FAQ

FOREST PLANNING IN GENERAL 

1. What effect will input on Our Forest Place have on the final decision?

The forest planning process has three distinct phases: assessment, plan creation or plan revision, and monitoring. Created to help with assessment efforts, Our Forest Place will be used to inform the assessments.  The assessments will lead to forest plans and plan revisions.

2. What will this new collaborative tool mean under existing laws?

Forest plans must comply with all applicable laws and regulations. This site aims to support and embrace new ways for interested stakeholders to contribute to the forest planning process.  While this may open new means of collaboration, decisions must and will continue to adhere to existing laws and regulations.

OUR FOREST PLACE

1.     Is Our Forest Place an official government website?

No, Our Forest Place is not an official government website.  For official news and statements by the U.S. Forest Service, please visit the agency’s website (http://www.fs.fed.us/) or Region 5’s website (http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/).

2. Who administers the site?

Currently, the site is administered by Forest Service employees.  As Our Forest Place grows, the hope is that other members of the community will become administrators.   We will re-visit site administration in the future. 

3.  Who makes the decision about removing inappropriate information?

Site administrators have the ability to delete or remove inappropriate content.  Any user, however, can alert an administrator to inappropriate content and request that something be evaluated or removed.

4.  Is there a model for this type of collaborative planning tool?

Not specifically for planning; however, Our Forest Place is modeled off two virtual collaborative groups currently using the Ning social networking platform.  RecLink is a community of people who share a passion about quality outdoor recreation and its value to society.  eForest is a NEPA community of practice where Forest Service NEPA professionals share expertise.  Both share a similar goal with Our Forest Place: a desire to unite stakeholders with shared resources and common goals, and do it in a novel way.  

5.       What will happen with the input?

Our Forest Place focuses on natural resource planning and governance. This site is an entry point into local and regional networks of collaboration in California. For the Forest Service, the site will serve as a source of information to be considered.  The information gathered on the Living Assessment will be part of the whole body used to inform the actual Assessment Reports. 

6.       Why should people use Our Forest Place?

On Our Forest Place, anyone and everyone interested in forests in California is invited to participate. The opportunities are endless.  One can blog, get involved in a discussion forum, share data, post videos, or be part of an interest group.  Input can be entered at any time, night or day.  Our Forest Place is meant to augment methods of public participation in the planning process.  It will not replace other formal means of participation, such as public meetings or formal comment periods.  On Our Forest Place, no one viewpoint is weighed differently than any other, since the community is made up of individuals asserting their own interests, knowledge and values.

7.       What is the role of the Forest Service?

Our Forest Place and the Living Assessment rest outside of explicit agency control. Though developed by the Forest Service, no part of Our Forest Place is considered an official agency site.  Since the site is intended to form a community of stakeholders interested in forested lands and natural-resource management, the Forest Service will be one of many participants who use these tools.  

8.      Does the Forest Service only want to collaborate with people who have computer access and expertise? 

No.  Our Forest Place and the Living Assessment actually expand collaboration and build on current efforts to involve all stakeholders in this process. We’re trying to make it easier for people to participate. We hope that web-based tools, in concert with traditional collaborative methods, inspire people to participate who may not have done so in the past.  

THE LIVING ASSESSMENT  

1.       Are the articles in the Living Assessment intended to be peer reviewed?

The information contained in the articles is expected to have been published in a third-party, verifiable, reliable source.  In this way, Living Assessment articles will cite many peer reviewed sources and will serve as a way to determine what the community views as best available or most appropriate science.  However, the Living Assessment will also honor and recognize Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

2.       Who would have administrative or moderator privileges?

Anyone who is registered can access the Living Assessment to read and edit content.  Administrative responsibilities are currently limited to a small subset of Forest Service employees through the initial data gathering stages that will support developing the Assessments.  We will re-visit this later in 2013.

