The objectives of the workshop
The main objectives of the workshop were to:
establish and reinforce the network/working group of statistical correspondents in FAO and ITTOs 16 member countries;
provide training on standardized international definitions and tabular formats for completing the JFSQ;
review current forest statistics at national and regional levels; and
encourage information sharing at the country level, among countries and with international organizations.
Each objective was achieved. The participants reinforced their personal networks, provided open and honest reviews of national forest statistics programmes and participated very constructively at the training exercises and in the working group discussions (see Appendix 2).
Two further objectives were set to:
identify the main weaknesses and constraints concerning forest statistics; and
further develop a set of alternative frameworks for improving statistical processes (Recommendations).
These latter objectives are the focus of the main findings and recommendations.
What is meant by effective forest statistics?
Before identifying constraints and recommendations concerning forest statistics, some idea of the context of forest statistics is required. The constraints relate to an overall goal of achieving effective forest statistics, and the recommendations also relate to this desired end. This goal provided the context for much of the comment and analysis that was presented at the workshop.
A number of presentations defined effective forest product statistics as being:
Timely and relevant to target users (whether governments, international organizations, investment, or businesses)
Based on standardized definitions/units/systems applied internationally across different countries
Continuous data series over time
Adaptable and flexible in the face of changing demands
Available and readily accessible by those who can benefit from their use
The effective forest statistics system
A systems concept is the most useful context when evaluating forest statistics. There are many influences that impact on effectiveness. These influences not only relate to finance or human skills, but also to the socio-political environment, and many other factors. Importantly, a systems view focuses more on qualitative processes between inter-related entities, rather than the entities themselves. In other words, the trust and cooperation among and within key departments, key individuals and key private and public sector organizations may be more critical than a quantum of financial resources applied to the forest statistics environment.
A systems view also recognizes that there are multiple inter-relationships with no single chain of cause and effect. Therefore, parts of a system cannot be managed in isolation from another because the consequences of one action will have potentially compounding effects elsewhere, sometimes positive, and sometimes negative. For instance something as simple as good ethics may reinforce trust, thereby increasing political commitment and affecting financial resources positively; this will lead to positively reinforced feedback. Conversely, poor communication skills (as an example) could produce negatively reinforced feedback by reducing trust, political commitment and resourcing along the same chain.
The quality and effectiveness of forest statistics per se may provide the most important positive reinforcement by influencing other key elements necessary for maintaining such quality. That is, once the quality of statistics is high, and appreciated as such in the wider government and private sector community, then it may be easier to maintain this standard because of the private and public sector commitment it attracts.
A schematic of the forest statistics environment is provided in Figure 1.
Figure 1. The forest statistics system
The elements of the forest statistics system, identified by the workshop, include the following:
Political commitment to forestry
Public sector commitment, communication and trust
Private sector commitment, communication and trust
Effective data collection systems
Commitment, communication and trust between countries and international organizations such as FAO and ITTO
Figure 1 contains all of these elements, except for the final one. Each element is elaborated on hereunder, with associated recommendations that emerged from the workshop.
1. Political commitment
Political support depends on the relative importance of the forestry sector in each country - or the political perception of that importance. It is manifested particularly through forest policy and legislation that supports the gathering of statistics, and is also apparent through the dedication of resources to forestry statistics.
Political support varies throughout the Asia-Pacific region. To maintain and encourage political support, management and national correspondents (NCs) of forest product statistics are advised to:
point out policy conflicts where they occur (for example, policies that encourage non-reporting, for example illegal logging);
inform respective governments of the relevance and value of forest statistics, if they are uninformed (with private sector support where possible); and
work within constraints - that is, develop systems that use available resources more effectively (e.g. through cooperation with other departments and the private sector).
2. Institutional stability
It is desirable for public institutions responsible for the collection, compilation and dissemination of forest product statistics to be stable for the following reasons:
Stability has positive effects on staff retention, recruitment, skills development, commitment and building institutional knowledge (archives).
Stability has positive effects on maintaining and developing links and trust with other people working in public and private sector institutions.
Many Asia-Pacific countries have suffered from institutional instability, which has had adverse effects on achieving effective forest statistics. In order to maintain and enhance institutional stability, management and NCs are advised to:
Ensure institutions have a good reputation with public and key private institutions (to attract private sector support).
Minimize staff turnover through incentives and personal support.
Document the NCs terms of reference.
Recognize the value of human relationships and institutional knowledge when restructuring.
3. Human resources
Staff social capital includes:
Technical skills - for example in statistics or forestry
National and international personal relationships
Public and private sector personal relationships
Personal commitment and motivation
Knowledge and understanding of institutional history - for example, why data is collected in a particular way, and how this was done in the past
Knowledge of who uses forest statistics, and for what purpose
Human resources are a constraint in many Asia-Pacific countries, including those that are traditionally well supplied. To ensure that social capital is enhanced and maintained, management and NCs are advised to:
ensure adequate training through national and international workshops;
support statistical staff;
encourage and support the continuity of NCs roles;
work within constraints - for example, develop systems that use available resources more effectively (for example by cooperating with other departments or the private sector); and
work in cooperation/partnership with other countries.
