Information management includes the collection, quality control, archival and long-term accessibility of collected data and associated metadata, and distinguishes between data, information and knowledge. New emphasis on changes in socio-economic and protective functions of forests in addition to the productive functions are challenges for National Forest Resource Assessment (FRA) information management, required to meet the information provision and reporting requirements of international agreements. Countries vary widely in the availability of forest information and in their information management capabilities.

A basic FRA scenario traces production of information through data collection, processing and reporting, and the use of data models to perceive, organize and describe data in a conceptual schema is described, and the linkage of data collection to database storage described. Not only databases and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), but also spreadsheets, statistical programs, models and word processors, all play important roles in an FRA.

Quality and currency of information can be achieved through data registration with use of appropriate standards, metadata, validation and verification, backups and archiving; this improves data quality and facilitates comparability among assessments. For more information, visit Data registration

Standards can be employed in three main arenas, content, classification and technology, and assist in issues such as where identically named attributes mask different concepts and definitions. Differences in definitions and measurement rules can be made compatible in two different ways: standardization and harmonization. Standards can include dictionaries, definitions, ontologies and semantic webs, nomenclature, thesauri and gazetteers.

A metadata standard is a common set of terms and definitions that provides a way for data users to know what data are available, whether the data meet their specific needs, where to find the data, and how to access it, and are especially well developed for geospatial data. Metainformation, on the other hand, is data about any form of information resource, including organizations, people, documents and services as well as datasets.

Data is transformed into information, often in response to particular demands. These demands have become much more complex in recent years since forest policy underwent a shift in perspective from timber production to social, economic and environmental issues. Advances in Internet technology have played a key role here. Organization of printed and other information may be an essential pre-cursor to computer analyses. Adjustment factors may be required for the transformations, and in the absence of appropriate data sets, these may be assigned based on expert opinion. This process is especially important in change assessment and it¿s monitoring.

Reporting and communication requirements are often a key reason for an FRA. International reporting requirements can become a considerable burden on countries, and some information being requested is duplicative and redundant. Use of graphics, statistics and maps in this process can be subject to significant ethical issues.

The Internet, and particularly the World Wide Web (WWW), have radically changed information management for forest resource assessments. Information storage can now be distributed among many institutions and organizations, providing challenges of Interoperability, which can include technical, semantic, political/human, inter-community, legal and international components. Web Map Services (WMS) and Portals are major components of distributed information and resources, facilitating searches. Data registration is the converse of search, with information being uploaded to an information system rather than downloaded.

Coordination of data collection and exchange among national institutions, constituent states, and donor agencies is a major weakness in most countries, and terms and conditions of funding agencies may be a major constraint. Supply of information may involve framework agreements and contracts or Memoranda of Understanding (IUFRO 2002).

A process for putting a full National Forest Information System in place is outlined. Steps in the process include a requirements analysis to guide system design and development. Based on the requirements analysis, an architecture and operating system will be determined. Manpower and training requirements must be addressed, and pilot projects can aid in this. Information has costs and timeliness, and costs of providing forest information can become a major concern. A business case for an information management system can establish the magnitude, nature and likely influences on the demand for the product to be developed, as well as identifying risks and uncertainties, costs and benefits with the goal of obtaining funding.
last updated:  Thursday, May 12, 2005