Patrick B. Durst and Chris Brown
The motivational author J. Martin Kohe wrote: "The greatest power that a person possesses is the power to choose." Whether or not this is true everywhere, certainly in the context of the In search of excellence initiative the choice of case study forests was at the crux of the process. Recognizing the importance of selection decisions, and understanding that many nominees would be disappointed not to be chosen for in-depth case study, an extensive consultative process was used to select the case study forests.
It is important to note that the selection of case study forests from among the 172 nominations was never intended to choose the "best-managed" forests, nor even to assert that the forests selected for case studies are necessarily "wellmanaged." This would imply an element of "certification" that is well beyond the scope of the In search of excellence exercise. Rather, the objective in choosing forests for more detailed study was to have a wide range of conditions from which perceptions of excellence could be assessed. From these, it was hoped that analysts could draw out the full scope of perceptions of excellence in forest management, ideas that might contribute to better forest management and examples of innovations that forest managers might use or adapt to assist in meeting their own unique challenges. Thus, the central theme of the process was about collaborating to share ideas, rather than competing to find the "best" forests. A brief elaboration of the selection process is useful in emphasizing that the exercise was about a "search" for excellence, rather than a claim to have necessarily found it.
An initial decision that had significant bearing on the outcome of the nomination process (and hence selection of case studies) was on the "openness" of the nomination process. A key question was whether nominations should be accepted only from third parties, or whether forest managers should be allowed to nominate their own forests. While emphasizing that the process was not a contest, the coordinators recognized that selection of a nomination as a case study forest would likely confer some measure of prestige to those selected. Consequently, allowing principals to nominate their own forests would provide potential scope (and some incentive) for making exaggerated claims about the quality of management systems. Conversely, the aim was to capture the largest range of perceptions of excellence possible, through the nomination process. Thus, the fewer constraints placed on opportunities to nominate, the greater the number of nominations likely to be received. To ensure accuracy and objectivity, however, it was decided that case studies should be prepared by independent authors with a good knowledge of the selected forest, and that these authors should carry out at least one extensive visit to the forest site to provide some element of ground truthing. Consequently, the decision was made to allow nominations from all interested parties, including forest owners and forest managers.
The nomination phase closed in May 2002, with 172 nominations received. The original intention was to convene a Technical Working Group to select approximately 20 forests for the preparation of more detailed case studies. However, the large number of nominations required an interim screening phase to enhance the efficiency of the working party. A consultant was therefore commissioned to review and summarize each of the nominations and to recommend approximately 40 nominations for the working party's closer scrutiny.
The initial screening process considered both pragmatic and substantive criteria. The overarching objective was to identify nominations that encompass broad diversity in geographic representation and management objectives, especially those that collectively demonstrate "aspects of excellence" common among the nominated forests.
To obtain a sense of geographic representation, the nominations were categorized into regions - South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific - to determine the proportionate number of nominations that should ideally be selected from each region.
Similarly, the range of management objectives covered by the nominations was categorized into broad groupings to estimate a reasonably proportionate representation of nominations, according to management objectives, for selection as case studies. Nominated forests were grouped into four categories according to their primary management purpose:
community forestry and/or production of non-timber forest products and services;
commercial timber production and forest plantations;
biodiversity conservation, soil and water protection, and forest rehabilitation; and
research, education, recreation and tourism.
Common elements of management were also taken into consideration to ensure the selected case studies represented the diversity in perceptions of excellence found in most of the nominations. This diversity in perceptions was conceptualized and synthesized as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Perceptions of excellence in nominations
The vertical and horizontal axes in Figure 1 are each a spectrum, along which nominations fall with respect to how they articulate excellence. Combining the two spectrums captures the broad range of perceptions, since most nominations articulated excellence in some combination of the four elements.
The screening of nominations was also influenced by the less tangible criteria of whether the nomination was "interesting." Nominations that provided compelling stories about forest management were given preference.
At the conclusion of the screening process, the consultant provided a list of 40 nominated forests for consideration by the panels that would carry out final selection. These 40 nominations were believed to provide a good cross-section of nominations according to the criteria stipulated above.
The final selection of case studies was carried out in a two-phased process.
The first phase was the convening of a panel of Rome-based FAO staff to review all the nominations with a view to identifying any, additional to the 40 selected in the screening phase, which should be considered for case studies. The panel also made direct recommendations about forests that would make good case studies to the Technical Working Group that was convened to finalize the selection.
The second phase was the convening of a larger Technical Working Group (10 people), comprising Bangkok-based FAO and RECOFTC staff, as well as several knowledgeable people from other regional organizations, the private sector, environmental advocacy groups and independent consultants. The Technical Working Group was tasked with:
identifying a final set of criteria for selecting case study forests;
reviewing and amending the shortlist of 40 nominations identified during the screening phase; and
selecting a final list of 20 case study sites.
The Group was asked to utilize their own experience and knowledge of case study forests, where applicable, in addition to information provided in the nomination forms.
Discussions on criteria for final selection of case study forests concluded that ensuring geographical and thematic diversity should be major factors. It was decided that nominations should be grouped into a similar set of categories as identified during the screening process to reflect primary management objectives, while also retaining an overview of geographic representation. Categories established for primary management objectives were:
research and training;
watershed management and biodiversity conservation;
industrial fibre and timber production.
Secondary selection criteria were also identified, to be applied within these groups:
type of ownership (e.g. state, private, community-based, joint management);
forest size and scale of management;
duration of management and track record;
replicability (i.e. potential for others to learn from the forest and apply the lessons learned;
less weight was applied when nominated management strategies resulted from clearly unique conditions); and
originality (i.e. more weight was given to lesser known examples).
A final criterion was that the case study should tell a "compelling story."
The Technical Working Group reviewed the complete list of nominations and the recommendations of the Rome panel, and added a further 20 nominated forests to the list of 40 identified during the screening process. This final "shortlist" of 60 nominations was assessed using the criteria developed above. Following extensive discussions, the list was narrowed to a final set of 30 nominations, which the Technical Working Group agreed all warranted the preparation of case studies.
 This paper also draws
text from an unpublished Consultant's Report (Steve Rhee, October
 As one adviser to the initiative remarked, at the theoretical level, at least, it is not crucially important that the case studies be a completely accurate representation of reality, since for the purposes of the initiative it is the sharing of ideas and concepts about excellence that are important, rather than the actuality of forest management in the case study forests.
 Eventually, appropriate authors could be identified for only 28 case studies.