Digitalization of our audit reports

We will be piloting and introducing digital audit reports. This will enable us to appropriately access aggregated audit data and easily identify trends, impacts and risk areas to evaluate and improve the FSC system.

FSC Digital Audits
iStock.com / PeopleImages

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 researchers, forest standard development groups and FSC itself, not only in assessing the impact of our system on forest management but also to improve it continuously.

The data from our public summary reports is, however, not systematised. 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.

Digital audit reports solve this problem.

We will begin the transition with forest management audit reports and focus on the public summary reports specifically. This will enable us to appropriately access aggregated audit data and easily identify trends, impacts and risk areas to evaluate and improve the FSC system.

We will be piloting digital audit reports in 2019 and expect implementation across all certification bodies from 2020 onwards. The project will address implementation of Motion 16 from 2017.

FSC Digital Audits Highlights
FSC GD / Christian Irrgang

Highlights

We have identified two possible solutions and are currently piloting these with three certification bodies. The solutions capture data included in public summary reports, and include online and offline capability.

Digital CoC reporting will be next step

We will start the digitalisation project with forest management audit reports but plan to digitalise chain of custody (CoC) audit reports as a next step. This project will only commence once pilots for digital forest management audit reports have been successfully piloted and implemented.

Webinar

The digitalization of FSC FM audit reports

This video is a recording of our first webinar where we presented our suggested solutions and answered stakeholder questions about the project.

FAQs

  1. What is FM Online?

    The project FM Online focuses on standardizing the existing FSC audit reporting formats into one, new single digital format. In ‘FM Online’, ‘FM’ stands for ‘forest management’. It is the name of the project because it focuses solely on audit reports from forest management evaluations.

    Standardized 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. FM Online will also ensure that public summaries are automatically created in a standardized format, making it much easier for researchers and stakeholders to use and analyze the data they contain on an aggregated level.

    In the absence of a centralized format, certification bodies have created their own – and usually different – versions of audit reporting templates. They use different programs, layouts and phrasing to fill in the same fields. This makes the data contained in the reports very difficult to process and learn from. The new digital audit reports that FM Online will introduce will address this problem.

  2. Which tool will be used?

    For FSC, it is key that the system is as easy as possible for certification bodies to use and integrate in their everyday work. As a result, the proposed format for the report is a simple Microsoft Word template with relevant add-ons. This format will enable us to synchronize the relevant data fields through a centralized database. The template will not include macros or other insecure elements.

  3. 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 a Microsoft Word document. The auditor or reviewer will only need to be online while downloading certificate holder information (such as license number, certification number, address, contact person, etc.) and data from previous audits (e.g. previous non-conformities). Users will also have to be online while uploading data from the report to the central database, which will then prepare the public summary. The upload of data will take place from the office of the certification body, where offline functionality is not as crucial as in the field.

  4. Will the template be mandatory for certification bodies?

    Yes, FSC will make FM Online and related solutions mandatory for certification bodies to successfully improve the data quality and usability of FSC forest management audit reports.

    FSC members enabled and supported this decision. At the last FSC General Assembly, the membership actually approved a motion calling for FSC to implement a centralized and enable data analysis to capture trends and identify risks.

    However, FSC will only make the audit report format mandatory upon successful testing of real audit scenarios. We will also keep certification bodies continuously engaged in the development process to ensure the template is ready for the roll-out.

    Only data currently required in the reporting standard will be mandatory, but the template will include voluntarily fields to add other data that are critical for FSC.

  5. Will all data from the reports be uploaded into a central database?

    All information from audit reports inserted into predefined data fields will be captured, as requested by FSC members in the motion above mentioned.

    However, only a small portion of the audit report – that is the public summary – will be open and accessible from the FSC International website.

  6. Will aggregated statistics of FM audit results be publicly available?

    Yes, these statistics will be publicly available. With the successful scaling up of FM Online, all relevant information, which is currently available through individual public summary reports, could be aggregated and analyzed from different angles and groups, such as by country, or forest type, etc.

  7. 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 the data from full audit reports. However, only some of the data will be available for public users to run aggregated reports, i.e. data from public summary reports.  Certification bodies must currently manually enter most of this data into our database. Public summaries are also generated manually, by copying and pasting information from the full report.

    With FM Online, there will be no need to manually enter data into the database or create a public summary. Aggregated data will include data, which is already publicly available today through FSC Facts and Figures and will consist of data like the number of certified hectares, forest type, ownership structure (private/public).  Additionally, direct data flow from FM Online will enable work on data related to non-conformities or non-timber forest products, which today is only accessible from public summary PDFs.

    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.

    Relevant FSC entities will still be able to run aggregated reports including all data from the audit reports, beyond those of the public summaries. This is also possible today, where the same units have access to the information by obtaining full reports and checklists through ASI.

    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.

  8. Will confidential information be uploaded to the database?

    There will be no change in the mandatory information collected by certification bodies relative to today. Fulfilling certification requirements almost always require confidential information to be collected and evaluated. Not all of this information must be included in the audit report. 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 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.

