One standard format
We have a wealth of data on forest management certification available in FSC through public summary reports, available online for everyone on info.fsc.org. These reports are intended to support local stakeholders, researchers, forest standard development groups and FSC itself, not only in assessing the performance of our system on forest management but also to improve it continuously.
However, hitherto data from our public summary reports has not systematized. It is available in a multitude of different formats, depending on which certification body collects it. Exploring each single summary report makes it very difficult and time-consuming to gather and aggregate data and to enable analysis.
Choice of technology
The templates are available as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. Hitherto most Certification Bodies have used Microsoft Word for compiling audit reports. This has the advantage of making it easy to write the longer discursive sections of the audit report, such as a description of the overall forest management approach adopted by the certificate holder. Another advantage is the ease of reviewing using comments and Tracked Changes features that have been available in Microsoft Word for a long time, and are well understood.
However, Microsoft Word is not a good solution for systematic management of data. The primary goal of digital audit reporting is to collect data and this is why we have chosen Microsoft Excel as the implementation technology for this project. Excel is a widespread piece of software that we can use for this purpose without any additional customization (unlike the plugin that was required to implement in Word), and therefore support requirements are minimized. Excel formulae allow us to include some basic validation checks on the data, and sheets can be locked against editing except in cells open for data entry.
Excel is also highly interoperable. Microsoft Excel uses the Office Open XML standard, and the FSC template structures data in formatted, named tables and standard named lists. No macros or scripts are used or required to utilize the template.
Nonetheless, we recognise that using Excel does introduce a certain amount of awkwardness in use, especially for those discursive sections and to generate public summaries in PDF form, so in the longer term we aim to develop a web-based app to manage the process and offer a more user-friendly experience for all involved.
Digital Chain of Custody reporting will be next step
FSC has started the Digital Audit Reporting Project with forest management audit reports but we plan to digitize chain of custody (CoC) and controlled wood audit reports as next steps. These projects will only commence once digital audit reporting in FM audits has been successfully implemented.
(last updated 05 August 2022)
The resources listed on this page are aimed at Certification Bodies conducting FSC Forest Management audits. They include FSC reference template and associated files.
- Excel template containing all required data fields for a forest management audit (available in multiple languages, version 1.3.4)
- Minimal Excel template containing a minimalist set of data fields for a forest management audit – created to ease transition to the new format for CBs and auditors – only for use up to end Dec 2022 (available in multiple languages, version 1.3.4)
- User guide to provide an explanation of template requirements and functions for users (version 1.3.4)
- Introduction for Certificate Holders undergoing an audit with this template for the first time (2 page letter, available in 9 languages)
- Introductory video for Certification Bodies and auditors
- Introductory video for Certificate Holders who have been asked to complete certain sections of the template
- FAQ for auditors using the template
(last updated 05 August 2022)
Timelines for implementation
What are the timelines for mandatory test and use?
31 July 2022 All CBs conducting FM audits must have tested and submitted at least two completed reports using the new template. July – December 2022 Transition period for CBs to adopt the new template. 1 October 2022 Stable version of template published for use from 1 January 2023 onwards. December 2022 Additional version of template published that is compatible with revision to the 20-007 standard for FM audits that is expected to be approved in November 2022. 1 January 2023 Use of the new template becomes mandatory in all FM audits. Minimal version no longer available for us.
Access to data and data integration
Will FSC provide a public API integration with certification body systems? or an option for data export?
The API integration with certification body’s own data management system is not yet available. However, FSC plans to work towards this functionality. When available, the integration will require alignment with FSC data schema or mapping of data against it.
Will certification bodies be able to access and use the data for their own analytics?
We are aware of and fully understand that certification bodies use the data from data reports to ensure internal quality control, trend analysis of own data, etc. It is therefore anticipated that in future Certification Bodies will be able to access data stored in the FSC database about certificates they manage, but this functionality will not be an early priority, so CBs are advised to adjust their own processes to work from the new template.
What is digital audit reporting?
