Based upon the decision to implement an assessment system for Criteria and Indicators for Dry Forests in a particular country in Asia, a lead agency has to be appointed. For most countries the obvious choice for a lead agency would be either a unit of the ministry in charge of forestry affairs or the forestry department. The lead agency is responsible for the following tasks:
(a) Establishment of a Steering Committee. This committee overlooks the implementation of the assessment, is chaired by a high-level officer of the ministry. Members of the steering committee include a representative of the lead agency, national forest research organisation, private sector and environmental/rural development NGO.
(b) Building a network of collaborators. The success of the assessment depends to a large extent on a functioning cooperation of professionals from different fields of expertise. Relevant partner organisations such as ministries, research institutions, technical departments, private sector companies and NGO's need to be informed about the assessment system and motivated to act as data providers and advisors to the lead agency.
(c) Preparation of a country-specific assessment system guideline. Based on the present practical guide a country-specific version containing the local specifications, particularly for the relevant assessable verifiers employed and the documents and procedures used in the assessment needs to be prepared. The preparation should be done in close cooperation within the network of collaborators.
(d) Coordination of assessment system implementation. The lead agency is responsible for work plans, contracts for data provision and advisory services, evaluation of collected information, compilation of monitoring results and preparation of the final report on "progress towards sustainable forest management".
(e) Capacity building. Training courses are essential to familiarise the experts and support staff with the special requirements of the assessment system, desired level of detail and accuracy of the information to be collected and possibilities to further develop and improve the system.
In principle, the collection and compilation of the necessary information should be accomplished in a decentralised fashion, involving several partner institutions and organisations. The present practical guide is designed in such a way as to facilitate this decentralised approach. All the information required to accomplish the assessment and reporting for an individual indicator can be found at one place in the document. These instructions can be handed out to the data providers and partners who have been assigned one or more indicators for assessment.
Actual assessment should be preceded by intensive discussions between members of the lead agency and the experts of collaborating institutions. The aim is to develop a common understanding of the nature of the various indicators, review the assessment procedures and clarify any open issue associated with reporting and monitoring of the assessment results.
During building of the assessment system one may also consider to undertake a few tests on indicator assessment, reporting and monitoring. These tests will allow the identification of problems associated with data collection, sources of information, processing procedures and presentation of the assessment results. Furthermore, tests will provide an opportunity to evaluate the interpretation results for any incompatibility with the criteria and indicator formulations.
It is commonly recognised that only qualified professionals are able to implement an assessment system such as this one covering a wide range of ecological, social and economic subjects. The selection and further training of assessment staff is therefore crucial in achieving good results in assessment system implementation. There are basically two types of personnel involved in the assessment:
(a) Specialists in various fields, mostly outside the regular forestry profession who act as partners for the lead agency. These experts are contracted for very specific assignments within the assessment. Examples of such assignments are associated with issues such as soil and water analyses, innovative technologies or macro-economics.
(b) General forestry professionals who deal with the forestry-related assessment. The qualification requirements for these professionals include good knowledge of the ecological, technical and socio-economic of dry forests, ability to form an opinion based on factual evidence, adequate communication and reporting skills.
Training efforts should be directed towards the general forestry professionals for improving the above mentioned skills. Training of the external specialists contracted as data providers or consultants only need to be made familiar with the assessment system and the forest context in which this assessment is implemented.
The "reference set" of Criteria and Indicators for Dry Forests in Asia that form the basis of the assessment system at the national level could also serve to improve forest management. For this purpose one would need to define a norm for each individual indicator or assessable verifier. Norms are measurable thresholds, performance standards and/or reference procedures which represent the desired reference value of the assessable parameter. Setting appropriate norms would require an extensive dialogue among the forest stakeholders to reach agreement.
At the level of government which is concerned with policy formulation and amendments of laws and regulations the current set of national-level criteria and indicators can largely be used to identify areas for improvements. In order to apply this assessment system at the FMU and operational levels, new assessable verifiers would need to be introduced and also certain indicators re-formulated. These amendments would consider best practices to be employed in forest operations in order to meet environmental and social standards.