Woodland owner networks and peer learning in Finland

I recently learned of a project in Finland investigating peer-to-peer outreach and landowner-driven Extension in Finland.  The rest of this post is excerpted from the project’s website and from email exchanges with Teppo Hujala of the Finnish forest resource institute METLA.

Photo by vipa

This research endeavor seeks to figure out, whether owner networks and peer-to-peer learning (mentoring) would boost family forest owners to more active owner-driven behavior. Contrarily to the predominant forestry-professional-centered approaches, the idea is based on organization-independent grassroot-level evolvement of owners’ collaboration. Our case is from Finland, but the project is placed in a wider Nordic and European contexts with intensive benchmarking with comparable North-American projects.

Our project that is introduced on the peerforestry site is a next step after a national three-year project relating to customer orientation in forest planning (i.e. owner-driven extension). So far we have investigated owners’ decision-making strategies, communication preferences and perceptions of customer value. Currently we are applying funding for establishing a peer-learning pilot in Finland. At this point the site exists for promoting international communication (like ours) and for convincing our funding providers. Later it will function as a portal of the project.

Total forest area in Finland is 20 million hectares, of which some 60% is owned by family forest owners. There are approximately 440,000 owners, average holding size being around 30 hectares. Average age of an owner is 60 years. Owners are today less often than before dependent on forest income, and they are becoming more often non-resident, urban, and higher educated. Share of self-active owners is decreasing while multiple values of ownership are growing in importance. These changes, among others, challenge the current practices of forestry extension.

Finnish national forest policy aims at activating owners to timber trading and silviculture. Parallelly, biodiversity of forests is fostered by voluntary means and subsidies. At the same time, government-driven forest planning and extension system is undergoing a transformative change that is catalysed by the technical development of remote-sensing-based forest inventory. Furthermore, deregulation of forestry extension is being considered. All these aspects justify the research and development of family forest owners’ decision making and decision support from the perspective of communication and learning.

Recent research results and inspiring discussions in Small-scale Forestry Conference in Gérardmer, France in June 2008 convinced our Finnish research network “Methods and Processes of Decision Making in Forestry of the idea that in spite of continuing studying expert-led services, landowners’ peer-to-peer learning is worth investigating.

This is why we have initiated research endeavor titled “Owner networks and peer-to-peer learning among family forest owners to accelerate learning and action”. The aim is to learn from international experiences, change ideas with our US colleagues within “Woodland owners networks”, and build a working model for peer learning in Finnish conditions for piloting. The project will actually launch on 2009 and last for three or four years.

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