Regional and International

Partner : Field Legality Advisory Group (FLAG)

Domain: Improving the operational performance of CSOs in independent monitoring of the forest sector

Where IM was doubted, it is now accepted

What was the situation in this area before the project began?

Long before the start of the project, several organisations were engaged in the implementation of Independent Monitoring (IM). Among these, there was confusion within some of these organisations about the differing approaches, as well as doubt of the relevance from one approach to the next. Initially, conceptual clarification work was undertaken with some of the civil society organisations – the project partners. In Gabon, for example, IM had not yet been officially tested, although initiatives to combat illegal logging activities had been started at government level. In CAR, on the other hand, IM of forest management was operational, but with mixed results. In the Congo, the mandate and capacity of project partner CAGDF to ensure quality IM was under question after a critical report on the processes leading to the published reports. On a broader level, IM itself as a tool for improving governance was contested and strongly criticised by stakeholders, including the private sector. Weak coordination of civil society actors implementing monitoring was an obstacle to the credibility of the approach. A wide variety of methods was often used, resulting in different collection and analysis data for sometimes identical facts. In short, IM by civil society lacked a clearly defined framework and was therefore carried out in a disparate and uncoordinated manner.


What have been the main successes and the factors behind them?

FLAG has undertaken several activities to make an inventory of the weaknesses and reproaches made against IM in general. A side event on ‘Independent Monitoring as a tool for dialogue between civil society and the private sector’ was organized at the CBFP’s 2017 meeting of the parties. An institutional strengthening workshop of the African Platform of Organisations implementing IO (PA-OI) was held paving the way for the development of the IM repository. A consultant was recruited to draw up an inventory of IM in the Congo Basin. Several technical support missions were conducted, with the aim of diagnosing weaknesses and strengthening the capacity of CSOs in IM implementation. The combination of these 4 approaches has led to the development of different tools that are likely to radically change IM implementation in the sub-region and within the project countries.

FLAG has worked to define key procedures for conducting IM investigative missions. These procedures are based on the different stages of an assignment and codify each stage in order to guarantee the traceability of activities undertaken. Operational procedures for IM implementation in CAR have been developed. A tool for verifying the quality of a mission now serves as a barometer to help partner organisations improve their investigations as well as their outputs. A framework of principles, criteria and indicators for robust and effective IM is at an advanced stage of development. Once developed, this document will be used by CSOs as a reference for the methodology to be applied in the following areas:

  • Internal legal and professional functioning of the CSO leading and its members;
  • Procedures for the collection, analysis and interpretation of mission data;
  • Protocol to be followed for the drafting of reports, and for the dissemination and follow-up of IM information.

The implementation of the project ‘Promotion and deployment of the Open Timber Portal (OTP)’ by FLAG in Cameroon has created the conditions for greater effectiveness of CSOs who want to publish their reports on this independent platform. Additional quality and credibility requirements have been formulated for organisations that publish information on this platform.

What were the challenges (or failures)?

It was a challenging idea to design a tool applicable to all forms of IM at a time when the trends were towards the demarcation of each approach to the detriment of the other. The definition and acceptance of the IM repository will be the next task to be tackled. The purpose here is to allow activities to be replicated by a third party with the necessary expertise. Other challenges have been to gain acceptance for the development of these tools, but above all for the continuous use of the tools and ongoing updates to them.

What are the main lessons learned?

In the past, Independent Monitoring had always been implemented in an almost empirical way, without replicable approaches that could reassure all stakeholders, particularly the private sector. This situation was often at the origin of confused relations with the private sector and with forest administrations, which were unsure of the role, place and the techniques of IM. The documentation and codification of practices has provided a basis for strengthening credibility and quality of IM activities. Furthermore, IM requires not only mastery of investigative techniques, but also of the legislation governing the sector. Capacity building and continuous improvement are essential to ensure a high level of performance. Improving the quality of IM implementation significantly increases adherence to the approach and the acceptance of the final product by the stakeholders.

Articles and links (in French)