FSC digital audit reporting focuses on standardizing the existing FSC audit reporting formats into a new single digital format that is machine readable. Standardized data architecture for FSC FM audit reporting will enable us to access properly audit data, aggregate them and to identify trends, outcomes and risk areas in order to evaluate and improve the FSC system. Future FSC Digital audit reporting will also ensure that public summaries are automatically created in a standardized format, making it much easier for researchers and stakeholders to use and analyse the data they contain on an aggregated level.
How does this relate to the FM Online project?
FM Online is the name that was given to the first project that started FSC on the road to digital audit reporting. As well as producing a first draft of the template (in Word rather than Excel), the project involved a dedicated web portal for planning FM evaluations. This latter component has been put on hold; in due course it will be incorporated into a new web portal for Certification Bodies to manage all their work with FSC.
If you would like to understand more about the pivot from the first version of the Digital Audit Reporting template in Word to the current version in Excel you should listen to this episode of the Forests for the Future podcast from December 2021.
Can the template be used offline?
Yes. The template can be used offline, while the user prepares, fills in, reviews and finalizes the report in Microsoft Excel.
Will the template be mandatory for certification bodies?
Yes, FSC will make FSC Digital audit reporting and related solutions mandatory for certification bodies to improve the data quality and usability of FSC forest management audit reports.
FSC members enabled and supported this decision. During the FSC General Assembly in 2017, the membership approved motion 16 calling for FSC to implement a centralized and enable data analysis to capture trends and identify risks.
Will all data from the reports be uploaded into a central database?
All information from audit reports conforming to FSC data definition will be uploaded to FSC Database and re-used for future audits. Only a portion of the audit report – that is the public summary – will be open and accessible from the FSC International website.
Will aggregated statistics of FM audit results be publicly available?
Yes, these statistics will be publicly available. With the successful scaling up of FSC digital audit reporting, all relevant information, which is currently available through individual public summary reports, can be aggregated and analysed from different angles and groups, such as by country, or forest type, etc. This will be made available through the FSC Facts and Figures section on FSC Connect.
Who will get access to aggregated data and can run reports?
Users and access rights will remain the same as now.
FSC will have access to all the data from the audit reports. However, only some of the data will be available for public users to run aggregated reports.
Other parts of the data contained in the public summary reports will be available to relevant FSC entities and to researchers with a justified reason for being granted access to the data. For instance, viewing the number of corrective action requests for a given certification body. This data can be used to identify which indicators often spark corrective action requests and hence where FSC standards need to be improved or have additional guidance developed.
Who is responsible for managing the data uploaded through digital audit reports?
As the scheme owner, FSC takes overall responsibility of data aggregation to ensure transparency, monitor the impact and communicate properly to stakeholders. However, the certification bodies remain responsible for the data entered in the database and its lawful provision.
Will sensitive or confidential information be uploaded to the database?
Yes, collection and evaluation of sensitive or confidential information is a natural part of certification, and that means some confidential information will be uploaded to the FSC certificates database, all the while respecting and adhering to all relevant privacy legislation such as the European GDPR legislation.
This is no change from the present situation, where confidential information is also part of the mandatory information collected by certification bodies and manually processed.
When confidential information is included in the audit report, it will be treated as confidential when uploaded into the database.
All sensitive information and data shall be treated with discretion and in conformity with the data protection requirements, such as EU GDPR requirements, with access only granted on an approved and as-needed basis.
In case local laws and regulations prevent confidential or sensitive information to be collected via certification audits, FSC shall be notified, as it would be a case of conflict with legal requirements for FSC certification.
Will personal information be uploaded to the database?
There will be no change in the information currently collected by certification bodies. As is the case today, certain personal information will be uploaded, including:
- contact person for certification body,
- names and expertise of auditors,
- name of per reviewer, and
- names and contact details of group members where allowed by the legislation.
All personal identifiable information will be excluded from public access unless the relevant consents were granted. The publishing or not of the personal information will be at the discretion of the Certification Body. All sensitive information and data will be treated with discretion and in conformity with the EU GDPR requirements.
