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Public Roads - Summer 1995

Interchange: Global Road Transport Knowledge Exchange Network

by Ray G. Griffith

In keeping with today's information and technology revolution, Committee C3 of the Permanent International Association of Road Congresses (PIARC) is laying the foundation for a global network for road knowledge exchange called "INTERCHANGE." Its goal is "to put people with problems in touch with people with solutions." The current plan is for INTERCHANGE to be operational by September 1995 -- in time for the PIARC World Road Congress in Montreal.


As envisioned by participants in a Founders Conference held in Casablanca, Morocco, June 9 through 11, 1994, the global exchange network will use the resources of existing institutions already engaged in road-related technology transfer and encourage the establishment of new networks where necessary. Effective knowledge exchange will be accomplished without costly communications equipment by relying most frequently on traditional methods such as meetings, conventional mail, telephone, and fax. INTERCHANGE Organizing Committee members agree that the most important factor for success is not the technology of the communication equipment. Instead, it is the mutual agreement to openly share information with others.

A second principle of the INTERCHANGE vision is to adapt solutions to the needs of the user. To accomplish this, solutions will come from the closest available network or from one sharing similar economic and geographic circumstances. Accordingly, developing or transitional countries will need to rely more heavily upon each other, and more industrialized regions will need to become full partners.

Although all of the details have not been ironed out, the founders envision that participation in INTERCHANGE will be open to anyone interested and will involve a minimum of constraints. Membership is to be based solely on a demonstrated willingness to participate.

Institutions and organizations will become the nodes of INTERCHANGE, linked together through an informal liaison. INTERCHANGE nodes will be responsible for providing knowledge with "all care but no responsibility." Members will help users by providing them with the correct contacts for a given question. More detailed transfer of knowledge will take place once a user has contacted the correct source of information. The idea is to extend the personal network available to individuals, not necessarily to provide documented responses.

Unresolved issues include language translation, copyrights, the cost of responding to inquiries, the availability of equipment, the nature and level of the information to be transferred, and bureaucratic problems.


INTERCHANGE evolved largely because of the activities of Committee C3 following the 19th World Road Congress held in Marrakesh, Morocco, in 1991. At that time, the committee was responsible for technological exchanges and development. It sought to identify the priority needs of developing regions and to recommend how these needs could be satisfied. The committee was also charged with strengthening the technological exchange between developing and industrialized countries.

The idea for the INTERCHANGE network was assigned to Committee C3 during the first meeting of its current term (1992-95). This assignment included conducting a survey of technology transfer networks and activities among developing and developed countries. The committee's work on the survey assignment became the forerunner of a broader program aimed at enhancing or developing technology transfer networks between organizations and individuals. INTERCHANGE will take this one step further by promoting a technology transfer network on a global scale.

A Declaration of Intent was drafted and signed at the Founders Conference last June. Over a three-day period, more than 140 delegates from 45 countries and five continents met to examine the concept of INTERCHANGE and draft the declaration document.

The Preamble to the Declaration of Intent sums up the vision of the founders:

In all countries, road professionals find it difficult to access much of the knowledge they need to solve the problems they face. We envision the establishment of a system of national, regional and global information and knowledge-sharing networks, especially for developing countries and those in transition.

Scarce resources must be used wisely. Those existing institutions that engage in road-related information and knowledge dissemination should form the core of the networks and create national and international links.

Technology Transfer Survey

Prior to the Founders Conference, Committee C3 conducted a survey of approximately 140 organizations to identify technology transfer networks. A total of 106 responses were received from 34 countries. The responses represented 42 organizations from industrialized countries, 47 from developing countries, and 17 from countries in economic transition. Organizations included 21 government transportation departments, 30 universities, 21 trade or professional associations, 23 research organizations, and six other types of organizations.1


Casablanca was the site of the 1994 Founders Conference, where the INTERCHANGE concept was introduced to and endorsed by the international community.



To plan effective networking activities, the survey gathered information on the types of training conducted, the types of media readily available, and existing affiliations to organizations. Results showed that at least three-quarters of those surveyed conduct training for engineers, with about half presenting programs for technicians. Not surprisingly, most efforts are concentrated on in-house training.

On the issue of media availability, it was found that video is the media most readily available, while audio and electronic mail technologies are used less widely. Universities, it was shown, had the best access to all media.

Of those organizations surveyed, 24 claimed affiliation with PIARC and 24 with the International Road Federation (IRF). Eighteen had affiliation with both, seven were members of the Road Engineering Association of Asia and Australasia (REAAA), and eight were members of the Pan American Institute for Highways (PIH).2

Fulfilling the INTERCHANGE Mission

The founders meeting was followed by a meeting of the organizing group in Brussels, Belgium, on Sept. 29-30, 1994. John Cutrell, chair of Committee C3's Working Group 2 (and director of international programs for the Federal Highway Administration), was appointed to head the organizing group. The meeting yielded a work plan and working groups necessary to meet the schedule established by the founders -- especially that INTERCHANGE be operationally demonstrated during the World Road Congress scheduled for September 1995 in Montreal.

Working Group I: User Needs and Services Required

Chairman: Dr. Angel Lacleta Muñoz (Spain)

Working Group II: Node and Network Capabilities

Chairman: Geoff Youdale (Australia)

Working Group III: Communications Technology

Chairman: Jean-Pierre Tassé (Canada)

Working Group IV: Finance and Resources

Chairman: Michel Servranckx (Belgium)

Working Group V: Organizational Structure and Legal Issues

Chairman: John Cutrell (United States)

These working groups performed their tasks well and presented results during a second meeting of the organizing committee in Williamsburg, Va., Jan. 30-31, 1995. The reports were refined and accepted, and the group chairs, together as a management committee, were charged with developing an operational document.

During the Williamsburg meeting, Canada's proposal to become the permanent INTERCHANGE secretariat was accepted; Belgium will continue to provide support through at least 1997. Spain will convert written communications to Spanish, supplementing the traditional PIARC official languages of English and French. With that decided, plans were made for presentation and demonstration of INTERCHANGE during the PIARC XXth World Road Congress in September 1995.

Although there are still organizational and operational details to be worked out, INTERCHANGE is well on its way to becoming a reality.


  1. John B. Metcalf, Routes and Roads, PIARC, No. 282, January 1994, pages 52 and 53.
  2. Ibid., page 53.

Ray G. Griffith is the chief of the Technology Management Division, Office of Technology Applications, in the Federal Highway Administration. He has been involved in the INTERCHANGE Project from its beginning, participating in the Casablanca Founders Conference and providing input to the Marrakesh Congress. In 1988 he was named Colorado Professional Engineer of the Year, and in 1986 he received the Federal Highway Administrator's Superior Achievement Award. He holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Oklahoma State University and a master's in public administration from the University of Colorado. He is a licensed professional engineer in Kansas and Oklahoma.