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Ways of Improving Forest Owners’ Participation

Jurij Begus

Slovenia Forest Service, Vecna pot 2, p.p.71, 1001 Ljubljana, Slovenia.


Forest owners’ participation in decision making process is very important. In Slovenia, in cooperation with FAO we designed and implemented a project to build the capacities for support to private forest owners and public participation. The most important goal was to create the nucleus of a highly trained group of Slovenia Forest Service staff, which would train other foresters.


In positive relation between forestry professionals and forest owners, as one of the most important part of the public, ways of participation have the most important role. Unfortunately, in reality we can not talk about participation. On one hand we have foresters who think they are superior in questions concerning forestry and on the other hand we have forest owners and other parts of the broader public who are not invited in decision making processes or they do not want to cooperate. Therefore the crucial question is how to incorporate the participatory methods in a forester’s every day work. In Slovenia we have lack of such skills and knowledge so we were accepted and offered from FAO for cooperation through a technical cooperation project (TCP) called “Capacity Building for Support to Private Forest Owners and Public Participation”. Together we designed the content of the project, where the most important goal was to create the nucleus of a high trained group of Slovenia Forest Service staff which would train other foresters.

The background of the project was well described in the proposal for the project where the situation of the entire region (Central and Eastern EU countries) is described as follows:

“Over the past ten years massive areas of forestland in Central and Eastern Europe have been put into private hands. These “new owners” sometimes have limited experience and knowledge of forest management and are put significant demands on local forest services for support in sustainable forest management. Forest services in CEE countries are faced with a whole new class of forest owners in addition to different civil society dynamics. However they lack skills and experience in dealing and communicating with private owners and other sections of civil society. There is a risk of unsustainable forest management, safety concerns, loss of biological diversity, and loss of economic and social benefits if mechanisms and systems are not developed and skilled staff not trained. Many factors are involved, including liberalization, EU policy and regulations. Changes in formal forestry curricula are needed for long-term improvements, but are difficult and inadequate in the short term to respond to immediate and critical needs.”

In Slovenia the situation is not similar but anyway we could accept some parts of explanation also for our conditions.

We could concentrate the sense of the main idea of the project in a short sentence: ”We have to start in our own house!”, meaning that we have to start to promote the idea of participation among foresters if we want to change the relationship between foresters and others - forest owners and public. The conditions in Slovene forestry, in spite of generally recognized professional level, were and still are such that it would be necessary to reestablish such relationship with forest owners and broader public, which would enlarge participation of all subjects in decisions about management of forest as an economic source and a natural ecosystem. That means that in all important decisions all subjects would cooperate equally and in democratic ways. The relationship “forester is law, everybody has to obey him” must be changed into a relationship “forest owner/public and forester are partners”. Of course first relationship is not something special just for Slovenia, not even for other CEE countries in transition. We can find similar conditions everywhere. To reach the second relationship was our objective when we created and carried out the project.

Objectives of the Project

It was already mentioned that we wanted to start with education among forest service staff. In the proposal of the project it was mentioned, that three target groups should be addressed:

In-service training was urgently needed for forestry field staff, particularly those in direct contact with private and family forest owners and those responsible for contacts and collaboration with other stakeholders such as NGOs, forest users, and the private sector;

A small core of facilitators and trainers needed to be developed to assure continuity and sustainability of training. This group could come from several organizations including forest service, forest research institutes and educational organizations and NGOs; and

A small group of educators should be involved because elements of the training program needed to be integrated into on-going training programs in order to give present and future foresters the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behavior, necessary to support private forestry and public participation.

The objectives of the project are capacity building of the forest service and related support systems for improved forest management through:

  • Program development of in-service and continuing education and institutional strengthening in support of private forestry; and
  • Upgrading of the capacities through training of about 10 foresters who would be part of the future nucleus of well educated trainers for further education of the SFS staff and others.

The Process of Preparing and Realization of the Project

The process of preparing and realization of the project comprised several steps:

  • need identification - the idea (1998),
  • inception workshop (2000),
  • situation analysis,
  • project development and activities,
  • project evaluation,
  • follow-up phase (2001) –
  • proposal for a regional programme.

