4. Transforming data into information

Agarwal, C., G.M. Green, J.M. Grove, T.P. Evans, and C.M. Schweik. 2002. A Review and Assessment of Land-Use Change Models: Dynamics of Space, Time, and Human Choice. General Technical Report NE-297, United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service Northeastern Research Station. (available at http://www.fs.fed.us/ne/newtown_square/publications/technical_reports/pdfs/2002/gtrne297.pdf.)

Modeling land-use change includes the following processes: Demography; Technology; Economy; Political and social institutions; Culturally determined attitudes, beliefs, and behavior; Information and its flow. �Furthermore, missing connections might arise if potentially effective institutions exist at the appropriate scales but decisionmaking linkages between scales are ineffective. Decisions also might be based on information aggregated at an inappropriate scale, even though it may exist at the appropriate scale (Cleveland et al. 1996). An example of the latter is the biennial national forest cover analysis prepared by the Forest Survey of India. While forest cover is assessed at the level of small local units, it is aggregated and reported at the district level, which is a larger administrative unit, rather than at the watershed based forest division level, at which forests are managed.� Open source systems are discussed.


Anon. 1999. Forest Resources Information System (FORIS). Concepts and Status Report. Forest Resources Assessment Program. Working paper 7, FAO. (available at http://www.fao.org/forestry/fo/fra/docs/FRA_Wp7eng.PDF.)

FORIS includes both existing source information and derived information. All distributed information should be verified, meaning that all data items should have a source reference, and the data processing should be transparent. The countries validate and approve information concerning their country before publication. Data ownership is distributed among users. Security should be tight. Integration with other system development efforts is essential. The administration of geographic units is a known obstacle when producing FAO reports. Countries change name, split, merge or simply should not be shown. Furthermore, they can be grouped in different ways depending on the purpose of the report. Finally, countries are subdivided into administrative units, or into other arbitrary units based on e.g. climatic conditions.


Anon. 2000. FRA 2000. Assessing state and change in global forest cover: 2000 and beyond. Forest Resources Assessment Program. Working paper 31, FAO. (available at http://www.fao.org/forestry/fo/fra/docs/Wp31_eng.pdf.)

The 1990 FRA used a set of models to predict forest change as a function of population, based on the assumption that �the growth of human population, independently in the absence of economic development, and jointly with poorly planned and uncontrolled economic development, are the driving forces behind human activities that initiate deforestation�. FAO makes and keeps current a metadatabase describing what data exist throughout the tropical world, as well as archiving the actual data in the FORIS database. Models to derive forest change as a function of other attributes, providing a platform for generating estimates for all countries regardless of availability of country level data. Synthesis based on partial data plus expert opinion is used to arrive at answers. The Delphi Technique and Convergence of Evidence method are both used. A small group of experts can weigh the different available data sources for each country and attempt to arrive at final estimates. Explanation of the decision process and documentation of the weights assigned is essential. This is followed by critiquing by other experts and attempting to seek some consensus on final estimates.


Anon. 2000. Forest resources documentation, archiving and research for the global forest resources assessment 2000. Forest Resources Assessment Program Working paper 23, FAO. (available at http://www.fao.org/forestry/fo/fra/docs/Wp23_eng.pdf.)

Discusses the FAO Forest Resource Assessment �documentation room�


Anon. 2003. Agenda 21. Information for decision-making. United Nations. (available at http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/documents/agenda21/english/agenda21chapter40.htm.)

The information related aspects of Agenda 21.


Braatz, S. 2002. National reporting to forest-related international instruments: mandates, mechanisms, overlaps and potential synergies. In Unasylva 210, 53, 65-67, 69-74. (available at http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y4001e/y4001e10.htm.)

Harmonization is the process of making reports to different instruments comparable, for example through the use of common or comparable terms and definitions, standardized units for data and common reference years. Streamlining refers to the reduction of the number of reports or the amount of information required in individual reports; this is made possible by harmonizing information among reports or reducing duplication in the reporting requests. Ten international instruments that are in force are particularly relevant to forests are discussed. Analysis shows that the information requested by most of the instruments relates to action taken to implement commitments under the instrument, is descriptive in nature, and is focused on measures taken in policy, legislation, capacity building, financing or other means of implementation. Only a few instruments require parties to provide quantitative information related to forests or forest resources. The burden on countries to fulfill international reporting requirements has been noted throughout the UN system.


