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  A major challenge facing all policy oriented analysis is the communication of research results in a way that provides the policy makers and their advisors helpful insights. The traditional means of communicating research results are a printed document or a briefing/discussion. For the most part, policy makers prefer briefings in that they can then interact verbally with the analyst. While a research report is organized in a linear way interaction between a policy analyst and a policy maker can explore a wide range of possibilities. Numerous decision makers and few analysts limit the possibilities for non-linear, verbal interactions.

The IIASA Land Use Project has led to the development of a new way to communicate results. Rather than relying on a printed report, Gerhard Heilig has developed a CD ROM based on his and his colleagues’ research in the land use change project. The CD ROM is a hyperlinked document that draws attention to the multi-dimensional nature of China’s food security problems. The question, can China feed itself, cannot be answered by only considering the availability of land and water resources. China’s future food security will depend on changes in China’s population, the diet preferred by that population, the rate of urbanization, agricultural and economic policies, changes in technology as well as changes in the supply and quality of arable land and water. In the CD ROM the data including charts, diagrams, maps and satellite images, together with the analysis are organized into a web of thousands of links. A number of questions regarding various sectors of the Chinese economy provide the underlying organization of the presentation. What are the major trends in a particular sector? What is the impact of these trends on China’s food security? How reliable are the empirical data? How large is the error that can be expected from projecting current trends over 50 years? Can policy measures affect these trends and what are the costs of such policy interventions?

The analysis and presentation emphasizes the many sided factors of the food equation as well as the reliability of the data. Impact of innovations and technologies and improvements in management receive particular attention.

As the complexity of issues facing society increase, new and more effective means of communicating results of policy driven research must be explored. The Land Use Change Project and exploration of the results of that research in electronic form as developed by Heilig serves as an excellent example as an alternative means of communication between analyst and decision makers. In the future, IIASA will continue to explore these new ways of enhancing communication. But it is certain, that as in the case of Heilig’s CD ROM, future means of providing insight to policy makers will make heavy use of the rapidly evolving electronic revolution.

Gordon J. MacDonald
IIASA, April 28, 1999