The Regional Institute was set up in 1999 as an independent, not-for-profit company. Its purpose was to use the Internet to open up access to publicly funded information to anyone with a telephone line and modem. For some time, founder Roger Johnson, had been investigating how much research and educational information was on the Internet and how it was being provided.
A review of the websites of the research and development corporations, state and federal government departments, and academic and research organisations showed a fragmented and inconsistent approach to the provision of market, technical and research information. This was creating a perception of information overload amongst farmers and other user groups.
His research showed that it was really a function of the inability of providers to standardise the delivery and format of information, rather than a function of quantity. In summary, the conclusion was that people were overwhelmed and under-informed.
Coincidentally, The Regional Summit in Canberra in 1999, came to the conclusion that in order for people to participate in, and have ownership of new and innovative approaches to sustaining regional communities, they first needed access to information and a means of communication in order to develop knowledge and a shared understanding of issues.
Much of this information is an outcome of publicly funded research, development, extension and education programs. The output from these programs has invariably been confined to the print paradigm, with limited attempts at publishing on the Internet. Much of our scientific knowledge is published in peer-reviewed overseas journals and is not generally available to the community.
More recently, in a bid to meet government policy requirements to web-enable information services, a quick-fix solution of loading information in Portal Document File (PDF) format has been adopted. This presents major equity issues for Internet users outside metropolitan areas, does little to address the issue of standards and limits opportunities to use the web to its full capacity building potential through interactivity within documents.
In response to these issues, The Regional Institute developed a process for managing information and data that made conversion to an HTML web page simple, efficient and cheap. With the support of a number of professional societies, TRI published referred papers from conferences in the areas of agriculture, natural resource management and community development.
The Regional Institute provides access to around 20,000 pages of publicly funded research, development, extension and educational information, mainly in the form of refereed conference proceedings and reports on its website. This information is accessed by several million visitors each month.
The Regional Institute now provides a range web based solutions, publishing and communication services to professional societies, government, not-for-profit organizations and SMEs.