(CEI Consulting Firm)
Several regional scholars recognize the potential Research and Education Networks (RENs) hold to transform the ways researchers connect, communicate and collaborate -- essential enabling conditions to build world class research institutions, solve regional problems, and ultimately impact national economies (Taylor and Abbott, 2015). The expectations for the West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN) are no exception. Currently the discussion of WACREN predominantly lies among technical professionals who are involved in building and maintaining infrastructure. This is appropriate at this stage since it would be impossible to realize the promise of REN without a solid ICT infrastructure in place and the technical competencies to maintain it (Khan, 2006). However, a significant and growing number of end users will be university staff from all disciplines, new generation research students, and other participants based on the composition of each REN. Therefore a challenge at this juncture may be developing strategies to enable WACREN to engage potential stakeholders beyond its primary technical base. A challenge at a later stage will be the race for content – creating and storing digital content from all disciplines and in varied contexts.
This paper advocates a customized communication strategy for WACREN, which addresses the need to target key audiences as well as create and store content. It would be a mistake to replicate communication strategies from other RENs and adopt them in the West African context. Equally important, this paper proposes the establishment of a regional news and information network to serve the communication and information needs of key stakeholders in a timely, efficient and effective way. The proposed network could also serve as a teaching and learning platform for university students from various disciplines. Communication professionals – with their focus on content – are valuable assets in numerous ways. The storage capacity of RENs and the possibilities of supporting video conferencing, streaming, and mobile services creates the potential for the growth of large repositories of regional knowledge. Mass communication and strategic communication professional could play critical roles in developing and maintaining communication channels customized to target key stakeholders and chronicling the evolution of REN for the digital archives.
In sum, this paper proposes a three phase strategy to 1) customize a communication strategy to meet the needs of the WACREN community; 2) develop a communication campaign to engage current stakeholders and build wider constituencies; and 3) develop a news and information network to sustain WACREN goals for communication. The author envisions these activities being supported by a wider teaching and learning initiative for the academic staff and students in mass communication, digital content development, computer science and related disciplines. Interest in NRENs have been heightened primarily among academic audiences by public relation and social media campaigns (GEANT 2015, Taylor and Abbott, 2015). Still the need exists, particularly in the early stages of WACREN, to build constituencies beyond the core technical audiences.
This paper proposes a three phase strategy to 1) customize a communication strategy to meet the needs of the WACREN community; 2) develop a communication campaign to engage current stakeholders and build wider constituencies; and 3) develop a news and information network to sustain WACREN's goals for communication.
(CEI Consulting Firm)