Monitoring and understanding the dynamics of tropical forests depends on generating and analysing a huge amount of data. The emergence of policy interventions like REDD+ have added to the need for data - on carbon stocks and flows, biodiversity and socioeconomic aspects of forest landscapes (Korhonen-Kurki, K. et al, 2013). Within this context, community-based forest monitoring is increasingly seen as a viable approach for generating data on the ground, to complement remote sensing and fill knowledge gaps; for example, on local drivers of deforestation and forest degradation, biodiversity and social wellbeing. This is necessary to develop comprehensive national forest monitoring and REDD+ safeguard information systems.
Beyond supporting national and international undertakings, such as REDD+, CBD and FLEGT, community-based forest monitoring can also deliver local livelihood and forest conservation benefits related to improved community decision-making on natural resource management, informed participation in conservation interventions, and employment and capacity building opportunities, among others (Danielsen, F. et al, 2011).
While community-based forest monitoring initiatives vary in terms of the level of local participation and involvement of external actors (Danielsen, F. et al, 2007) and the themes or purpose of monitoring (i.e. data can be collected for different end users), communities should be involved in deciding how and with whom data is shared. Further attention is needed to how community-generated data is appropriated and used at the community level and beyond.
The integration and use of community-generated data both locally and as part of external monitoring frameworks will depend largely on the relevance and accuracy of the data, and how regularly and effectively it is transferred and shared. The compatibility of the community-generated data with wider knowledge management systems is also a key issue. In many cases the transfer of data across these scales can be limited by a lack of political will, institutional capacity or mandates for assimilating locally-generated data. At the local level, external data sharing can be hindered by the need to consider local ownership and rights over data.
Community-based forest monitoring initiatives are embedded within local socio-political contexts and power dynamics, and communities have stakes and claims on the data they generate. This means that data sharing under community-based monitoring regimes can be rife with interwoven political and social sensitivities, which should be addressed using appropriate participatory and rights-based approaches. The increasing use of digital technologies for monitoring adds another layer of complexity for accessing and sharing data from community-based initiatives.