3. Why is information needed?

3.1 The policy process/ The National Forest Programme

We argue that the need for national level information is almost exclusively related to developing forest sector policies and strategies, applying them, and monitoring their effects. If this need is met it will also cover most other needs such as:
  • Fulfil international commitments (e.g. to UNFCCC and CBD)
  • Respond to concerns expressed nationally and internationally for improved forest management and protection of forests
  • Provide information to market actors and other stakeholders, for example to underpin forest certification or other processes that are aimed at demonstrating the quality of forest management in a country.
Therefore we will discuss the question ¿why¿ by examining the role of information in the policy process. We put emphasis on the political process also for the reason that national level information becomes meaningful only if a functioning policy process is in place. Theoretically the policy process should be in place first and information work comes as a second step. In practice the two may usually be developed simultaneously. The policy process should include a number of steps that can be illustrated in the following way:

It is in this political process that new objectives (the ¿national will¿) and new policies (the way to reach these objectives) can be formed. A crucial element is information about the supply of and demand for forest products. Various studies are required, in the first place to investigate the current situation and the need for adjusting objectives and secondly, to analyse the consequences of alternative policies.

Stakeholders should be involved throughout the process, and great emphasis should be placed on consensus building. This has also the very practical implication that the more consensus there is, the easier the implementation will be. Governments often change, but forestry is a long-term undertaking. It is desirable that there should not be any drastic changes in policy after each election or change of government.

Information is needed throughout all the steps of the process. The general public as well as the stakeholders can only participate meaningfully, if correct information exists and is readily available. It is easiest to build consensus by a series of steps, namely, consensus on:
  • Basic facts about the forest resources and their utilisation;
  • The nature of the main political problems;
  • The options that are available to solve the problems;
  • The consequences of different political programmes: and
  • Decisions on political action to take.
In this sequence of steps, consensus building becomes progressively more difficult, and the information required becomes increasingly complex. Analysing e.g. the consequences of alternative action programmes demands a high standard of information and the ability to interpret it.

In real life, even if serious attempts are made, full consensus is hardly ever reached. In cases of disagreement, consensus should at least be sought as to what the issues are that are in dispute. Consensus building is also made difficult by the fact that different participants can view the same information in different ways ¿ they see different sides of reality.

Here we wish to emphasise that national policies and programmes for the forest sector must be integrated into national objectives and policies. Sector policies that are developed considering only sector objectives will lead to conflicting programmes that counteract each other.

Commonly, general national objectives do cover components such as employment, price stability, economic growth, balance of payments, and income distribution. Statements of these objectives have lead in turn to the setting out of national policies in the fields of environment and forestry, among other matters. Forest policy should aim at fulfilling the goals of society (and not primarily forest goals).

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The political process - a national example

Once a forestry related problem (often a conflict) is identified and the government considers that political action is required it appoints a commission of inquiry, composed of parliamentarians representing the major political factions and of advisers and experts representing government agencies, organisations and NGOs (stakeholders) who may be affected by the decisions taken. The commission will undertake a public investigation into a specified issue, following directives given by the government. It is given resources to commission ad hoc studies, appoint additional ad hoc experts, and seek the opinion of stakeholders as needed. Its report is made public and actively circulated to stakeholders for their review. The report with the reviewers¿ comments becomes the basis for a government proposal to parliament. Parliamentary decisions then provide a frame, e.g. a new law, within which designated authorities will supply the details, e.g. rules and regulations, that are required for their implementation. An informal process involves stakeholders, chiefly forest owners, in negotiations about the practicalities; this process is important for acceptance and smooth implementation, and facilitates the correction of policy elements that may be found to be inappropriate.

Source: Ekelund & Dahlin 1997 ¿The Swedish case¿

It may seem theoretical to suggest that the political process should be the starting point, and that it is this process that should identify and specify the information needs. In fact, both a political process and a system of forest information gathering are usually in place, and what is needed is simply to link them together and make them work in a cycle. An analysis unit can establish the link (see Need of an Analysis unit and Components of NFA organization ).