4. Financial resources
Lack of financial resources can severely constrain a departments ability to collect statistics and maintain standards. However, finance is not a silver bullet that solves all problems. Effective use of finance also requires:
Competent and motivated staff
Staff with good personal relationships
Good systems for data collection and compilation
Many countries face growing financial restrictions. To ensure that the effects of financial constraints are minimized, management and NCs are advised to:
look for other fields of resources (e.g. the private sector or other public sector departments);
rationalize statistics collection to ensure the effective use of resources - especially in relation to other departments (e.g. by establishing and maintaining cooperative partnerships); and
collect only useful/relevant information.
5. Public sector commitment
Forest statistical information requires information flows within a departmental hierarchy, and between departments. Competition, lack of trust and lack of communication have a detrimental effect on the cost effectiveness of gathering forest statistics, and the quantity and quality of data.
Public sector commitment, trust and communication vary among Asia-Pacific countries. To ensure that public sector commitment is enhanced and maintained, governments and management are advised to:
identify one national agency as a focal point for forest product statistics;
establish a common vision across and within departments - through working groups, memoranda of understanding, etc.;
build and maintain personal relationships through trust; and
nominate and confirm the appointment of a national correspondent.
6. Private sector commitment
Effective forest statistics require cooperation with the private sector in many countries. Without their support, data gaps and poorer quality in statistics collection and compilation can occur. The private sector is also a useful advocate to the government, as a major user of statistics. In addition, they provide a useful check for data relevance and usefulness. However, particular problems relate to maintaining confidentiality and control of illegal logging.
The commitment of the private sector varies in the Asia-Pacific region. To ensure that private sector commitment is enhanced and maintained, management and NCs are advised to:
build and maintain personal relationships through trust and data sharing;
honour the confidentiality of sensitive data;
ensure reasonable private sector information needs are met (information that is timely, relevant, accessible and adaptable); and
advocate legislative and other departmental support (for example, to control illegal logging), including other countries.
7. Effective systems for data collection
The value of statistics depends on collection, compilation and dissemination. Major issues are standardization of units and data collection methods to ensure consistency and comparability. The availability of data varies. Effective forest data are targeted for the audience, and accessed by those who can benefit (governments, international organizations, forestry businesses, investors).
Some inconsistencies of approach exist in many Asia-Pacific countries - for example year ending (YE) reporting dates. To ensure that effective systems for data collection are maintained, governments and management are advised to:
standardize methodologies across departments, and where possible across countries; and
if possible, implement data validation/checking.
8. Socio-economic environment
There is great diversity in the social and economic environment throughout the Asia-Pacific region, from wealthy and stable, to underdeveloped and unstable. As a result, Asia-Pacific countries have different capacities for collecting forestry statistics. Complicating the socio-economic environment is the development of political concern for community and environmental issues (such as SFM). This and other trends will continue to change the demand for types of forest product statistics.
Political changes and, in the case of some countries, political instability, have a negative impact on effective forest statistics. In addition, poorer countries may have social pressures that encourage illegal logging, and a lack of commitment from private firms towards either SFM, or effective forest statistics.
To ensure that the constraints relating to the socio-economic environment are minimized, management and NCs are advised to:
focus on a core set of statistics;
encourage flexible and adaptable capacity in data collection;
remain aware of trends in international forestry; and
work with other departments where they can assist in the provision of better statistics - such as more effective policing of illegal logging.
9. International commitment from FAO/ITTO
FAO and ITTO have important roles to play in standardization by providing a focus for national forest data collection, and support to meetings such as this one, which are useful in encouraging standardization and similarity in approaches. Such meetings are also particularly useful in reinforcing relationships, building trust and enhancing skills - especially in developing countries, or in countries where resources are experiencing a downturn.
These meetings also increase the likelihood of developing partnerships between countries, which may provide significant benefits, especially for those nations with less human and financial resources.
To ensure that these benefits continue, FAO/ITTO are recommended to conduct such events more often, and encourage communication among Asia-Pacific countries.
10. Conclusion and workshop follow up
The workshop was successful in achieving its objectives and realizing the outcomes sought. All the participants contributed to the discussions and enjoyed the company of other delegates and the exchange of information that the workshop generated. The contribution of the participants is reflected by the recommendations made above.
Of particular value were the informal interactions, especially the opportunity to relax and chat over refreshments. Professor Kanowski and Mr Bhati organized a meal at the ACT Botanic Gardens, which made the participants feel welcome and relaxed throughout the week. The importance of these informal relations was recognized by the delegates.
The workshop was instrumental in establishing the network of national statistical correspondents, and making it operational (Appendix 4). The participants constantly reiterated their support for further FAO/ITTO workshops, particularly with respect to the positive contributions such workshops make to fortifying national and international statistics on forest products.
 Chris Perley &
Associates, PO Box 7116, Dunedin, New Zealand.|