In case local laws and regulations prevent such information to be collected via certification data, FSC shall be notified as it would be a case of conflict with legal requirements for FSC certification.
Where will the database be stored and under which security level?
The database will be stored in a centralized Microsoft data centre in Europe, which will enable us to provide the highest level of data protection, in conformity with the EU GDPR requirements.
Access to the database will be subject to identity management, ensuring that strict access management to the data can be put in place.
Will the new public summary reports provide more information than the past ones?
No. The new template will contain similar information as in the previous reports, as it follows the same normative requirements, stipulated in FSC-STD-20-007b, and evolves with the future revision of FSC-STD-20-007.
The main change is that the new public summary will make the information easier to digest across different certification bodies and that the data fields containing data, which can be aggregated, will now be easily available for trend analysis and risk identification.
FSC has been asked by our stakeholders to make it easier to monitor impact and evaluate the effect of FSC certification. To enable this, we are reviewing the current scope of data that is required as part of the current revision of FSC-STD-20-007. This revision includes public consultation.
It is important that FSC improves in reporting on impact monitoring and evaluation, and we welcome all comments and proposals during the ongoing revision of FSC-STD-20-007 in 2020.
Will the report template be adapted to regional and national FSC FM standards?
There are three levels of requirements in an FSC FM standard: principle, criterion and indicator. The principles define the backbone of the FSC definition of a sustainable forest management. Each principle is broken down into a series of criteria of what must be met to be FSC certified. The national – or regional – working groups define what the indicators should be to prove that a given criterion has been met on a local scale. In cases where there is no national or regional standard, certification bodies can create interim standards.
The report template provides one possible mechanism for capturing data at the indicator level in a detailed checklist, but the text of the indicators needs to be inserted by the CB, and that part of the report can be replaced with an alternative solution at the option of the CB.
In the future, FSC plans to integrate the digital reporting with a future database of normative requirements, and then the audit template will be able to reflect specific requirements of national standards.
How will special audits (not certified /recertification / monitoring audits) be handled by the system?
In the short term the platform will cover main evaluation and surveillance evaluation, which are mandatory for certification and support of a FM certificate.
If in future certification bodies find it useful to add commonly occurring audits, the FSC Digital Audit Reporting team will address this need by adding new features.
Will Digital Audit Reporting be integrated with a Geographic information system (GIS) software?
FSC digital audit reporting does not currently integrate any GIS software. However, following the adoption of motion 16 at the FSC General Assembly in 2021, mapping of forest management units will become a requirement. This will provide new opportunities for improving the effectiveness of FM audits (e.g. planning specific areas to visit in person) and transparency of audit processes. FSC will proactively explore options to leverage this, whilst ensuring a smooth transition process that does not unduly burden auditors or demand specialist skills in GIS.
Will the quality of the input data be checked during report completion?
In general it is better to allow some bad data to be input than to prevent the entry of good data that does not fit some over-restrictive predetermined notion of what should be valid. Hence early versions of the Excel template provide only some very basic validation of data entered. This will be improved upon and tightened over time. As and when we shift to using a web application much better data validation will be possible.
Will the reporting enable certification bodies to identify both plantations and natural forests within the same forest management unit (MU)?
Plantations often co-exist with natural forests within the same MU. It is not currently possible for certification bodies to mark one MU as including both forest types. The data architecture and database have been designed to enable certification bodies to capture both forest types in a given MU.
However, this information is not spatially identifiable (meaning that it is not visible on a detailed map with clear borders between plantations and natural forests). It only exists as a data field indicating the areas in terms of numbers.
Will legacy data (or old FM audit reports) be converted into the new template?
No, historical data from previous audit reports – in PDF, Word or Excel format – will not be converted into the new template. The primary information of present FM certificate holders in current platform (e.g. company name and contacts) will be copied to the new database. This project will only provide solutions for future audit reports.
How has the template been tested?
The current version of the template has been tested using the latest versions of Excel for Windows (Version 2102, Build 13801.21092), Excel for Mac (Version 16.56, Build 21121100), and Excel Online (Build 16.0.14822.35902).