3.   What is the relationship between the final Assessment Report and the content on the Living Assessment?

Assessment Reports provide a solid base of information and context for decision-making. They provide useful information to the responsible official for a new or revised plan.  They identify gaps that might be filled by a monitoring program, changing conditions, and assumptions that should be tested later.  The Living Assessment is a tool to gather and display information about the current condition and trends.  Appropriate content will be mined from the Living Assessment to be considered in developing the Assessment Report, which will inform revision of the forest plan in question.  The Living Assessment is an incredible resource for material that is already vetted by the community of interested forest stakeholders.

4.   How will contradictions be managed?

The Living Assessment will be self-managed by the community.  An inherent strength in this model is that contradictory information may be added and acknowledged.  Over time, quality will be enhanced by group learning.  The underlying assumption with tools geared toward harnessing collective intelligence is that the community will correct mistakes and provide context to contradictory information based upon facts and known information rather than values and opinions.  It is the responsibility of users within such a dynamic, multi-authored source to determine the quality and reliability of information, and the degree of its usefulness.  

5.   How do public opinion and best available science come together during the writing of the Assessment Reports?

The Living Assessment is fact-based, not opinion or position-based. The Code of Conduct lays out the types of contributions that are appropriate, and which help the Living Assessment achieve neutrality, verifiability and reliability. The benefit of open access is that the edits themselves may help determine what the community views as the best science.  If an article is accepted by the community and appears to be neutral, comprehensive and stable, it follows that the studies that comprise those citations are largely accepted by the interested stakeholders.  This tool can become an important decision support system based on public participation, as opposed to a system based solely on solicitation of a few expert opinions.

6.  How do you prevent loud voices or biases or opinions from dominating the content on the Living Assessment?

While the openness of the Living Assessment promotes, encourages and realizes participation by a variety of stakeholders, it also introduces vulnerability.  To help lessen this vulnerability, contributors are expected to follow the established Code of Conduct.  Its’ main tenets are a neutral point of view, verifiability, no original research, and reliability. The Living Assessment is fact-based.  It is not the place for advocacy or opinions.  Remembering this and following the Code of Conduct, the extent to which “loud voices” or biases are represented will hopefully be minor.  The blogs and discussion forums on Our Forest Place are venue where opinions and values can be respectfully discussed within the broader stakeholder community.

7.  How will vandalism, damage and inappropriate language be managed?

The Living Assessment is based on a model which makes vandalism easy to undo.  At the top of each article page you will find three additional tabs: discussion, history, and notify me. The discussion tab can be used to redirect users or a group of users engaged in edit warring. Administrators can block such users from editing the article itself, and direct them to argue their points and reach consensus on the discussion tab associated with the article. A difference of opinion between a small subset can, through the discussion tab, be opened up for involvement by anyone in the community, as a way to resolve differences and maintain neutrality.   The history tab holds all prior edits and versions of the chapter.  It is easy to see what changes have been made, and to revert back to an earlier page. Users who have an interest in a certain page, or who have edited particular content, can be notified by e-mail when changes are made to a particular page. If someone has a strong interest in a topic and are notified when changes occur, they are likely to correct vandalism in a timely manner. 

8.   Are there other ways of engaging the public in this process?

Yes.  The Living Assessment does not replace any form of collaboration or public participation available to people interested in forest planning. It provides additional opportunities to be part of the forest planning process. The value of face-to-face collaboration is undeniable.  The accessibility of the Living Assessment may increase participation by those who haven’t been involved in the past. For individuals who do not typically hear of, or have time for public meetings, and for those who would like to contribute at a time that works for them , the Living Assessment  is open  24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

9.   What role will the scientific community play in this wiki?

Scientists are welcome to share their professional opinions regarding a topic on the discussion tabs associated with an chapter or on Our Forest Place. Opinions, conclusions and inferences which have not previously been published in a verifiable, third-party source, however, cannot be shared on the chapter main page, in accordance with the Code of Conduct regarding “No Original Research”. We encourage scientists and researchers to engage as much as possible through this venue.  Their expertise, research, viewpoints and familiarity with the topic they research will undoubtedly help the Living Assessment thrive. 

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