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 local stakeholders, researchers, forest standard development groups and FSC itself, not only in assessing the performance 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. FSC Digital audit reporting solves this problem.
The project will include the transition of all Forest management Audit reports to a digital unified mandatory template, which enables synchronization to a centralized FSC database. The standardized format for digital audit reporting will be implemented in phases across all FSC Forest Management audits. Starting August 1st 2021 it will be implemented for audits conducted in the most commonly used languages in FSC (German, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian and Simplified Chinese), after an extensive and mandatory training and testing period in the first half of 2021. By January 1st 2022 all forest management audits across the globe must use the templates provided and data from these reports must be uploaded to new FSC Database. FSC will work during 2021 to provide a solution for other languages not currently covered by translation. The project will address implementation of Motion 16 from 2017.
Usability and fit-for-purpose is central to FSC
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 report template has been created as a simple Microsoft Word template with relevant add-ons, which ensure that information can be uploaded directly from the template into a central FSC database hosted on a new portal, created for the project. This enables all information from audit reports inserted into predefined data fields to be captured.
Both the template and the portal functionalities will enable improved data quality and intends to lower the workload of auditors in preparing for creating a new audit report. The new system will also ensure that public summaries from certification processes are automatically created and translated in a standardized format, making it much easier for stakeholders and researchers to use and analyze the data they contain on an aggregated level. Only a portion of the audit report – that is the public summary – will be open and accessible from the FSC International website (info.fsc.org) and solely with the same content available as it is the case today.
Digital Chain of Custody reporting will be next step
We will start the FSC Digital Audit Reporting Project with forest management audit reports but plan to digitalize chain of custody (CoC) and controlled wood audit reports as next steps. These projects will only commence once digital forest management audit reports project has been successfully piloted and implemented.
The FSC Digital Audit Reporting project is in the phase of implementation. From January until April 30th 2021 certification bodies worldwide must complete a mandatory test and feedback cycle of the template provided as well as the accompanying platform for data synchronization and automated creation of public summaries. Testing must be performed by each certification body to an extent, which is representative of their portfolio of forest management certificates.
The use of the digital audit reporting templates will become mandatory for all Forest Management Audits conducted in English, Spanish, German, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian and Simplified Chinese from August 2021 onwards. The reporting template is a data carrier with data formats standardized across all Certification bodies. The template will be used in conjunction with an online portal, which will capture data and store it. Data can be uploaded directly from the template into the portal as well as be fetched back prior to the next audit. The portal will be tested by certification bodies in first half of 2021 and upload of data from the template on to the platform become mandatory from January 1 2022. For more information on the project and selected solution, please see the FAQ at the bottom of this page.
Forest for the future podcast series. Episode 3
21-05-2020. In this episode we will be looking into how FSC is working to standardize the way information is captured from audit reports. This aim is to make the data more useful to both ourselves and all of our stakeholders. We will be asking Joanna Nowakowska and Sean Cheng, who are working on the project.
Training on the use of the FSC digital audit reporting
In the video training below we introduce the FSC digital audit reporting system and how to use it. The training is meant for auditors conducting FSC Forest Management Audits. If you are looking for a more overall introduction to the FSC Digital Audit Reporting project, we encourage you to watch the recording of our introduction webinar instead also found below.The training is divided into different chapters, enabling viewers to easily find the part of the video relevant to them.
The Digitalization of FSC FM Audit Reports (13 November 2019)
FM Digital Audit Reporting Training (28. September 2020)
FM Digital Audit Reporting. A new solution goes live (08. October 2020)
(last updated 21. December 2020)
The ressources listed on this page are aimed at certification bodies conducting FSC Forest Management audits. They include all files and templates needed for performing FSC audits utilizing the new FSC Digital audit reporting system. The files must be downloaded prior to use and will interact with the database enabling the FSC Digital Audit report system.
- Word templates containing all required data fields for a forest management audit. The template can be pre-filled with core certificate information and if relevant observations and corrective action requests from previous audits (from 2021 onwards). This information can be automatically retrieved from the FSC database.
- An installation file enabling communication with the word template and the FSC database. The add-in will enable data fetching, validation upload of key data to the FSC database and submit errata.
- Templates for bulk uploading to provide a template for multiple uploads for group members and large groups of management units. This file is a supporting document and can be omitted if irrelevant.
- Global Pesticides List to enable easier search of pesticides used in the forest, if relevant. This file is a supporting document and can be omitted if irrelevant.
- User guides to provide an easy documentation for users.
