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Report cards are frequently used tools for assessing development issues. Building on a review of existing tools, Making the Forest Sector Transparent took a participatory approach with the NGO partners to developing and tailoring its own common report card to apply to the forest sector in each country. This has evolved over the course of the four years; the partners have assessed a set of yes/partial/no 'traffic light' indicators each time, but the number of indicators and supporting guidance has changed somewhat. The partners have had a fair degree of flexibility throughout the programme, but more consistency has also been introduced into the methodology. The indicators are not directly comparable between countries and years. Rather, they reflect learning built up over time of how the forest sector operates in each country.

The 2012 report card consists of 20 common indicators, which are essentially the same in 2011, with minor refinements in their criteria. In previous years, more comprehensive sets of over 70 common indicators were applied, but it was decided to simplify the process and allow the partners more scope to develop their distinct country-specific report cards; the reasons behind the shift are discussed in the 2011 methodology pages.

Twelve indicators focus on whether the legal, policy and regulatory framework includes provisions for forest sector transparency and good governance (‘framework indicators’) and eight on whether key documents and data on forest sector activities are comprehensively and regularly published (‘data indicators’), as shown below.


The partners initially collected data in July 2012 and continued to track the indicators for major changes to the end of the year. The main approach taken was desk research to systematically compile and analyse documents and data, followed up by discussions with key informants.

The assessments of the framework indicators are based on whether the applicable laws, policies and norms have been fully approved and exist in the public domain. The assessments of the data indicators are guided by international standards on the right to information, notably as set out by ARTICLE 191. The first principle on maximum disclosure obliges public bodies to make all information available to citizens, with only limited exceptions. The second principle obliges public bodies to publish information on a proactive and routine basis, even in the absence of a request. Based on these principles, the following general criteria guide the assessment of the traffic lights (specific criteria are provided for each indicator in a template).


One of the main refinements in the criteria for 2012 is that when the documents or data can only be accessed on request (for instance, under the provisions of a Freedom of Information law), then this is grounds for only a "partial". In effect, this raises the bar for a "yes" to routine publication, which reflects a 2004 international Joint Declaration between special rapporteurs from the United Nations, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Organisation of American States. This states that "systems should be put in place to increase, over time, the amount of information subject to such routine disclosure"2.

The 2012 report card also included an assessment of change in the last year, using a five-point scale symbolised by a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down".

  • Significantly Improved - major development such as implementation of a new law or information system for routine publication of information.
  • Improved - steps forward such as reforms that have the potential to improve governance or initiatives that support access to better quality information.
  • No Change - no evidence of real or potential change in the situation for forest sector transparency and good governance.
  • Worsened - steps backward such as the reversal of progressive norms or limitations in the access to good quality information.
  • Significantly Worsened - major deterioration such as the systemic failures to apply due processes or key information being deliberately withheld.

While the traffic light indicator and the thumbs change barometer are the quick measures of the forest sector, the substance of the report card is in the supporting analysis. For each of the 20 indicators, there is an analysis of the current situation with regard to recent developments. Details of the relevant framework and/or data sources are also listed, including website links wherever available. Building on this, the country-specific and programme-wide analyses discuss the opportunities and barriers to improving transparency and good governance in relation to broader themes.

Full guidance and a template for the 2012 report card can be downloaded here.


1 ARTICLE 19 (1999) The Public's Right to Know: Principles on Freedom of Information Legislation. ARTICLE 19: London - available at www.article19.org/pdfs/standards/righttoknow.pdf

2 Joint Declaration on access to information and on secrecy legislation by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe Representative on Freedom of the Media and the Organisation of American States Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, 6 December 2004 - available at www.article19.org/data/files/pdfs/igo-documents/three-mandates-dec-2004.pdf

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