MISSION OF THE IFCA

by David Mitchell (University of Calgary)

The International Federation of Communication Associa tions (IFCA) is a newly incorporated organization oriented towards improving the sharing of research in our field on a global basis. The Federation was created because of the felt need that there is very limited exchange of communications research between both developed and developing countries.

Within developed countries this problem is exemplified in the very limited sharing of research between the various communications-related journals. Most of the diffusion of research within the field is concentrated within the mid-western United States (the historical birthplace of the field) while there is very limited exchange with other disciplines (So, 1988). Even within developed nations, the pattern of research sharing tends to favour the original mid-western network in a centripetal fashion. Accordingly, there is only limited exchange between peripheral countries such as Australia, Canada, or Norway. Standing outside of this circle, developing nations have considerable problems with access to both primary and bibliographic literature for scholarship of any variety (Eres & Noerr, 1985) and for communication research in particular (Halloran, 1981). An awareness of this problem, and a desire to do something about it, on the part of a number of individuals brought the Federation into existence.

Klaus Krippendorff (Annenberg) describes the way the Federation was created in the following way. In 1985, at the ICA conference in Hawaii, Gary Gumpert organized an informal meeting between representatives of various communication associations in the field. Krippendorff notes,

Although I participated in international conferences, worked in a multinational research project, and travelled much, I nonetheless found myself surprised to learn at this meeting about the diversity of ways communication scholarship was constituted elsewhere.... Quite a number of participants already were members of professional communication associations, but there were many who saw themselves as clustering around particular research projects or educational institutions and still others who came to the meeting from documentation centers, seeing their purpose as communicating about communication. It became clear to those present that contributing papers across national boundaries is individually important but created little awareness and gave hardly any recognition of the diversity of the communication scholarship existing elsewhere, particularly in the developing countries and in Asia. Our meeting concluded with a sense that there was much benefit in such a sharing of perspectives, with a commitment to continue the deliberating and with the hope to achieve more cooperation among widely dispersed and rarely noticed communication associations. (Krippendorff, 1992, p. 3)

Following this first meeting, a number of individuals interested in continuing the project met infrequently at later ICA conferences in Montreal, New Orleans, and San Francisco. In these meetings, Krippendorff notes ``discussions centred on two issues. First, on how we could give our increasing desire for inter-associational collaboration a formal structure and, second, what benefits would become available to participating associations, particularly in third world countries'' (Krippendorff, 1992, pp. 3-4). It was felt that there was a niche for a truly international association of communication associations to support research exchange--a niche which was not filled by either the American-based ICA or the IAMCR (then U.K.-based). Some of the possible projects discussed in these meetings included a joint calender for scholarly meetings, the publication of a ``current contents'' volume of the tables of contents of communications-related journals, and, ultimately, the exchange via traditional or electronic means of the journals in full text form.

Over the course of 1989-90 Krippendorff, in concert with Jan Wieten (Netherlands) and Youichi Ito (Japan), worked to produce a draft constitution which was presented at a meeting in Dublin in July 1990 at the ICA conference. This meeting was attended by about thirty representatives of communication associations internationally. I attended this meeting representing the Canadian Communication Association. During the course of this meeting there was some concern voiced by several quarters as to whether the new ``federation'' would be nothing other than an ``inter-galactic'' variant of the ICA. When it was clarified that this was not the intention, and that each member association would have equal voting status irrespective of its membership size or resources--the veil of skepticism parted for many of us present. At the end of the meeting I joined the interim steering committee along with Wolfgang Hoffman-Riem (Germany), Erik Rosengren (Sweden), and Bruce Molloy and Bill Ticehurst (Australia). This group met on various occasions over the next year and in Chicago in May 1991 charged Klaus and myself to adjust the draft constitution to make the Federation suitable for incorporation in Canada. The constitution needed various changes to make it procedurally suitable to the Canadian Consumer and Corporate Affairs Department. In December of 1991, the Federation received its ``letters patent'' from the Canadian government as a formally registered society.

After this point, the organization has turned its attention to two main tasks: developing its membership and getting practical research exchange projects underway. Both of these endeavours have been fruitful. At present, the Federation now includes members from: Australia (ACA), Brazil (INTERCOM), Canada (CCA), Croatia (CCA), Finland (FSCR), Germany (DGPK and DGK), Korea (KSJCS), and the U.K. (CSCC). The Federation also includes the ALAIC as one of its members--which is a regional organization representing the joint interests of communication associations throughout Latin America.

The practical projects undertaken to date have consisted of the publication of a newsletter and a ``current contents'' volume, both under the editorship of Edward Renouf Slopek (Calgary). The newsletter, entitled INDICATORnews, covers news on the Federation at large, reports on the nature of research in different regions and nations, and provides a schedule of upcoming scholarly events. The current contents volume, entitled INDICATORcontents, reprints the current table of contents from an array of journals around the world in communications research. While other ``current contents'' volumes are already in existence, such as The Iowa Guide (prepared by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa) and Current Contents (prepared by the NORDICOM group at the University of Tampere in Finland) both of these tend to be regional in nature. In contrast, INDICATORcontents was designed with the intention of being fully international in scope. A mock-up version of the first edition was produced for distribution at the IAMCR conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil which included the tables of contents of 115 journals. An updated and expanded first edition is being compiled for printing and distribution in October of this year.

The Federation has other projects under discussion. Before I sketch out what form these might take, let me simply note that their design is conditioned not simply by what we would like to see in the way of exchange, but also by a sober awareness of the sheer practical problems involved.

What we would like to see is a global network of information exchange which is universally accessible and yet not hierarchically structured in ways that favour particular institutions, geographical locales, and forms of information. We imagine that potential clients of such a system would use it dependent upon their own particular needs and interests, and in line with their own resource and technical capacities. It seems reasonable that such a network would encourage regional decentralization (as constrained by interest, language, and cultural custom) but hopefully not at the cost of universal exchange guaranteed by international standards.

However, the practical barriers to improving the exchange of information in our (or any other) field are manifold. These barriers include such things as: technical constraints (e.g., technology, infrastructure, and expertise), informational constraints (e.g., translation, bibliographical systems, copyright), and institutional constraints (e.g., service costs and resource capacities). Since the various technical systems supporting knowledge exchange are not developing in similar growth patterns, they are not likely to reach some kind of equitable state of development in the foreseeable future. In particular, the tendency to commodify information goods and services wherever possible will make it probable that developing countries will fall steadily behind developed ones in access to research with the rising costs for such services. In consequence, and despite our best intentions, we are forced to speak differentially regarding the prospects for setting up networks of exchange in developed as opposed to less developed nations (Eres & Noerr, 1985).

Despite this, we still feel it is worthwhile to work towards a more equitable and democratic sharing of research globally. And we feel that this can best be done by initiating projects simultaneously at various points on the technological spectrum. For example, low-end networking can utilize simple photocopying and mail technologies to improve the exchange of research in print (e.g., INDICATORcontents); medium-level networking can involve the development of data bases and bibliographical indexing systems utilizing microcomputer and CD-ROM technologies; and high-end networking can improve the exchange of bibliographic and full-text form research utilizing electronic systems such as those available on the Internet. In each of these cases, the Federation's view is that the projects taken on should be global in nature and designed in a way that enables less developed nations to join in, if they are interested, at a minimum of cost.