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A Forestry Statistical Office: Notes on the basic role and responsibilities

F. Padovani


The aims of this workshop are to: (1) establish the network/working group of statistical correspondents in the 13 member countries of the EC-FAO Partnership Programme; (2) provide training on standardized international definitions and tabular formats for completing the Joint Forest Sector Questionnaire (JFSQ); (3) review current forest product statistics at national and regional levels; (4) identify the main weaknesses and constraints concerning forest statistics and to develop a set of alternative frameworks for improving national statistical processes; (5) encourage information sharing among countries and with international organizations.

This paper describes and reinforces the role and the responsibilities of a national correspondent within and outside the correspondent’s country as well as some daily aspects of a forestry statistical office and its contribution to encouraging sustainable forest management.

The objective of a forestry statistical office

The main objective of a forestry statistical office is to provide statistics that improve the effectiveness of decision-making.  This can be achieved by (1) collecting data of the highest quality and of the most use; (2) collecting data in a timely and cost-effective manner; (3) producing the most appropriate and accessible data products; (4) Teaching the benefits and methods of using statistical information to potential data users to create more effective decision-makers.

A statistical information cycle

The key component of a forestry statistical office is the organization of the statistical information cycle, which can be structured in the following steps:

As soon as the need for a decision, action, policy, or programme is perceived:

any constraints and the information needed to implement it are defined

the information collection operation is designed, promoted, conducted and the data are collected                

the information gathered is processed 

the information products are produced and released 

the information products are promoted and disseminated to the user

using the knowledge gained from the information products, the user makes the decision or initiates the action, policy or programme

based on information-use experience, new information needs are identified or feedback is supplied on how to improve the existing information

For our type of data, we have annual cycles. This approach has to be repeated every time in order to keep statistical applications up to date and to respond to the needs of data consumers.

Building support for a statistical office

There is a need to build understanding and support for statistical work. Some suggestions are:

  1. To take the initiative by actively promoting the value of your products and not waiting for the policy-maker or potential data user to make an approach.
  2. Begin with motivation. Show the rewards of using the data. Demonstrate why your audience should heed your advice and talk about statistics.
  3. Keep it simple at the beginning. Discuss only what the audience is likely to use. Avoid too much detail.
  4. Build support vertically. Explain the value of your work to your superiors and subordinates within the government.
  5. Build support horizontally. Visit other government agencies at your level and explain how you may help them.
  6. Build external support among private businesses, organizations and individuals outside the government.
  7. Recognize that you produce a valuable product. To succeed you must prove the value of your product to validate the value of your organization and your work.
  8. Consult all types of data users and allow them to suggest improvements to what you collect and how the products are designed and delivered.

Despite the data being in the form the consumer expects and wants, and being in close proximity to the consumer’s required location, a conflict of interests between the data producer and data consumer will always occur.

These dynamics generate constraints that sometimes provide good opportunities to move forward. The solutions to constraints can be integrated in the statistical information cycle with the support of the forestry information centre, with appropriate hardware, software and human resources.

The cost of statistics

As reported earlier, one of the main objectives of a forestry statistical office is collecting data in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Figure 1. The relation between uncertainty and the cost of statistics  

The relation between uncertainty and the cost of statistics (Figure 1) is reciprocal, but not linked linearly. Costs grow linearly, but uncertainty decreases linearly; however zero is never reached. For national correspondents, this leads to the issue of where the ideal point in the uncertainty curve is found.

Supplying and marketing statistical data products

We should assume that in the individual decision-making process, facts and statistics are not the only ingredients that are necessary to reach an effective decision. In addition, other resources and skills are required such as knowledge of the problems and specific experience, analysis and judgment to reach decisions, possibly based on a consensus at local, national, regional and global levels.

The kinds of products that a forestry statistical office should deliver are statistical, methodological, analytical and geographic. These should be disseminated to different users using different media such as publications, microfiche, computer files, CD-ROMs, online databases, video tapes and the Internet.

Each has advantages and disadvantages according to the type of user (general public, libraries, universities, government agencies, private companies, local agencies, and freelance consultants).  In addition a demand for the “goods” produced has to be created by promoting and explaining the benefits of using statistics and the benefits of planning. These benefits are:

Confidence and priority for sector statistics comes when leaders demand accurate information and use it. The rewards of data dissemination are diverse. There is a variety of improvements, which are difficult to quantify; however statistics definitely create a form of culture that improves:

The heart of any institution is data. Elaborated, this means:

How can these challenges be met?

With an integrated applications system, complete control is achieved for data access, management, analysis and presentation (see Figure 2). This is applicable to any user (new or old) and any environment (from the data centre to the desktop).

These four fundamental data-driven tasks, common to all applications, are the foundation of an integrated information system.

Figure 2.  The fundamental data-driven tasks



The work of FAO on forestry statistics is an important contribution to international approaches to improving the information on forests and the contribution of the forestry sector to national and rural economies. Adequate information is essential for a clear understanding of the problems and the formulation of sound policies and programmes which will ensure the conservation of forests and secure the benefits of their products and services for people internationally.


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