To learn more about how to use these different ressources, please watch the training above.
Forest Management (FM) audit report digital templates in different languages:
FM online Word Add-in installation file:
Group member list template
Multiple management unit template
Global pesticide list
FM Online add-in installation guide
FM Online template user guide
(last updated 21. December 2020)
Timelines for implementation
What are the timelines for mandatory test and use?
January – April 30th 2021
Mandatory testing of digital audit report templates for forest management audits.
Mandatory testing of the reporting portal including generation of public summary reports. (March 1st – April 30th 2021)
May 1st – July 31st 2021
FSC implement suggested improvements to the templates and workflow and make revised templates available.
August 1st 2021
Mandatory use of FM digital audit report template for all audits conducted in English, Spanish, German, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian and Simplified Chinese.
FSC works further on the reporting portal in collaboration with Certification bodies.
January 1st 2022
Mandatory use of FM digital audit report template in all languages
Mandatory use of all modules of the FSC digital Audit reporting system, automated public summary creation and templates.
Is the requirement to use FM template from 1 August 2020 applicable to audits that start earlier in 2021 and finish in August 2021, or only to audits that start from 1 August 2021?
The use of FM template is mandatory for all audits conducted in English, Spanish, German, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian and Simplified Chinese from 1 August 2021.
Audits in these languages that start in prior to 1 August 2021 or audits in all other languages can use existing formats.
From 1 January 2022 all audits, starting on 1 January or later, regardless of language, must use the FM template.
Are any modifications to the template planned before 1 January 2021?
By the end of 2020 FSC will update the template to align with the pesticide’s classification as per FSC-POL-30-001a and implement critical changes originating from certification’s bodies’ feedback received before December 2020.
Technical requirements, languages, and account management
How many accounts to access the FSC certification portal and data upload function will each certification body get, and who will these be distributed to?
In the 2021 testing phase FSC will provide credentials for key personnel participating in testing. To request credentials, certification bodies must reach out via email@example.com.
As FSC progresses with the development of the certification portal and its other features during 2021, automation of account creation as well as account allocation will be established. This will happen prior to the deadline for mandatory implementation of all modules (1 Jan 2022). During this process FSC will also collect user access request from certification bodies and determine any upper limits of accounts, if necessary. Our intention is to secure access to all certification body staff, who needs it for reporting to work smoothly.
What is the workflow from start of an audit to final report?
The workflow for creating a forest management report in the new digital system will be as follows once fully implemented:
A certification body staff member with log-in credentials creates the audit and start preparing the template for use during the audit. This includes fetching all relevant data from the database into the template. In 2022, this data will primarily be core contact information, as this will be the first time for each audit that the database is used. From 2023 onwards, the data fetch will include information about corrective action requests from previous audits, species lists, pesticide lists, site overview and similar data elements.
The prepared template report can then be forwarded to auditor(s), who can edit and add/change data until the end of the audit. The template has embedded dictionaries for species lists and pesticides list, which will help validating these entries.
The use of the template by auditors can happen offline and according to certification body internal procedures.
Once filled in, the report can undergo internal review by different staff members of the certification body, until it is finally approved. (The certification body can choose to perform offline or online writing/review in their own online file sharing systems).
When internally approved, the data from the final version of the report is uploaded to the FSC database directly from with Word, via the installed add-on.
Please note, that only the data entered into the required fields are uploaded, while some other certification body-specific data are not. FSC will in other words not have access to additional data added by certification bodies, version history or review comments made during the peer review process.
Can the report template be used on tablets or other mobile devices with Word installed?
Yes. the add-in works in any device with MS-Word 2013 onwards.
This means that it can be filled in on any type of device – mobile, laptop, smartphone – with Word installed.
Currently it is only possible to fetch data from a PC with MS-Word installed.
As a result, we advise that the report template is prepared and synchronized for local storage on the device, prior to travelling to the audit to ensure seamless ability to work in the template.
The offline ability and cross-platform functionality were one of the advantages, which made us selected using a template in Word format instead of a Web version.
Why older versions of Word cannot be used?
Some features/tools used in the template, such as the ability to repeat sections, will not work properly in older Word versions.
We therefore advise a certification bodies to use 2013 or above for the correct functioning of the template.
Which language versions are available and what about audits performed in other languages?
The report template is available in 9 different languages that are reviewed for correctness by native speakers. (English, Spanish, German, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian and Simplified Chinese)
These 9 languages are used in the majority of the FSC certified area. The template will be mandatory to use for all audits conducted in these languages from 1 August 2021.
