Training Module II


Scientific Advisor:
Global Forest Information Service (GFIS)

Eero Mikkola, GFIS Coordinator, Metla, Finland
Juha Hautakangas, GFIS Unit, Metla, Finland
Randy McCracken, US Forest Service, USA
Stella Britwum, FORNESSA, Ghana
Syuqiyah Abdul Hamid, APAFRI, Malaysia

Michael Kleine, IUFRO-SPDC

Managing large amounts of data and information constitutes an important component of forest research and development activities. Towards this end, modern information and communication technologies support efficient collection, processing, and dissemination of information. In order to make full use of such technologies, forest scientists must be familiar with the methods, systems, and tools available today. This training module, therefore, aimed at presenting and demonstrating state-of-the-art internet-based systems and tools that assist in the management and dissemination of forest-related information. One main objective was to introduce the new GFIS gateway and provide information on how to utilize RSS feeds for sharing and searching forest information.

The one-day training workshop was designed and implemented by Eero Mikkola (Finnish Forest research Institute, Metla) in cooperation with colleagues from the US-Forest Service, FORNESSA (Ghana) and APAFRI (Malaysia). In total, 69 scientists (28 women and 41 men) working at universities and research institutions from 28 countries participated in the workshop.

The five presenters delivered various presentations on information management including the following topics:

•    Overviews of Internet based information delivery;
•    Global Forest Information Service (GFIS);
•    Fundamentals of project management with workgroup assignments and reports;
•    Practical options for creating dynamic methods of syndicating information through RSS with specific information on becoming a GFIS Information provider; and
•    Successful methods of sharing information (FORNIS and APAFRI).

Class size varied between 16-24 students. Attendees were primarily research foresters not very experienced in information and data management. The training was conducted within a computer classroom setting. Available PCs for each trainee represented a valuable part of the work assignments and were critical for a successful study experience.

Challenges to share and manage information globally by Eero Mikkola, GFIS Coordinator, Metla, Finland

The un-catalogued mess of the online world can be difficult to sift through. However, with proper search and distribution techniques, we can capitalize on the vast nature of the internet to enhance forest-related research and expand the worldwide network of information partners. Eero Mikkola's presentation, "The Mess of Portals: The Challenges of Sharing and Finding Information", examined the best methods for using search engines, news aggregators and portals for information sharing. This presentation discussed the challenges of finding information via search engines, the changing nature of the internet due to social media and how to identify useful portals when searching and distributing information. There is still a need for more portals that gather and share information in a well-organized manner, especially when it comes to niche topics. For forest-related information, Mikkola pointed to as the internet gateway to forest information resources, as it strives to consistently deliver relevant and organized information. GFIS is dedicated to constantly upgrading its website and offering users the most effective tools for finding the forest-related information they need.

Introduction to the new GFIS by Eero Mikkola, GFIS Coordinator, Metla, Finland

In the presentation "How to Promote Forest Information to a Global Audience", Eero Mikkola described GFIS as a network of partnerships for organizing forestry information through an internet gateway that allows institutions to share information via GFIS, a CPF Initiative led by IUFRO, benefits users by helping them organize and find information all in one place. Institutes manage their own information through RSS/XML feeds and GFIS harvests and indexes these partner feeds, making it available through user search activities and later providing feedback to partners about information usage.

The presentation reported on recent GFIS updates in terms of usability, layout and the incorporation of new functions, languages, information types and social media. Along with news, events, publications, job vacancies, datasets and databases, GFIS has added new information types such as education, projects and experts. Users are able to customize the GFIS entry page, including the language that they choose to view information. Available languages interface options include English, French, Spanish, German, Finnish, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Chinese, and Russian. With over 80 headlines daily, frequent Tweets and Facebook updates, a GFIS calendar that boasts 120 upcoming forestry events at a time, and a total of over 200 information partners, the new GFIS proves to be a valid tool for finding forestry information around the world.

Managing Forest Information Instructor Observations by Mr. Randy McCracken, US Forest Service, USA

The presentation "Information Management Projects: Establishment and Maintenance" covered topics such as project management of technical systems, models and methods of software and project development, options for establishing desired systems and services, collaboration tools and the results of group work.

