The world’s forests and the people who depend on them face a host of challenges—including deforestation, rural poverty, and degradation of critical ecosystem services. These negative outcomes are often exacerbated by weak forest governance, including low levels of transparency and participation in forest decision-making and as well as poor oversight of forest activities. To tackle these issues, decision-makers need better information about the institutional, political, and social factors that drive governance failures.

An updated tool from WRI’s Governance of Forests Initiative aims to help policy-makers, civil society organizations, and other forest stakeholders evaluate governance of their countries’ forests. Assessing Forest Governance: The Governance of Forests Initiative Indicator Framework updates the original GFI indicators, which were published in 2009 and piloted by WRI’s civil society partners in Brazil, Cameroon, and Indonesia. Using the indicators, stakeholders can identify strengths and weaknesses in forest governance and develop reforms that benefit both people and planet.

The Organization and Scope of the GFI Indicator Framework

How Can Assessing Forest Governance Lead to Reforms?

Governance assessment can help policy-makers, legislators, civil society organizations, forest communities, and donors strengthen the transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability of forest sector governance. For example, these groups can use the framework to:

1) Identify new governance challenges

The indicators cover a broad range of key topics related to land and forests (see chart above). The comprehensive scope of the tool can assist researchers in identifying unexpected governance weaknesses. For example, the GFI Brazil pilot assessment revealed that the governance of forest and environment funds in the Amazon had not been analyzed in depth. As a result, WRI’s partners in Brazil partners—IMAZON and Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV)—conducted a detailed analysis of state forest and environmental funds to assess their rules, procedures, and performance. Their findings identified significant weaknesses, particularly low levels of transparency in fiscal reporting and poor implementation of performance monitoring.

The ability to define new governance weaknesses or topics that require further scrutiny can be particularly useful in the context of new policy reform processes, such as development of programs to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) or domestic processes to revise forest and land laws.

2) Build capacity on governance issues

Each GFI indicator measures governance strengths and weaknesses against a set of benchmarks. In addition, the GFI Guidance Manual provides in-depth guidance to users on understanding the indicator questions, research methods, and best practices to look for. Both the indicators themselves and the guidance materials can be useful in building the capacity of researchers and other stakeholders to understand governance, identify weaknesses, and develop practical solutions. For example, GFI’s network in Indonesia has partnered with local civil society organizations and governments to enhance their capacity and understanding of governance. Fostering this knowledge helps build support for governance improvements at the grassroots level.

What’s Different in the New GFI Indicator Framework?

WRI has improved the new GFI Indicator Framework based on the pilot assessment experience and feedback from GFI partner organizations. Major revisions include:

  • Improved organization. The new 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.

  • Revised content. While the new GFI Indicator Framework covers most of the same issues as the original, we have eliminated redundant questions, added new content, and narrowed the focus of many indicators to ensure a more streamlined research process.

  • New guidance. Along with the revised indicators, we have developed a GFI Guidance Manual. The Manual help users navigate decisions about how to design and implement a forest governance assessment using the GFI indicators. It also provides detailed explanations of each indicator and worksheets for data collection.

3) Enhance transparency, inclusiveness, and responsiveness of policy processes

The GFI indicators evaluate the quality of processes. Specifically, they break governance concepts such as transparency, participation, and accountability down into discrete, measureable research questions. This approach facilitates systematic data collection that can help users build a case for governance improvements. For example, in Brazil, ICV used findings from their GFI governance assessment to demonstrate that past environmental policy processes in Mato Grosso were dominated by consultants and provided little opportunity for public input. Influenced by ICV’s findings, the State Department of the Environment established a multi-stakeholder working group involving 68 members from government and civil society. The working group carried out 35 public consultations, resulting in 174 unique contributions to the original text of the REDD+ law passed in January 2013. Boosting public participation can help ensure that laws benefit citizens who rely on forests for their livelihoods.

4) Raise the profile of governance issues in law and policy reforms

Many countries—particularly those with tropical forests—are revising domestic legislation on forests, property rights, or environmental management, as well as developing national programs to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). Stakeholders can use governance assessments to inform these processes by identifying challenges and crafting solutions. GFI’s Cameroon partners have used their assessment results to influence development of Cameroon’s national REDD+ strategy. For example, they worked to ensure that Cameroon’s REDD+ readiness plan includes plans to monitor governance, including stakeholder participation and institutional coordination, during implementation of REDD+ activities. The plan specifically mentions the potential to build on the experience of GFI Cameroon in using governance indicators.

As demonstrated by the experience of the GFI network, conducting an analysis of governance strengths and weaknesses can be a critical first step towards advancing forest governance reforms.