6. Need of an Analysis Unit

The planning and policy making processes in the field of forestry do often suffer from lack of timely, accurate and relevant information. Among the reasons for this the following can be identified:
  • Much information may be present but it fails to answer the important questions,
  • Information exists but is scattered and spread over many institutions,
  • Collected information has been lost or become inaccessible due to lack of good archiving systems,
  • Planners and policy makers have difficulties in tracking and interpreting available information.
This raises the questions: How can we achieve focus in data collection on policy relevant questions? How better organise existing information so that it is available when and where it is needed? How to bring available raw data in such a form that planners and policy makers can understand and use it?

Based on experience we suggest that there is need for a function that we here name ¿Analysis unit¿. What we mean is a set of tasks that link supply and demand for information (or information gathering and policy making) together. The tasks can be collected into one administrative unit or spread over several but made to work together. The Analysis Unit that we have in mind is in close touch with policy making, so that it can help in identifying the questions that need to be answered. It is also in close touch with data collection, so that it can retrieve and organise existing information, identify gaps, and collate relevant material for use in policy and decision-making. It has the capability to know the sources of information, to understand source information and to prepare analyses. With an Analysis Unit in place, dialogue will be facilitated between users and producers of information, and information gathering will become more demand-driven than otherwise. By assisting the policy and decision makers, on request, with tailor-made information and studies, it acquires knowledge of the problems and needs of the user community. By interacting with data collecting organisations it can feed back to them its knowledge of current and emerging information needs. It can also advise on any need for new research to be undertaken. Below we list the main tasks of an Analysis unit.
  • undertake work to identify the ¿topical¿ forestry issues;
  • create and maintain an overview of forestry-related information that may be scattered in many places ¿ for example, information on the supply and demand of forest products and services, or on employment in forestry;
  • undertake ad hoc studies to support the formulation and implementation of forest policy, in particular analyses of the consequences of political action;
  • based on contacts with users, specify information needs that are not being met;
  • based on contacts with producers, supply users with tailor-made information, in particular information that has to be compiled from different sources and made consistent;
  • promote and ensure comparability between information originating from different sources;
  • compile and disseminate standard information relating to the forest sector, for example in a statistical yearbook;
  • take responsibility for the international exchange of information;
  • work on analyses of consequences.
Experience from e.g. Sweden tells us that long-term political commitment is needed to make such a unit work well, that it takes decades to build up the necessary expertise, and that institutional memory is important. Good contacts with research are also needed. In order to create an Analysis Unit it is usually possible to adapt existing organisational structures. What is needed may often be to concentrate scattered existing activities in one place. The best recommendation may be to assign the tasks described to an identified group that is big enough to build up an institutional memory.

The importance of institutional memory cannot be sufficiently stressed. This remark applies to forest inventory work as well as to analysis. In administrative environments with frequent changes of personnel it is impossible to build capacity and progressively accumulate the knowledge that is needed.

An Analysis Unit ought to be as independent as possible. There are examples where it has been located in a University. In many developing countries this can be a good solution, although it will require specific funding commitment and support from government as universities rarely have the resources to collect and store data. At Universities different types of capacity is often available. But it must of course have very close contact with the forest administration, and this may not always be possible if a University location is adopted.

The process described above is the opposite of what commonly takes place. More or less sophisticated national forest inventories are often undertaken, but their usefulness is not clear. In a typical example, the original reason for undertaking the inventory may have been a forest policy problem such as deforestation and degradation. Combating this problem is in fact a complex matter, affecting many sectors of the economy. It involves changing the living conditions and behaviour of many people. There is a general notion that more information is needed. In this situation it is only too tempting to ask first for a forest inventory. There is then a great risk of an inventory being planned as a one-shot operation and without putting the questions that have to be answered in the political process. It may give an impression of activity, and may be attractive to donors, but it has little chance of producing the knowledge base that is needed to develop and apply well-targeted policies.

It should be said here that an Analysis Unit in principle is necessary for successful policy making. It is not enough, though. Commitment for improving policies and making the necessary changes is also necessary. Moreover, the administration in general must also be competent and the administrative set-up suitable.

See Components of NFA organization for more information on how an analysis unit may be set within a NFA organization.