The project started in 1998 when we organized some workshops to present the situation in Slovenia, as one of the CEE countries in transition. Even though in Slovenia we were quite good in forestry as a profession, and we hope we still are (close to nature and sustainable forest management is build in every pore of forester’s work), we realized that lack of knowledge about different skills of communication was our defectiveness. The situation is described in the following text (BEGUŠ, MEDVED 1997):

“… during transition there has been a change in the relationship forester - owner. From the predominant power of the forester there is a state when the foresters have to take into account quite a number of opinions. While in the past we could easily bring forward the professional arguments we must now persuade the owners to accept them and educate them so that they will understand their meaning. It's well known that we the foresters are very bad at communicating, we don't like to write, we don't now how to contact people and the most worrying part, we don't know how to promote our ideas and the results of our work. By nature the foresters are somehow introverted and we think that it goes without saying that the public knows what we do, that they understand the contents of forest work and that the sense and the purpose of our work is clear and well known. Unfortunately this isn't so. Our work, such as the importance of the forest needs to be promoted constantly, in everyday contacts with the forest owners as well as through the information to the public through media (if we the foresters, who constantly work with the forest, don't do this, other professions will do it instead of us). It is logical that, speaking of the importance of extension for forest owners, we cannot forget about the extension in the field of communication, public appearance and andragogics for foresters.”

More intensive work on the project started at the beginning of 2000, when we organized an inception workshop with experts from different countries and some from Slovenia where we analyzed the situation in forestry with the emphasis on participation of forest owners in decision making processes. The fact is that we best know the situation in our country but it is very useful if someone from a different point of view takes a look on the problems independently. During the inception workshop we recognized the need of a good situation analysis, which would be the basis for creating different modules of the project.

Therefore it was essential and quite important, for further activities, to take a quick look on the results of the situation analysis (SA), which included:

  • Due to the fragmentation of ownership, today most forest owners do not get substantial revenues from the forest and can not, as a result, live from this resource. Agriculture or employment are their main sources of subsistence; (the forest being considered today mainly as a saving account);
  • A major problem forest owners face today, is related to damages caused by wildlife;
  • Forest owners are, in general, satisfied with the services provided by the SFS, though they do not contribute to the elaboration of management plans, nor do they own a copy of them. It is worth noting that most forest owners, except large ones, are not even aware of the contents. The subsidies for silvicultural activities and road construction provided by the SFS are well accepted;
  • Technical training courses provided by the SFS are appreciated, and also found useful; and
  • The sale of forest products is carried out on individual basis, the annual cut reaching only 50% of the realizable increment. Forest owners are organized, only to a minor extent, either in agricultural co-operatives and/or machine circles. Purposely created forest owner associations or co-operatives do not exist. The usefulness of and interest in such organization depends, to some extent, on the location of the property, the level of information it holds and the characteristics of the property.

Forest owners rely, to a great extent on the SFS, and thus genuinely expect it to bring them solutions to various problems they face. At the same time, a need to improve the flow of information concerning subsidies, compensations, training possibilities is also highly expressed. On the other hand, a much too high influence of the SFS on forest activities was pointed out. In this context, the functions of an authority and support service in particular, are named to be problematic.

Over all, forest owners seem to remain quite individualistic and rather isolated, though regional differences can be noted. It was also noticed that, in terms of forests and forest management, the owners tend to portray a re-active rather than pro-active behavior. The need to get organized, in order to improve market structures or reduce costs of forestry activities, is not yet identified as a priority.

Rural migration to urban centers is a serious concern, both for forest owners and also the SFS.

The SFS provides a full service package to forest owners which includes the preparation of highly detailed management and silvicultural plans, advice, the marking of trees for selective cutting and the maintenance of forest roads as well as the provision of subsidies.

Circulating information is difficult because the SFS has, on the one hand, to deal with individuals and, on the other, it favors a person to person approach. There are no associations to relay the information.

Other constraints in managing the forests are the high number of owners who are not aware about their rights and obligations and the high number of absentee owners. Also time limitation was named. The SFS is very well structured and organized. Its staff show a high level of commitment.

Generally, the SA showed (in comparison with objectives of the project) that training was needed in the following spheres:

  • adult education to know how to deal with alder population;
  • conflict management;
  • group promotion to get more interest for establishing new FO associations;
  • participatory methods to involve FO and public in decision making processes.

On the basis on mentioned needs and some additional requests we designed following program (Table 1):

Table 1: Modules of the project


duration (TOT)

duration (TOF)

training of adults

3 days

1 day

distance learning



conflict management

1 day


extension methods

1 day


participatory approach

3 + 3 days

1 days

group promotion

1 day


field day

2 days

1 day

The most important module was participatory approach regarding also to the title of the project where “participatory” was especially highlighted. It was also the most popular one among participants because, for our conditions, the methods represented something new.

