Community-based forest monitoring collects vast amounts of data, much of which is sensitive. Categorising this data is therefore a necessary first step to identify these sensitivities and ensure measures are taken to protect this data.
In the community-based forest monitoring project in Guyana, the communities decided to classify data using a “traffic light” system (red, amber and green). Even though there are no traffic lights on roads in North Rupununi, all participants were happy with this system and knew what it meant.
The communities and facilitators made some key decisions on data sharing. They decided that the classification of data would be agreed by communities, without any coercion from external parties interested in the data. Consent for the sharing of data must be obtained prior to the release of any data, and these decisions must be founded upon an understanding of the full range of issues and opportunities implicated by the sharing of that data. Project participants received training in the principles of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC); following these was fundamental to guarantee that data collected would be shared and used in the most responsible and considerate way.
Data classification was initially discussed in meetings with village leaders, councillors and project participants. Meetings centred on understanding what sort of data had been collected, what information had been generated, and the risks and benefits involved with sharing this with different actors (e.g. companies, governments, NGOs and other communities). These exercises highlighted sensitivities around data that revealed natural resource locations or village-level social problems (such as alcoholism); these were highly sensitive even when these were to be shared at the community level. (There are conflicts between villages over resources, as a result of overlapping legal and customary land rights, and growing pressures on natural resources due to the – frequently illegal – activities of non-residents coming in from outside the area.)
Once a clear understanding of the monitoring results and classification system was reached (using questionnaires), it was then taken to each village to be discussed and agreed in communal assemblies over several months.
It must be noted that while great efforts are needed to address data classification prior to monitoring (i.e. highlighting sensitivities prior to data collection), in some cases the significance of the data was only really understood once it was analysed and visualised. Therefore, it became clear that classification processes need to run in parallel with monitoring activities, as data classifications will require regular revisions over time. The local data management capacity needs to be strong enough to manage these ongoing discussions.
The principles of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) are fundamental to guarantee that data collected is shared and used the most responsible and considerate way.
Consensus around the classification of different data outputs is not only important at the outset, but is an ongoing process that requires revisions as data is collected.