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Assessing Forest Governance

The Governance of Forests Initiative Indicator Framework

This publication presents a revised version of the Governance of Forests Initiative (GFI) Indicator Framework, a comprehensive menu of indicators that can be used to diagnose strengths and weaknesses in forest governance. It updates the original GFI Indicator Framework based on several years of field-testing of by GFI partners in Brazil, Cameroon, and Indonesia.

As a companion to this document, the GFI Guidance Manual provides supplementary materials to help users navigate decisions about how to design and implement a forest governance assessment using the GFI indicators. The manual includes detailed explanations of each indicator and worksheets to support the data collection process.

Executive Summary

Weak governance is often blamed for poor development outcomes, such as poverty and unsustainable levels of natural resource depletion. In the context of forests, a lack of transparency and accountability is often associated with problems such as illegal logging and corruption. Similarly, a lack of open and inclusive decision-making often contributes to the marginalization and impoverishment of forest-dependent communities and indigenous peoples.

Challenges in defining and measuring forest governance impede efforts to strengthen it. Governance is inherently difficult to assess in a quantitative fashion, and qualitative assessments are often seen as too subjective. Furthermore, the difficulty in clearly defining forest governance raises questions about what exactly should be assessed. The GFI Indicator Framework contributes to addressing both of these challenges. It provides a clear model for identifying what to assess, and it proposes a qualitative assessment approach that is systematic and replicable. In doing so, GFI aims to support ongoing efforts to strengthen forest governance around the world.

The GFI Indicators have been used to support civil society assessments and outreach in Brazil, Cameroon, and Indonesia, but are designed to support many different types of users and applications. These may include but are not limited to:

  • Government agencies wishing to assess the effectiveness of policy implementations
  • Legislators seeking to identify priorities for legal reforms
  • Multi-stakeholder bodies aiming to build consensus about governance challenges
  • NGO watchdogs or oversight bodies seeking to monitor government performance
  • International organizations or donor agencies seeking to verify compliance with safeguards

Since decisions about what to assess and how to assess it are intrinsically linked to the goals and location of the assessment, we have developed supplementary materials to facilitate use of the GFI Indicators. The GFI Guidance Manual supports a customized assessment by helping users identify their priorities and tailor an assessment process to meet their objectives. The GFI Manual provides insights on issues such as setting assessment objectives, data collection, and communicating findings. It also provides detailed guidance on research methods and potential data sources for each indicator.

To learn more about the work of the Governance of Forests Initiative, including how the GFI Indicator Framework has been used to strengthen forest governance, visit The Governance of Forests Initiative website.

GFI Indicator FAQs

Who can use the GFI indicators?

The GFI indicators are designed to be applicable for a wide range of groups with an interest in assessing or monitoring forest governance. Examples could include government agencies wishing to assess the effectiveness of policy implementation, legislators seeking to identify priorities for legal reforms, or civil society organizations seeking to monitor government performance.

What can the indicators be used for?

The GFI indicators can be used to carry out an assessment of forest governance, which may support a variety of objectives, such as reforming a law, building capacity of institutions, or monitoring implementation of laws. The indicators are framed as normative elements that describe governance best practices; therefore, the indicator questions can also be used as a guideline when designing new laws, policies, or programs.

Can I use the GFI indicators to compare forest governance in different countries?

The GFI Indicator Framework is designed as a research tool that generates detailed data about forest governance in a given country, region, or case study. While it is not designed to result in an index or ranking of forest governance between countries, it could be adapted for cross-country comparisons depending on the goals of the user.

Do the indicators evaluate social and environmental safeguards?

Yes and no. Although the word “safeguard” does not appear in the indicators, many of them assess the extent to which social and environmental issues are considered in national laws and policies and their implementation. The Indicator Framework can therefore be a useful tool in assessing how country systems establish social and environmental standards in law and how these standards are adhered to in practice.

Do the indicators measure impacts or outcomes?

Governance is largely about process; for example, how decisions are made rather than what those decisions are. GFI indicators are designed to evaluate the quality of processes rather than to measure impacts or outcomes. However, many of the indicators assess the content of laws and plans to determine the extent to which these are designed to promote social and environmental outcomes. Furthermore, indicators that assess policymaking and planning processes typically include questions about the outcomes of the process in order to link the quality of the process to an overall result.

One hundred and twenty-two indicators is a lot. Do I have to do all of them?

No. The indicators are organized by themes and subthemes to help researchers identify priority areas of interest—such as forest tenure, forest law enforcement, or public access to information—and focus their assessment. The choice of how many indicators to complete is up to the researcher, and varies widely depending on resources, time, the goal of the assessment, and how the data will be used.

What geographic scale can I use for applying the indicators?

The indicators are designed to be applicable at many different scales depending on the needs and interests of the user. The scale of the assessment depends on the context of the country or region of evaluation, as well as the priorities of those conducting the research. For example, the GFI civil society assessment in Brazil evaluated forest governance at the federal level as well as in two states of the Amazon since certain forest management responsibilities are decentralized.

What types of research methods can be used to complete the indicators?

The GFI Indicator Framework uses a mixed methods approach to assessing forest governance. Major data sources include laws and policies, civil society reports, government reports and information systems, and interviews with forest sector stakeholders (e.g., government officials, civil society experts, academics, forest communities, and indigenous peoples). Using the indicators does not require complex sampling or survey methodologies, although such an approach could be used.

Can scores or values be assigned to GFI indicators?

Yes. Many researchers may opt to assign scores to GFI indicators based on the data collected in order to succinctly summarize assessment results or quickly identify strengths and weaknesses. Chapter 4 of the GFI Manual discusses options for scoring GFI in greater detail, including methods used by GFI pilot assessments, pros and cons, and best practices.

Can I apply the indicators to any type of forest?

Yes. While the GFI Indicator Framework was piloted in three countries with tropical forests, it can be applied to any type of forest ecosystem (e.g., tropical, temperate, boreal) or governance regime (e.g., publicly owned, privately owned, community-managed, concession agreement). Since the indicators cover a broad range of topics beyond managing forests—such as tenure, land use planning, and functioning of government institutions—many of the indicators can also be applied in countries without significant tracts of forests or in countries promoting afforestation, reforestation, or restoration initiatives.

Can the indicators be used to assess REDD+ programs?

The indicators are designed to evaluate forest governance broadly, but many can be adapted or directly applied to assess programs to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (commonly referred to as REDD+). For example, the indicators aimed at assessing the level of public participation in decision making, the capacity of government to engage stakeholders effectively, and the existence of permanent platforms for stakeholder input into policy could all be used to assess the quality of stakeholder participation in REDD+ processes.

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