Picture 1: H form – a participatory approach

The whole project was split up in two phases (Table 2). The first phase was called “Training of Trainers” (TOT) and the second one “Trainers of Foresters” (TOF). During the project we decided that also a “follow up“ phase was necessary so finally three phases were created. TOT and TOF courses were four weeks long and finished in November 2000. After that the “follow up” phase continued till end of May next year.

Table 2: Training course schedule












Training of

Training of

Training of



Training of

Distance learning



Partic. approach

Field day -
Partic. approach


Group promotion

Meeting with forest owners

Evaluation of meeting


Review of




Review of





Preparation of trainers

Training of



Group promotion

Field day Meeting with forest owners

Preparation of field day


The TOT course was most important course of the whole project and was designed to train the SFS professional foresters as trainers for the preparation of foresters in their ability of interactive communication with forest owners and other actors related to forestry. With the modules in the course we wanted to overcome constrains in communication and technology transfer between the Slovenia Forest Service (SFS) and forest owners. These constraints have resulted in a lack of participation of forest owners in the process of preparing of the forest economic and wildlife plans as well as forest silvicultural plans.

SA had revealed the convenience to improve the above skills, initially at the SFS through preparation of trainers. If course participants would use these techniques and skills, it would be expected that communication between the SFS employees and forest owners would improve significantly, leading to a strong increase of forest owners participation in actively managing their forest property in accordance with regulations, management plans and administrative acts. Additionally it was expected that forest Owners motivation about the future of their properties management would increase their disposition to find ways of connection.

The TOT course objectives were:

  • Participants will be capable to prepare Foresters to judge conflict situations and choose and apply conflict management techniques and strategies;
  • Trainees will be able to train Foresters to combine appropriate participatory techniques and extension methods in their work;
  • Trainees will be able to train Foresters in the application of Adult Training techniques, and the use and coordination of different communication channels in participatory sustainable management of forests with various stakeholders to motivate and introduce Foresters to use electronic sources for up to date information and distance learning; and
  • Participants will be prepared to train Foresters to seek together with Forest Owners to organize and develop F.O. associations.

Picture 2: Field day with forest owners

14 future trainers participated in the TOT course. From the group of almost 50 candidates of the SFS staff, 11 of them were chosen. With each, candidate we made an interview and at the end we selected the best of them. In addition, we invited three participants from other organizations dealing with forestry – forestry inspection, forestry institute and secondary forestry school. As can be seen in the table 2 we organized two field days with forest owners. Those two days were the first challenge for both – for future trainers and also for facilitators because we didn’t know how FO would react. At the end this first experience showed that even though participatory techniques are, compared to classical education, different, FO accepted this new approach.

For the next phase – TOF we invited 23 foresters from the SFS. In one week, the future trainers had to prepare a complete course with all materials and organizational needs. We tried to create the course, as it would be presented in the future. TOF course was crucial for future trainers and also for facilitators while during the course differences between future trainers were expressed.

Picture 3: Training for Foresters

In order to become skilled and confident trainers, the new trainers need constant feed-back and close coaching in all phases of training including needs analysis, program design, preparation, delivery and evaluation. Those were the reasons why we created the Follow up phase, too.

The general purpose of the Follow up was to provide assistance to the new trainers while they were carrying out the TOF and to facilitate the final selection of the best trainers who will take over training activities in the SFS. The Objectives of the Follow-up Program were:

To give new trainers the opportunity to independently:

  • facilitate the Training Needs assessment and determine the training objectives for the training of foresters (TOF) Program
  • plan the training event (module design and selection of training methods and techniques)
  • prepare and design training materials (instruction guidelines, workbooks, slides, etc.)
  • deliver effective training directly aligned with the training plan
  • evaluate individual modules and overall training
  • prepare a final report with recommendations for the future of the TOF Program

To use new trainers’ new experiences for their personal improvement (feedback, suggestions, tips)

To select the group of trainers which will in future:

  • perform complex and demanding activities in the field of Human Resource Management in the SFS
  • facilitate group processes in problem solving inside the SFS.

Trainers decided to run two separate TOF’s in different parts of Slovenia. On both TOF’s they trained foresters involving Forest Owners and public in preparation of the forest management plans. The trainers split themselves into two teams and continued to work separately. It was obvious from the beginning that there would be a difference in the procedure of the program design. Participants of the first TOF were involved in the designing of the program, on the other hand, participants from the second TOF were invited to an already designed program. We decided to let the trainers continue as they had planned. It would be interesting to compare the effects of each TOF. They agreed to focus their attention on the specifics in the preparation during the evaluation of the Follow up. People learn best on their own experiences.

