Enabling stakeholders in policy processes
Imagine that in 5 years a new environmental policy goal arises, and public agencies and authorities start working on possible policy instruments, rules, regulations and so on designed to reach the goals set by politicians. Suppose these could include the regulation of forestry practice in a significant part of the forest area in the Atlantic region. Depending on the way the policy instruments are designed and implemented, they may have positive, negligible or quite negative effects for the FWC – economically for the sector but also with respect to the wider sustainability impact.
In many countries the policy development processes allow for some degree of involvement of stakeholders like the national forest owner association and wood-consuming industries. They are involved in consultative boards or asked to comment on suggested rules and regulations. Nevertheless, national forest owner associations and similar often feel grossly disadvantaged in these processes, because their ‘opponents’ in the administrative system has a formidable informational and capacity advantage. Information is strongly asymmetric.
The stakeholders may provide to authorities their best guesses on the effects of different instruments, they may point to experience from other countries or they may at their best ability try to undertake more formal analyses themselves. But most stakeholder organisations do not have the resources to match larger analytical tasks. In either case, their input may be sensitive to critique for having a too weak fundament or to primarily reflect narrow interest group agendas.
However, with TOSIA around the stakeholders have a new option available. They can – alone, through their European umbrella organisation or in co-operation with others – hire in independent experts, e.g. a consultancy firm, to make an application of TOSIA where various policy set-ups are evaluated. Providing the independent experts with transparent input on the policy instruments to evaluate and key assumptions made, the stakeholders will receive back equally transparent results: The direct impact on selected indicators, the effect on possible evaluation criteria, effectiveness assessments and an embedded cost-benefit analysis. Perhaps regional results of relevance are extracted to. This is much more than most stakeholders could hope to produce themselves.
The immediate effect will be to even out the playing field. Being the result of feeding transparent information and assumptions to independent experts taking them through TOSIA and returning with the results, credibility will be high. Furthermore, with TOSIA as a state-of-the-art tool, effectively endorsed by the EU, the analysis cannot be ignored.
This of course does not exclude the possibility that policies adverse to the stakeholders may result. But it does move the policy process focus from the usual asymmetric situation, to a situation where stakeholders and authorities are on a more equal footing, e.g. in discussing the assumptions made prior to analyses. The analyses need no longer to be produced and presented in a unilateral way. It also opens up for a more transparent discussion of the trade-off to make, as the final policy design choice will have to reflect a trade-off across the sustainability impact evident from the effects shown in the results from the independent experts; e.g. the loss/gain of jobs in the sawmilling industries vs. other indicators in focus.
The above could of course be dismissed as wishful thinking. Certainly, even if this is within reach, it presupposes a lot. To reap the gains we must be able to “hand over TOSIA as a well-founded and reliable tool”. This requires a large effort on behalf of the partners of EFORWOOD.
The promise is that being successful will provide the Forest Wood Chain and its stakeholders with something new and unique: A common platform for communicating about and analyse the effects of policy issues, sector development, globalisations, climate change and a number of other issues. The FWC will be the first sector to provide such a platform, and this will strengthen its standing as great contributor to the EU’s Vision a knowledge-based bio-economy.