The 5th PEN Workshop, 23rd – 28th of March, 2009
More than 40 PEN partners and resource persons gathered from the 23rd -28th of March 2009 at the CIFOR headquarters in Bogor, Indonesia for the 5th PEN workshop. The title of the workshop – Putting PEN to Paper – reflects the current stage of the PEN project. Data collection is complete and the task ahead is to clean and analyze the data, see what stories emerge from the results and to publish the stories in journal articles, book chapters and PhD theses.
A large part of the workshop was spent on presentations of results from individual PEN studies (see links at the end), which were well-received by fellow researchers. “This was arguably the most exciting workshop to date,” said Nick Hogarth, who did his fieldwork in southern China. “For the first time in the project history, much of the partner’s data has been cleaned and analyzed. Therefore, there was some insight into the shape of the global results to come. Everyone was engaged and contributing and there was a general buzz and feeling of excitement.”
PEN partner Amy Duchelle agreed. “For many of us, the highlight of the workshop was to finally see the data come together,” she said. “Ronnie Babigumira’s preparation of select preliminary results for each partner provided the common ground needed to begin to assess patterns, unique results and weaknesses in the datasets across sites.”
What were the emerging results? In the summary of partner presentations, PEN coordinator Arild Angelsen said that the forest income share is higher than most partners predicted at the Barcelona workshop a year ago. However, the forest income shares varied enormously between PEN studies, ranging from 10 to 60 % and averaging between 25-30 %. The cases with particularly high forest income shares generally had one specific, valuable forest product such as Brazil nuts in Brazil and Bolivia and bamboo in China. In about two thirds of the cases fuel-wood stood out as the most valuable forest product.
About half of the cases found a clear poverty profile of forest income, whereby forest dependency (which is the same as forest income share) was significantly higher for the poorest households. The analysis so far does not suggest a significant role of forests as safety nets in the form of insurance against crises. On the other hand, forests seem to play a significant role in seasonal gap-filling, as suggested by the large seasonal variation. However, Angelsen stressed that these are just the first cuts of the data. “Experience has shown that more elaborate analysis can modify or sometimes even change the results,” he warned.
Sugato Dutt did PEN fieldwork in India , and said the presentations were a useful self-assesment tool. “Presentations from my colleagues provided a perfect opportunity to assess the veracity of my own fieldwork. The deliberate choice of a uniform pattern of data sets for the individual presentations, combined with alater session on emerging regional patterns, helped me to understand the institutional and demographic context of my own work . I now have a more global perspective and can see how my work relates to the link between poverty and the environment.”
CIFOR associate and New Zealand –based consultant, Peter Frost, delivered an excellent two day session on the nuts and bolts of writing a good scientific paper. He covered the importance of communicating in science, the structure of scientific papers, targeting an audience and ‘putting pen to paper’. Some PEN partners had submitted draft papers for review, which were thoroughly dissected, with no-nonsense and useful feedback (“friendly fire”).
“I liked the organisation of the workshop but was especially impressed by the writing workshop,” said Thabbie Chilongo, a PEN partner from Malawi. “It was my first workshop and I realised that I have a lot to learn about scientific writing.”
PEN resource person Gerald Shively of Purdue University also gave a very useful talk on publishing papers in scientific journals from the editors’ perspective. In addition, a very informative presentation was given by CIFOR scientist Patricia Shanley about restitution and innovative ways to communicate results to the communities from which data is extracted.
PEN is currently in the middle of data cleaning and managing the global data set. This work is lead by CIFOR Research Fellow Ronnie Babigumira, who gave an update of the work. He said the challenges at this stage of the research process are typically underestimated and a ‘clean’ dataset presents another set of problems, including attrition and missing values . He said much of the work in the coming months would focus on solving these tricky issues.
The PEN fieldwork experience will culminate in a field methods book, with the working title ‘Quantifying livelihoods and environmental dependence – a handbook for fieldwork’. One of the editors, Carsten Smith Olsen of Copenhagen University, introduced the content and invited contributions from all PEN partners. A small survey was also conducted to learn about partners’ field experiences and the most useful advice for the next generation of fieldworkers.
According to India-based PEN researcher Sugato Dutt, the PEN workshop is unique for two reasons: “The first is the mentoring relationship between mature resource persons and budding social scientists or graduate students. The second is the repeated emphasis on the quality of field data. The Bogor workshop was no exception and I had great expectations from it as it was being held after the culmination of fieldwork for almost all if its 38 graduate student partners. My one week at the CIFOR headquarters certainly did not leave me disappointed.”.
“The PEN workshop was an excellent chance for PEN partners to continue learning from CIFOR scientists, staff, PEN resource people and each other,” said Brazil-based PEN researcher Amy Duchelle. “As always, the activities were lots of fun and included a wet walk in the Bogor botanical garden, a poolside BBQ and cocktails and Indonesian-style world-class karaoke,” she said. “Just being at CIFOR headquarters for one week and interacting with the PEN group and CIFOR staff was inspiring. Special thanks to Vita, Ronnie and other organisers who contributed to a great workshop!”
Fellow PEN researcher Shiba Kar agreed.”Visiting the Botanical garden was a great idea. It was fantastic way to get a feel for Indonesian tropical forests. I only wish I could have seen the giant stinking flower, Rafflesia, but it’s wasn’t in season. I appreciate all the hard work put into the workshop and PEN and I am proud to be part of such a great network.”