Each trainer prepared (besides training materials for the participants) an evaluation questionnaire. After each module, we organized a “round table” of the trainers, where we encouraged the trainers to analyze and evaluate the performance of their colleagues and express praise and suggestions for improvement. We expressed our opinion only if it was necessary. In most situations the trainers were able to notice what was working and what should have been improved. The “Follow up” evaluation showed that we were reaching all objectives form the beginning of the module. At the end of this module and also at the end of the project some recommendations for the SFS were accepted:

Participation should become a strategic aim of the SFS.

All employees should experience the modified ways of such training, i.e.: district foresters cooperate with the forest owners, leaders with their colleagues, etc)

  • methods of participation
  • conduct of meetings
  • communication and conflict prevention

Official status of trainers is a precondition for their future dedication to training activities.

Continuous training system and employee improvement, employee development project, annual interviews – these are the three options for trainers to demonstrate their capabilities.

Currently the SFS has 11 experts. It would be useful to make it possible for the trainers to experience facilitation of other modules.

There are many possible areas where trainers can prove their capabilities. We could divide them into two groups – the first one would comprises training activities and the second one moderating activities. For example:

  • employee training within the SFS:
  • training facilitation (that's what they were trained for in TOF and Follow-up)
  • SFS training supervision (they know what good training is therefore they can evaluate training facilitators and their programs)
  • event moderation:
  • problem-solving within the SFS
  • diverse public meetings
  • as the intervention group (using the cooperation techniques to crisis conciliation).

Some results

The most important remark of evaluation at the end of the project is that we should have dedicated more time in TOT course to participatory approach and should have planned more field days with forest owners. We have to take this remark into account when we prepare TOF in the future.

Participatory techniques are implemented in some activities of the SFS, mainly during meetings with our staff as well as in some so called preparation meetings in forestry and wildlife planning process.

One of the most important tasks in the future is promotion of FO association. After project one forest owners association has been formed. We cannot say that this is the result of the project but we are aware that some incentives have come from it, too.

The core group in the SFS will continue its work in the following activities:

  • organizing TOF seminars for the SFS staff,
  • participatory approach in “critical” situations,

Instead of a conclusion

The idea of the project is very interesting also for other countries of CEE. In March 2001 we presented the project at a Ministry Conference of Forestry (COFO) in Rome. Some delegations showed interest to do the same in their countries, so in September we invited them to Slovenia to join the workshop entitled “Strengthening of private and community forestry in selected countries in Central and Eastern Europe” where the idea was presented and where the initial project for the region was designed. 12 countries participated in the workshop, 7 of them from CEE. In the workshop two main objectives were discussed:

  • Capacity building of the forest services: The proposed regional program would strengthen the capacity of forest services to enable them to provide effective forestry support to the new forest small-holders and for community forestry; and
  • Developing and strengthening the role of small-holders and communities in forest management.

The workshop provided a forum for discussion and comparison among the participants by promoting the sharing of information and experiences concerning small-holder and participatory forest management in Central and Eastern Europe. We hope that donors will be interested in supporting the program which, almost in the same shape as TCP project, will last four years.


1. Beguš J. 1998. Sustainable management of Slovenian forests. V: The European Model for a Strong Agriculture and a Strong Europe. Proceedings. Congress of European Agriculture, Ljubljana, 30 sept. – 2 oct. 1998. Bruxelles, CEA: 189 – 194

2. Begus J., Medved M. 1997. Forestry Extension for Small-scale Private Forest Owners in Slovenia (from the Forest Technology Aspects). V: 2nd IUFRO Extension Working Party, Nairobi, Kenya.

3. Begus J., Veselič Ž. 1999. Forestry in an Environment of Political Transition: the Example of Slovenia. V: Pluralism and sustainable forestry and rural development. Proceedings of an international workshop, Rome, 9-12 dec. 1999. Rome, FAO: 381 – 388.

4. FAO (Beck R.) 2000: Situation Analysis

5. FAO (Schlegel F) 2001: TCP/SVN/8922 Final Report

6. FAO (Begus J) 2000: TCP/SVN/8922 Final Report

7. FAO (Morano M) 2001: TCP/SVN/8922 Final Report – Follow up

8. FAO 2000: TCP/SVN/8922 Proposals

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