Access to data and data integration
Will FSC provide a public API integration with certification body systems? or an option for data export?
The API integration with certification body’s own data management system is not yet available. However, during 2021 we will be working towards this functionality. When available, the integration will require alignment with FSC data schema or mapping of data against it. Therefore, such an effort may not bring enough benefits from integration.
Will certification body be able to access and use the data for their own analytics?
We are aware of and fully understand that certification bodies similarly to FSC use the data from data reports to ensure internal quality control, trend analysis of own data, etc. We therefore also understand the need for data access or data extraction.
In the certification portal, Certification bodies will be able to access the data stored in FSC DB about their own certificates.
FSC will build analytics based on the expected data from FM Online during 2021 and will as part of the process explore to which extend it is possible for us to share the analytics results directly with certification bodies.
If a certification bodies would like to develop a similar system to that of FSC and import data directly from the template into own systems, this is possible if the certification body has infrastructure or tools that allows data extraction.
Is it possible to feed the report fields from an excel file or another database instead of filling in the Word template itself?
Yes, from the technical point of view it is possible to provide data for the required fields by using Excel, CSV files or JSON format. Some types of data can already be provided this way (e.g. group members).
However, if all the data were to be uploaded from the excel, the effort and funding likely required for developing such solution is likely to make it unattractive as we therefore do not recommend it.
Should a certification body wish to explore possibilities, please reach out to us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is FSC Digital audit reporting and FM Online?
The project FSC digital audit reporting focuses on standardizing the existing FSC audit reporting formats into new single digital formats. FM Online is the part of the project, which focus on audit reports from forest management (FM) 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. FSC Digital audit reporting 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 will address this problem.
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. Importantly, the Add-Inn must be installed and used for data validation.
The auditor or reviewer will only need to be online while fetching the data for the report. In 2022, this data will primarily be core contact information, as this will be the first time for each audit that the database is used. From 2023 onwards, the data fetch will include information about corrective action requests from previous audits, species lists, pesticide lists, site overview and similar data elements.
Users will also have to be online while uploading data from the report to the central database, which will then prepare the public summary. (Mandatory from 1 January 2022 only.)
Will the template be mandatory for certification bodies?
Yes, FSC will make FSC Digital audit reporting 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. During the FSC General Assembly in 2017, the membership actually approved a motion calling for FSC to implement a centralized and enable data analysis to capture trends and identify risks.
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.
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 during the FSC General Assembly in 2017.
However, only a portion of the audit report – that is the public summary – will be open and accessible from the FSC International website.
Will aggregated statistics of FM audit results be publicly available?
Yes, these statistics will be publicly available. With the successful scaling up of FSC digital audit reporting from 2023 onwards, 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.
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 the pre-defined fields in the 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. The data captured and made available for the public will be the same information as is currently available. Today, the certification bodies must 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 FSC Digital audit reporting, 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 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 departments under FSC 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.
Will sensitive or confidential information be uploaded to the database?
Yes, collection and evaluation of sensitive or confidential information is a natural part of certification, and to some extend confidential information will be uploaded to the database, naturally while respecting and adhering to all relevant privacy legislation such as the European GDPR legislation.
This is no change from the present situation, where confidential information is also part of the mandatory information collected by certification bodies and manually processed.
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 confidential or sensitive information to be collected via certification audits, FSC shall be notified, as it would be a case of conflict with legal requirements for FSC certification.
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 certification body,
- names and expertise of auditors,
- name of per reviewer,
- names and contact details of group members where allowed by the legislation,
- the Iist of institutions / individuals informed about the evaluation
All personal identifiable information will be excluded from public access unless the relevant consents were granted. 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.
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.
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.
However, 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.
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, unless certification body choses to provide information at the indicator level.
In the future, FSC plans to integrate the digital reporting with the database of normative requirements, once the later is developed. This will enable the provision of full national or regional checklists.
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 FSC Digital Audit Reporting team will address this need by adding new features.
Will FM Online be integrated with a Geographic information system (GIS) software?
FSC digital audit reporting does not currently integrate any GIS software. However, this is an area, which FSC will explore in depth and trial, once the FSC GIS Portal is introduced in 2021.
Areas for integration could be through the use of the FSC GIS platform to help auditors identify where to focus their audits on the ground and incorporate this information into the audit report template. Other potential integrations could be to make direct links available to voluntarily uploaded GIS maps – with layers showing high conservation value areas, protected areas, etc.
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. To ensure the successful upload, the data validation function of the add in should be used prior to the upload. 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.
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.
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.