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UAlbany Researchers Receive Federal Grant to Inform Consumers on How North American Imports Get to Market

A Mexican coffee farmer looks over his fields

A Mexican coffee grower inspects his fields.

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ALBANY, N.Y. (October 27, 2010) -- Researchers at the University at Albany have received a $710,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a framework for providing consumers with knowledge about how, where, and by whom products are being manufactured and brought to market in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) region.

Called I-CHOOSE, the data framework will allow more information on market transactions so consumers can make decisions that better reflect their values. At the same time, producers and other stakeholders will be encouraged to work together to build new fair trade markets.

I-CHOOSE will be developed in collaboration with a network of international researchers and practitioners from Canada, Mexico and the U.S. who have been working together since 2007 as the North American Digital Government Working Group (NADGWG).

"Most products consumed within the North American Free Trade Area are produced and distributed through low-cost supply chains that typically do not reveal certain types of information to end consumers," said project leader Theresa Pardo, director of the Center for Technology in Government at UAlbany and co-chair of NADGWG. She said this "information asymmetry" makes it difficult for consumers to assess the quality of the NAFTA products they buy or to address environmental or labor-practice concerns when making choices.

A farmer machetes his field

The I-CHOOSE project aims to encourage consumers to support fair trade products within the NAFTA region.

In developing I-CHOOSE, researchers will work with stakeholder communities that grow coffee in Mexico which is then distributed and consumed in Canada and the U.S. Information will be gathered on "green" supply chains or production methods, wages paid to producers or workers, working conditions, environmental impact, and a wide range of other information about the products.

"The producers, supply chain operators, and third party certifiers will all need to agree on a data architecture that can facilitate exchange and sharing of information that comes from product production systems, supply chain distribution systems, as well as systems used to determine compliance with voluntary and government-mandated product standards," said Giri Tayi, a professor of management science and information systems at the UAlbany School of Business.

"The I-CHOOSE data interoperability network, involving consumers, producers, and government regulatory agencies across multiple domains and countries, is unprecedented in nature," said Holly Jarman, assistant professor of political science and public administration in UAlbany's Rockefeller College.

The project is the outgrowth of a larger multi-year NSF-funded CTG project through which several international working groups, such as NADGWG, focus on advancing electronic government research. NADGWG specifically looks at emerging distribution networks of goods which promote organic and fair trade in the NAFTA region.

While the focus of I-CHOOSE is on the North American coffee network, it also aims to increase knowledge on creating trusted environments where incentives for future collaboration and competition are complementary, not mutually exclusive.

UAlbany members of the U.S. research team include Pardo, Tayi and Jarman, with Rockefeller College Distinguished Service Professor David Andersen and associate professor of informatics Deborah Andersen serving as senior personnel on the project. A UAlbany alumna, Dr. Jing Zhang from Clark University, is a co-principal investigator along with Jarman.

The mission of the Center for Technology in Government at the University at Albany is to foster public sector innovation, enhance capability, generate public value, and support good governance. We carry out this mission through applied research, knowledge sharing, and collaboration at the intersection of policy, management, and technology. For more information visit www.ctg.albany.edu.

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