This paper presents four case studies in which forest data catalysed shifts in public policy and corporate activities. Brazil greatly reduced deforestation during the period between 2005 and 2014; Cameroon introduced a structured forest concessions regime; Viet Nam achieved their forest transition; and corporate operations around the world invested in supply chain management to alleviate deforestation concerns. We break the problem-solving required for these achievements into four steps: problem recognition, proposal and choice of solution, putting the solution into effect, and monitoring results. At each of these steps, we consider the relevant forest data. Data helped place issues on policymaker agendas, supported reaching sound decisions and enabled quantitative targets. Policy instruments for implementing change were built around available data and forest monitoring helped evaluate progress. The details of these successes can be an inspiration to those interested in improving collection of data on forests that can effectively support decision-making and better policies. There have been impressive recent improvements to many developing countries’ national forest monitoring capabilities. The successful examples of data application presented and evaluated here provide insight into how these new data can be effectively leveraged.