  9. Will personal information be uploaded to the database?

    There will be no change in the information currently collected by certification bodies. As it is the case today, certain personal information will be uploaded.
    This information includes:

    • contact person for CB,
    • names and expertise of auditors,
    • name of per reviewer,
    • names and contact details of group members,
    • the Iist of institutions / individuals informed about the evaluation and,
    • a list of individuals who were interviewed by auditors or who contributed information in writing.

    All personal identifiable information will be excluded from public access. 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.

  10. Where will the database be stored and under which security level?

    The database will be stored in a centralized Microsoft data center 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. Only users tied to an individual certificate holder – i.e. their auditor, the central managers of that given certification body or the certificate holder themselves – will be able to access the data on a given certificate.

  11. Will the new public summary reports provide more information than the past ones?

    No. The new template will contain the exact same 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 only 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.

  12. Will the FM Online project include a revision of the content of the public summary reports?

    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 will review the current scope of data that is required as part of the   revision of FSC-STD-20-007 in 2020. This revision will include public consultation.

    It is important that FSC improves in reporting on impact monitoring and evaluation, and we welcome all comments and proposals during the upcoming revision of FSC-STD-20-007 in 2020.

  13. Will the template and data transmission function work with multiple languages?

    The template and database will in principle support most languages, as it is built on the Unicode Transformation Format UTF-8 – the universal encoding language used for the vast majority of all websites and email programs globally. This means that both the template and the database might be available in most of the languages used globally.

    However, the major challenge will be to ensure that the template itself is translated into the relevant languages and continuously updated.

    FSC will tackle this by translating the template into languages in a prioritized order. Initially the template will only be available in English.

  14. Will the report template be adapted to regional and national FSC FM standards?

    National working groups develop FSC FM standards on a national or regional level.

    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 does not intend to capture detailed checklist on the indicator level for every regional / national FM standard. Instead, the information will be based on a criterion level to address the diversity of different national standards and certification bodies’ interim standards.

  15. Will there be different templates for a main evaluation audit and for surveillance audits?

    Yes, there will be different templates, because the requirements to prepare main evaluations and surveillance are different.

    In addition, a surveillance audit requires that non-conformities from previous evaluation must be included in the report. As a result, these must be transferred from the cloud database into the template.

  16. 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 the future certification bodies find it useful to add commonly occurring audits, the FM Online team will address this need by adding new features.

  17. Will everyone have access to the FM Online report template?

    The FM Online report template is intended to be used by FSC auditors and reviewers within certification bodies. As a result, all certification bodies will have access to an empty version of the template.

    Other interested stakeholders can request access from FSC with justifiable reasons to use it.

  18. Will FM Online be integrated with a Geographic information system (GIS) software – to map certified forest?

    FM Online does not integrate any GIS software and there is no plan to do so at the moment.

    That said, FM Online will result in more opportunities to link FSC certificate data with GIS tools thanks to the standardization of geo-spatial data captured in the report. This could be through the use of GIS verification platform to help auditors identify where to focus their audits on the ground and incorporate this information into the audit report template. Through the report, it could also make available direct links to voluntarily uploaded GIS maps – with layers showing high conservation value areas, protected areas, etc.

    The template shall also enable integration of geo-spatial data collected for wood identification – to prevent illegal logging – or other purposes.

  19. How will the templates ensure the consistent use of units?

    To maintain consistency, two points must be considered:

    1. Only specific measures will be used and stored in the database, e.g. m3 for round wood, ton for rubber or resin;
    2. The template will provide automatic conversion of commonly used units within defined fields (i.e. conversion of acres to hectares) to ensure data consistency and the ability to compare data.
  20. Will the quality of the input data be checked during the upload?

    Yes, the data will be checked as they get uploaded to ensure that data quality is consistent. The data validation through the Word template will ensure that:

    • numeric values are consistent and acceptable,
    • mandatory fields are filled,
    • telephone number has the characteristics of a telephone number, or
    • forest types selected are justifiable, i.e. that tropical forests do not appear in Europe.

    Certification bodies will be asked to correct any fields, in which the data do not follow the prescribed structure.

  21. Will the database capture open text fields or graphs inserted out of the predefined data fields in the template?

    Yes, the template will contain extra space for the auditor to add open text fields and graphs – as needed beyond the predefined data fields.

    These elements and the information they include will remain solely within the Microsoft Word document – shared between the certificate holder, the certification body and ASI. FSC will not synchronize the data from these fields into its centralized database.

  22. Will the template 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 FMU as including both forest types. The new report template 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.

  23. Will digital audit reports also be developed for the chain of custody audits?

    Yes. After successful implementation of FM Online, follow-up projects, such as chain of custody digital audit reports and controlled wood digital audit reports, will be initiated. Learnings from FM Online and the developed templates and database will provide a good starting point for other similar projects.

  24. 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.