Holmgren, P., and R. Persson. 2002. Evolution and prospects of global forest assessments. In Unasylva 210, 53, 3-9. (available at http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y4001e/y4001e02.htm.)

Global forest assessments provide information on development, changes or progress in forests and forestry required for decision-making by international fora and by countries. For this purpose it is not enough to quantify forest resources; assessments increasingly aim to address all benefits from forests - i.e. the use of the resources. Global forest assessments are largely made by aggregating and standardizing national information. This approach is necessary because practically all forest information is compiled at the national level through country-led initiatives. Forest information provided by countries needs to be scrutinized carefully by a neutral organization, because it is often political. Much interest has recently been attached to changes in forest area. The reported forest condition depends highly on the national policy context. In the absence of neutral and systematic facts, forest information has become politicized. At present forest information is requested by many international organizations and instruments in an uncoordinated way. There is a need to ensure that the information requested at the international level can realistically be supplied by countries. In this context also it is necessary to strengthen capacity at the national level.


Kelatwang S. 2002. Forest information needs in South Africa. In Unasylva 210, 53, 33-35. (available at http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y4001e/y4001e06a.htm.)

The demand for forest information has changed dramatically over the past eight years since forest policy underwent a shift in perspective from timber production to social, economic and environmental issues. While the past forest policies focused only on annual roundwood statistics to promote sustainable commercial forestry development, the current forest policy endeavours to promote sustainable forest management for all forest types. This change in policy perspective has necessitated the need to integrate policy development and implementation with the information gathering process. A collaborative network supported by incentives to providers of information is required for the successful implementation of this process. Users of information often fail to take into consideration the constraints faced by institutions that provide information. To ensure a systematic flow of information from the local to the international level, data categories need to be communicated to relevant spheres of government prior to the reporting period. Finally, a system that has the capacity to draw and coordinate the relevant information from different sources is required.


Kohl, M., and K. Romisch. 2000. Contribution to the European Forest Information and Communication System. Report on Work Package 11: Identifying the user group, (available at http://www.ec-gis.org/efis/files/WP11_IR_3010_o_core.pdf.)

The success of a European Forest Information System will depend on the degree to which the information needs of potential users will be satisfied. Thus the demand as well as the supply side of information have to be taken into account in the scope of this study. Information to be provided by a forest information system varies according to the purpose and the scale for which it is used. Information needs which are task specific require a set of attributes with large thematic and spatial degree of detail. Information used for example for forest management purposes requires data on the compartment and sub-compartment level (e.g. standing timber volume by species and assortment classes for each stand). Information needed on the strategic and integrative level has to be aggregated in both thematic and spatial terms. For each attribute the information needs had to be assessed within the three information groups �production�, �environmental aspects� and �land use�.


Thomson, A.J. 2001. Information for decision-making and participation: Critical issues at the local level. Ninth Session:, United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development 2001. (available at http://www.mtnforum.org/resources/library/thoma01a.htm.)

Evaluates information requirements of: a) Commission on Sustainable development: INFORMATION FOR DECISION MAKING AND PARTICIPATION http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/csd9/csd9-ch40.pdf b) INFORMATION FOR DECISION-MAKING AND PARTICIPATION Report of the Secretary-General: Addendum. The CSD Work Programme On Indicators Of Sustainable Development http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/csd9/csd9-ch40-add1.pdf c) UNITED NATIONS Department of Economic and Social Affairs REPORT ON THE AGGREGATION OF INDICATORS OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/csd9/csd9-aisd-bp.pdf d) REPORT OF THE INTERNATIONAL EXPERT MEETING ON INFORMATION FOR DECISION MAKING AND PARTICIPATION http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/infoch40/iem-info-report.pdf Specific examples are discussed at http://www.mtnforum.org/resources/library/thoma01b.htm


Thomson, A.J., and D. Schmoldt. 2001. Ethics in computer software system design and development. In Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, 30, 85-102.

Discusses ethical issues of information aggregation, transformation and reporting.