Journal of Official Statistics, Vol.23, No.4, 2007. pp. 553–592

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The Influence of End-Users on the Temporal Consistency of an International Statistical Process: The Case of TropicalForest Statistics

Four Forest Resources Assessments (FRAs) compiled by the Department of Forestry of the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are evaluated by a unified approach to statistical science that analyses technical decisions within an institutional framework. Temporal inconsistency is visible in all seven stages into which this international statistical process is divided. It is linked to a mixture of autonomous choices by FAO, and responses to the perceived needs of end-users, which are constrained by its traditional world view. The latter is characterized by, among other things, a commitment to the sovereignty of member states and to timber production as the principal objective of forest management. A composite new institutional framework is used to explain FAO’s ability to sustain its autonomy in the face of civil society pressures to make the statistical process more inclusive of environmental and scientific concerns. In this framework, institutions in FAO as a whole, within the Department of Forestry, and in FAO’s relations with member states, are mutually reinforcing and consolidated by the circulation of documents. Following rules to secure legitimacy within the UN system leads, as in other UN bodies, to self-defeating behaviour, evident here in overaggregated statistics that obscure tropical forest trends.

Statistical process modelling; international statistics; international organizations; deforestation; civil society; new institutionalism; discourse analysis; ontological analysis.

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