The Spark for Citizen’s Monitoring Toolbox

By Monica S. Cheng and Binod Chapagain

RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests

Heraclitus once theorized that change is the only constant, formulating an apt description of our world tingling with change and adaptation. Yet change is not always intentional – it is often born out of necessity and perceived need. RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests had an introduction to participatory monitoring tools that snuggled into a similar pattern. The discussion started with RECOFTC  piloting a Community Based Forestry (CBF) Assessment Framework in Myanmar in collaboration with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). And at the conclusion, several government officials in Myanmar had shared their comments about Community Forests and its benefits via our workshops and training sessions.

Through the culmination of comments shared with RECOFTC’s Participatory Monitoring & Evaluation Team (PM&E), an intriguing story emerged, especially while talking to one of the government officials from Myanmar. When the Chief of Forestry Department (FD) asked his officials to give him information about particular CF groups, neither the CF groups nor FD officials had any documented information. Therefore, the FD officials began painting in the dark, producing documents from their guesses and approximations and sending them to their Chief. The same year, the head made a visit to some field sites, including some CF sites which he had seen those exact reports on. However, he told us that he encountered many surprises during the visit – the information he had was either incorrect or misleading!

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CF group members participating in ‘citizen’s monitoring in forestry’ process

The same reflection was there when we  met government officials in Cambodia, particularly in Kamphong Thom. Local CF leaders were required to provide CF reports to government systems, but did not always know what or how to save information and thus provided incorrect information.

So of course, we had to see what was happening. When we visited Ayerwaddy Delta (Myanmar) and Kamphong Thom, we soon got our answer. The local CF leaders had organized meetings with group leaders, where we were informed that they did not have the ability to efficiently manage their information. Even more so, it is terribly difficult to organize and collect data for many members. Therefore, sending their annual reports to the Forest Administration or Department was often not a priority, but rather a burden.

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A senior government official in Myanmar giving her reflection over the usefulness of the tools at a reflection workshop

The wearied, disorderly and listless feedback from both the government representatives and CF leaders were the triggers to start the concept of citizen’s monitoring. We wanted to find a way to measure Heraclitus’ beloved change in our contemporary world and landscapes. The feedback helped the RECOFTC PM&E team to build citizen’s monitoring foundations, bringing elements from CBF Assessment framework  and livelihoods framework. The eventual result was a toolbox designed for citizen’s monitoring in forestry. After months of collaborative effort, the tools were piloted, adjusted and synthesized to fit into an open-access product; you can find out more here.

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Members of the Ou Som CF, Cambodia

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