial and professional society meetings around the United States. Such a âroad showâ would be much more cost-effective than simply adding a review paper to the vast technical literature, which is already largely unread by practicing engineers. This initiative could draw on some features of the technology assessment centers now operating in large companies; however, it could cover technical subjects an individual firm might be unable to address and would serve groups of smaller companies as well as large companies.
GATHERING, DISSEMINATING, AND ASSIMILATING TECHNICAL INFORMATION FROM ABROAD 35 INDUSTRY There are a variety of mechanisms by which companies can obtain access to foreign technical information, and many of these are simple extensions of domestically focused efforts.21 The different mechanisms serve at least three kinds of information needs: â¢ general knowledge concerning the state of engineering and scientific research and practice in fields relevant to an industry's products or processes; â¢ information about the business performance and market share of particular technological processes or products; and â¢ information needed in connection with acquisition and development of technological capability found outside the firm. Perhaps the most important source of general information about technology for a particular industry is the engineering and scientific community concerned with technologies close to the heart of the products and processes used by that industry. No professional network can cover every technology, but it is usually possible for a determined technical professional to discover a large proportion of the information available on a specific technology. The tools for this discovery are well knownâpersonal and professional contacts, conferences, and the technical and trade literatureâbut the integration of a company's technical personnel into relevant professional communities is often underrated as a fundamental information system. Several primary mechanisms are discussed below. Published and Unpublished Literature. The professional engineering and science literature is an important source of information in a technical community, as is the trade literature. The news columns of professional and trade journals can provide useful clues about what others are working on, and for someone knowledgeable about an area of technology, even daily newspapers and news magazines sometimes indicate where to search further. Access to technical advances requires familiarity with technical field and the literature; a business background is not sufficient. The growing number of centers of technical excellence in other countries means that published, and especially unpublished, material may be in a foreign language. In some large companies or research organizations, foreign-language publications are not a major problem: The large number of foreign-born students and professionals in engineering provide foreign-language capability in operating plants and corporate laboratories. The situation is different, of course, for smaller businesses. It may be difficult for a small firm to locate and gain access to relevant technical advances published in other languages. It is difficult to quantify the degree to which small businesses are handicapped by this difficulty. The technical needs of many small businesses may or may not be satisfied by English-language publications. Several small businesses in an industry could create a cost-sharing system for such translations; industry and trade associations may have a useful role to play in such an effort. Conferences and Trade Fairs. Attendance at technical conferences is
GATHERING, DISSEMINATING, AND ASSIMILATING TECHNICAL INFORMATION FROM ABROAD 36 another opportunity to make contact with, and gain information from, colleagues from foreign universities and industrial companies. Such informal contacts can be more important than the papers presented, since they are possible sources of the most current information. A key to effective access to the information content of conferences is the ability of individuals attending to make a contribution to the field. Information trading is at the heart of conferences, and trading requires a willingness to exchange new information. Professional societies are the primary sponsors of the thousands of conferences held each year. Also, individual firms may themselves host conferences on topics of importance to them. Trade fairs sponsored by government agencies can also be excellent opportunities for obtaining information on technology strategies of other firms. There may be opportunities for industry groups and the Department of Commerce to sponsor appropriate international trade fairs in the United States to benefit the U.S. technology enterprise. Science and Technology Advisory Committees. Another way in which firms can obtain general technical knowledge is through a science and technology advisory committee of exceptionally competent outsiders. Careful selection of foreign-based technology advisers could extend the horizon of advisory committees. University Contacts. Dozens of Japanese companies send some 200 researchers annually to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for extended stays. In 1986, fifty-five Japanese and about fifty European companies each paid $40,000 per year to take part in an MIT industry-university liaison program. Foreign industrial companies have been eager and effective in developing ties to other U.S. universities as well. U.S. firms should consider developing similar ties to foreign centers of academic excellence. Overseas Listening Posts. A large company, or a consortium of small companies in an industry, can establish and operate overseas listening posts staffed by active and knowledgeable people who are skilled in information gathering and have adequate language skills. Commercial and Government Information Services. Several commercial subscription services specializing in various technologies and geographic regions exist. For example, a private U.S. company's Japanese Technical Information Service provides technical abstracts in English and summaries of current Japanese research to customers in the United States. Begun in January 1986, the service should be on-line soon. The U.S. government also provides a variety of information services open to private firms. But, as mentioned above and in Appendix A, the important concern is that technical information of commercial value collected by government agencies is not flowing efficiently to, or being used effectively by, U.S. industry. Visits. It is often possible for a company to obtain an invitation for a tour of a foreign competitor's facility and to be the host for a visit in return. Visitors are not likely to receive access to detailed proprietary information, but it is possible in this way to learn much about the state of the art and the competition.
GATHERING, DISSEMINATING, AND ASSIMILATING TECHNICAL INFORMATION FROM ABROAD 37 Competitive Assessment Centers. Some U.S. companies use competitive assessment centers to examine competitors' products purschased on the market. These products can be dissected to see what the competitor is doing well or otherwise. Sometimes it is possible to anticipate what is likely be done next from what has just been done. Other industry mechanisms for information flow include firm-to-firm or indu stry-to-industry exchange programs, patents and licenses, and consultants. The committee urges firms to ensure that their systems for collecting and assimilating technical information from abroad are well focused and adequate for maintaining their international competitiveness. In conclusion, the dynamic nature of information flows must be stressed. No âsolutionâ is likely to remain adequate for long in any sector or organization with the current rapidity of developments in engineering and technology. There is a need for continuing optimization of the system for gathering, sorting, exchanging, and disseminating information at many levels. In this environment the committee recommends designation of individuals at high organizational levels to be specially attentive to opportunities and needs for the inflow of information from abroad.