Executive Secretary, IUFRO Secretariat, Vienna, AUSTRIA
The need for a scientific basis for forest management and policy development
Policy and management decisions are highly dependent on the quality and quantity of the information available and underlying science. Improvements in scientific knowledge that support decision-making can often greatly improve the development, implementation and assessment of policies and programmes. Decision-makers must turn to science with greater frequency to provide scientifically credible technical guidelines to resolve management and policy problems and issues. In addition, an increasingly involved and informed public is challenging the scientific and technical credibility of management plans and decisions. Information is the foundation of sound decision-making and it is critical that the best scientific information is available to all stakeholders.
The need to establish a Global Forest Information Service (GFIS)
For over a decade better access to forest information that would assist policymakers, researchers, forest managers, conservationists and others in their efforts to address society's needs regarding the sustainability of the world's forest resources has been strongly advocated. Improving access to forest information was formally recognized as a priority by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, Agenda 21, Chapter 40:
“Existing national and international mechanisms of information processing and exchange, and of related technical assistance, should be strengthened to ensure effective and equitable availability of information generated at the local, provincial, national and international levels…”
The role of electronic information systems was also noted in Chapter 40: The Intergovernmental Panel on Forests in 1997 reintroduced the importance of gaining access to information.
Although there are several publication media in which forest-related information can be found, increasingly people are using the World Wide Web to access the information they need. Many organizations now maintain Web sites with forest information; among the more prominent international agencies that do so are: FAO, JRC, EFI, WCMC, CIFOR, ETFRN, ITTO and IUFRO. With the rapidly growing number of Web sites containing information on forests and forestry it is a huge task to search them individually for pertinent information. Furthermore, even the best search engines are incapable of finding all pertinent sites. Thus, for the information-seeker it would be more time-efficient and effective if they were able to access integrated forest information through one Web site (containing a meta-database). Additionally, the development and application of information standards and criteria would further aid the information seeker by facilitating easy and effective searching and better results. Among the anticipated users of such a service are national and international policy makers, institutes of higher learning and research, students, NGOs, intergovernmental agencies, regional organizations and others, as shown by the User's Needs Analysis carried out by WCMC.
To meet this need, the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) was given the mandate (in the wake of IFF3) to convene a consortium of forestry information providers, including CIFOR, WCMC, WFI, FAO, OFI, JRC, EFI and CABI, to develop an Internet-based information system that provides global access to quality information on forests, and which is simple, decentralized and adaptable to changing information needs. The resulting GFIS will provide multiple benefits to information users and providers, including facilitating user-friendly access to a greater amount of electronically and non-electronically available information, and improving the dissemination and quality of forest-related data and information on forest resources, forest policy, criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, research activities, and other timely and relevant issues.
What are the benefits of the GFIS?
Easier access to global forest-related information: At a single entry point and with few steps, users can access relevant information from a large number of sources, thus eliminating the task of searching numerous sources individually.
Better comparability of information and data sets: Adherence to common methodologies, standards and terminology for cataloguing information resources will facilitate comparability of information from multiple sources.
Improved user feedback to information providers: The GFIS will allow for users to communicate their information needs to providers.
Identification of information gaps: The GFIS will help to reveal areas where critical information is lacking, thereby assisting researchers and funding organizations to determine where to focus resources.
Generation of value-added products: Periodic synoptic reports, newsgroups, workshops and other products that synthesize forest-related information are expected to arise from the GFIS.
Facilitation of dissemination of research results and enhanced profile for researchers: Regional and thematic nodes will facilitate the dissemination of information by assisting researchers and other information producers in making their findings accessible.
Structure of GFIS in IUFRO
In 1997 a conference of IUFRO's Research Group 4.02.00, Forest Resources Inventory and Monitoring, was held in Oregon, USA. On that occasion the first steps to develop a GFIS Project were initiated. In 1998, as a follow-up to the International Consultation on Research and Information Systems in Forestry (ICRIS), held in Gmunden, Austria, an Austrian and Indonesian Initiative in Support of the Programme of Work of the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests, IUFRO established the Task Force “GFIS”, coordinated by R. Päivinen.
In the initial phase of work, the Task Force had to conduct activities necessary to develop a plan for implementing the system. These activities include, but are not limited to, the following:
In the follow-up phases, the Task Force should conduct activities to ensure successful implementation of the system. These activities may include the following:
It turned out that using the Task Force for the implementation of its recommendations and findings is not the ideal tool. The IUFRO Board decided, therefore, in March 2001 to establish a Special Programme GFIS, based at the IUFRO's Headquarters in Vienna, for the implementation of the Task Force recommendations.
The respective PowerPoint-Presentation can be found in the Annex.