Strengthening evidence-based forest policy-making: linking forest monitoring with national forest programmes.
Issues in forest policy-making are subject to differing interpretations, and agreed policies are the result of compromises among many different and sometimes opposing and changing positions and interests related to forests. At the same time, forest policy-making is expected to be based on proven knowledge and on up-to-date, reliable, transparent and accessible information. Managers tasked with providing national level forest information in this context face, therefore, both many political and technical challenges. National forest monitoring (NFM), as well as other large-area forest-related monitoring endeavours, such as national forest carbon accounting systems (e.g. monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) systems for REDD+), must be able to specifically respond to these challenges. They must strive not only to be technically reliable and cost-efficient but also to generate and provide information that stakeholders view to be legitimate. Many countries have experience with national forest programmes (NFPs) and make use of the concepts and practices of NFPs when structuring and articulating their forest-related processes, including policy and strategy development. NFPs around the world use a variety of procedural and institutional instruments that facilitate a collaborative environment for consensus-seeking and conflict resolution aimed at agreed and coordinated planning and action in forestry. This paper proposes an approach to assist countries in ensuring that NFM planning more strongly meets the needs and demands of forest-related national policy processes. The approach is based on an understanding that there is a multiplicity of issues and legitimate interests related to forests that require multipurpose information systems. The approach is also based on the following two assumptions: (1) that the technical, financial and administrative design of an NFM system is based on the information needs and user requirements of various policy processes and stakeholders; and (2) that strong stakeholder involvement is needed at all stages of NFM planning and implementation. The proposed approach is built on six guiding principles - relevance, strategic orientation, reliability, efficiency, accessibility and sustainability of information provision - which cover general technical as well as procedural aspects useful for NFM planning. These principles are applied in five key action areas for developing and implementing a planning process for new or recurrent NFM: participatory planning; information needs assessment; survey and data collection design; data management/access to information; and communication and capacity development. Countries address these principles during the NFM planning process in ways adapted to their needs and contexts. This paper presents an approach that should allow countries to systematically consider the choices for NFM designs with a view to strengthening evidence-based policy- and decision-making. Countries need solutions to the challenge of monitoring their forests that satisfy the purposes and information needs of decision-makers and stakeholders; stay within the boundaries of budgetary capacities; achieve acceptable levels of reliability; and adapt operational procedures to national capabilities. Regular feedback among key participants at all times during the planning and implementation process of the NFM is essential, as well as their active involvement in the interpretation of results and the use of NFM outputs. National forest programme structures and practices or similar policy dialogue platforms are well-suited to support efforts to this end.