How to share and promote information to your audience by Juha Hautakangas, GFIS Unit, Metla, Finland

The presentation "Information Sharing and Syndication" covered content syndication, website solutions and the use of the Really Simple Syndication: RSS 2.0. Juha Hautakangas discussed how syndication can help notify stakeholders of website updates while helping institutions advertise their information and increase website traffic. Specialized and web browser-based Feed Readers are especially useful for checking when content is available or updated and by delivering a notification similar to an e-mail message to the subscriber. This presentation covered topics such as website design decisions needed for optimal content organization, language and tool options and the difference between static and dynamic feeds. In contrary, static feeds maintained by hand can be problematic as they may lead to syntatic or semantic errors and infrequently updated information. Dynamic feeds and websites are easier to maintain, as they automatically match page contents after they are set up. Juha Hautakangas concluded his presentation by explaining the importance of syndicating your content, as it requires very little resources, but is an excellent way to share information, attract prospective website visitors and notify your current visitors of new updates.

FORNESSA Information Service (FORNIS) by Sella Britwum, FORNESSA, Ghana

In the presentation "FORNESSA Information Service (FORNIS)" Stella Britwum discussed the background of FORNESSA and The Accra Accord, the types of information on FORNIS and the technical, practical and governance experiences of developing FORNIS. She concluded her presentation by outlining the benefits of FORNIS through a demonstration and practical hands-on session.

How APAFRI shares and uses information on GFIS by Syqiyah Abdul Hamid, APAFRI, Malaysia

The Asia Pacific Association of Forestry Research Institutions (APAFRI) has been part of IUFRO as an active association for research, education and shares scientific knowledge on current issues regarding the Asia Pacific region. Ms. Syqiyah Abdul Hamid covered how APARFI contributes to GFIS's metadata feeds of News and Events and keeps members updated through website and e-mail notifications. The presentation discussed the provision of information to GFIS by using feed readers and APARFI’s own experience of using FeedReader and Windows Vista Sidebar Gadgets to stay updated on GFIS and other forest-related information websites.

Comments by trainers and participants:
Randy McCracken observed that the student interaction, with some daily variation, was exceptionally high during the workshop week. Apparently the diversity, depth, and practical use of information provided along with the changes in presenters gave students enough stimulation to keep them actively engaged throughout the day. Hopefully these scientists and technicians now have a better understanding of the aspects of information management and can better work with their institutional computer specialists to achieve effective science delivery of their research. Until we receive student feedback, the only change I would suggest to this workshop format would be to have a time for open forum with the students. This is because the students seemed to be most happy when the technical staff were able to give them one-on-one attention to their problems. I would highly suggest proposing this workshop be incorporated in other international forestry gatherings.

In general, Stella Britwum is of the opinion that the information management session was well organized. From the comments made by participants it was evident that most of them were enthused about the wealth of knowledge and information they have acquired on how to access forest related scientific information speedily and with less difficulty using feeds both from GFIS and FORNIS. FORNIS was a completely new thing to them because they did not know that the service was in existence. Some participants from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zambia and Uganda have expressed their willingness to join FORNESSA in order to contribute to this all important service. Obviously, this is a positive feedback from the information management training and satisfies one of the key objectives of the workshop. However, some participants were also of the view that more information on the FORNESSA countries such as country profile and information about institutions and universities dealing with Forestry resources should be made available on the site.

A few of the comments by participants are summarised below:

•    “They learned very useful and helpful things for work, especially to find research publications”.
•    They were satisfied with the course:
•    The audience has a background in forestry and are not interested in website designing. The course should be made shorter.
•    Learned techniques for getting updates from all over the world.
•    Feeds are an excellent concept.
•    Before it had been time consuming to use search engines and difficult to check for updates from websites.

Participants’ Evaluation

In total, 69 persons (32 women, 37 men) from 28 countries participated in the Training Workshops. The results of the training and satisfaction with the workshops were surveyed by an on-line questionnaire available to the participants during a period of one month after the Training Workshops. In total, 40 people responded to the request for comments.

Besides the individual thematic workshops, the survey also evaluated the additional skills training which were attended by all participants during the training week. Out of a total number of 40 responses, therefore all commented on the module on Information Management.

Between 80 and 90% of the participants highly appreciated this training module and found that the training lived up to their expectations; the content is relevant to their jobs; and they are able to use the methods and tools discussed in the workshop.

As far as workshop implementation is concerned, more than 90% of the participants were of the opinion that the workshop enhanced their knowledge through clear objectives. However, some participants felt that the content and pace of this module could be increased.

The majority of the participants were satisfied with the performance of the trainers (i.e. well prepared), and most of them would recommend this training module to other colleagues.