By Lucio Muñoz or at


Traditional views on deforestation causality

In practice, the methodological discourse in developed countries is focused on two usually opposed point of views, the average view, and the datailed view. Average views on deforestation causality are considered to be more theoretically sound than detailed views because their conclusions can be generalized and replicated and are subjected to clear validation mechanisms. However, they are usually criticized because average information may be irrelevant to specific members of the population sample. Detailed views on deforestation causality, on the other hand, aim at determining the individualities relevant to one or few cases. One of the main criticism on qualitative methods is that their findings can not be generalized and are usually not subjected to or within the domain of validation procedures. The above discussion suggest that the need to balance average/detailed view discourse is based on pure methodological suitability conflicts.


A qualitative comparative view of deforestation causality

From the qualitative comparative view, both average views and detailed views may be inappropriate within the range of cases under which deforestation causality usually falls. It is known that traditional quantitative and qualitative methods do not work well within the range of a very small sample of cases, where qualitative comparative approaches work the best. As the number of cases decreases from a large sample to a very small sample quantitative approaches breakdown and as the number of cases increases from a few to a very small sample qualitative approaches also break down. While qualitative comparative research has the potential of solving the traditional quantitative/qualitative discourse within the range of a very small sample of cases by providing consistent research outputs and by introducing research flexibility, it still can not eliminate the other, perhaps more pressing concern in developing countries, that of cost-effectiveness. All three research methods described above may not be ready affordable in developing countries due to limitations in money, skills, technology, hence the need to introduce some cost-efficient characteristics exist.


Rapid assessment and qualitative comparative deforestation research

One way of introducing cost-efficiency is to combined qualitative comparative techniques with rapid assessment research. By doing this, we create a methodology that conserves the advantages of the two funding methods among of which are cost-efficiency, flexibility, research output consistency, and conjunctural causality. A more detailed presentation of the above discussion is in my paper called " Non-traditional research methods and regional planning needs in developing countries: Is there an ideal methodology", which was published peer reviewed in 2002 and which can be seen at or at or it can be requested to


A rapid deforestation assessment and planning methodology for Central America based on qualitative comparative research

Below it is one type of methodology that can be derived from the combination of rapid assessment research and qualitative comparative methods:

Step 1: Development of an analytical framework

Develop a complete analytical framework of the deforestation problem that allows the following:

a) ways to capture expected positive and negative links between direct agents of deforestation and deforestation; b) ways to capture expected positive links between deforestation and deforestation related environmental problems, and their added negative pressures on direct agents of deforestation; c) ways to capture expected positive and negative links between indirect agents of deforestation and deforestation; and d) ways to capture the notion that the interactions taking place in items a, b, and c, are the actual links between the socio-economic system and its system of national accounts and the environmental system and its system of environmental accounting.

Step 2: Selection of study area, main components, and relevant factors to be included

Based on cost-effectiveness principles, select the scope of the area to be study(externally and internally); select the main components of the deforestation framework described above to be study; and select the factors that are believed to be the ones who may provide the most relevant links between those components For example, if the external scope is region, which region?, and internally, which areas within the region?: countries, provinces,…, ? On which of the components of the complete analytical framework developed will the study be focused? Which are the factors connecting those components which are believed to be relevant according to published sources and/or local and non-officials?. All these selection choices become more relevant the scarcer the resources available for carrying the research are.

Step 3: Data availability, selection, collection, and handling

Data availability checks need to be done to determine existing or potential sources of data on deforestation practice and deforestation perceptions that are relevant to the deforestation factors selected. Once secondary data or sources of primary data are identified, then the type of data needed must be selected based on principles such as reliability, comparability, continuity, and replicability. Then, the cost factor determines which type of data must be used to the maximum and which type of data should be used to the minimum in such a way to maintain high quality research standards and strong validation basis. Then, all information gathered, quantative or qualitative, is handled in such a way to ensure theory-practice-perception consistency.

Step 4 Qualitative comparative analysis

The consistent framework mentioned above where deforestation theories, deforestation practice, and deforestation perceptions are placed in conjunctural fashion is the raw data used to support different types of qualitative comparative analyses, country specific analysis, country-country analysis, country-region analysis, and region specific analysis.

Step 5 Validation / theory reformulation process

The same consistent framework where deforestation theories, deforestation practice, and deforestation perceptions are placed in conjunctural fashion is the raw data used to support different types of qualitative validation procedures: theory-practice validation, theory-perception validation, practice-perception validation, and theory-practice-perception validation

Step 6 Generating deforestation profiles/option plans

The information generated through the qualitative comparative analysis and the validation/theory reformulation process can be used to support processes aimed at recording our understanding of deforestation causality at specific periods of time or through time(profile mapping) or aimed at identifying our options to deal with changing nature of deforestation causality(option mapping).

Step 7 Closing the cycle

Once the methodological steps described above are in place, it is possible to make it an ongoing program where the new validated profiles and option plans developed can be used to calibrate our past understanding, of causality and to trace new option plans once newer, and perhaps better information becomes available.


The actual testing of the methodology in Central America

1.     I developed a complex framework called the deforestation problem analytical framework reflecting exactly all the characteristics listed in Step 1.

1.     The external domain of my research is Central America; its internal domain is country level; and it is focused on the five countries with the longest common social, economic, and environmental history, be it Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua to minimize the level of perceived comparability gaps. Because I had no funding or monetary support, no faculty or academic support, and no institutional or bureaucratic support in the Faculty of Forestry as I endured the worse academic and research environment that a graduate student can get at the University of British Columbia(UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, I purposively chose to focus my research on two components only, direct agents of deforestation and deforestation. Surprisingly, I was left totally on my own, academically and financially, twice during the whole of my graduate program at UBC. To ensure consistency of theory, practice, and validation, direct agents are defined as those factors whose changes are believed to increase pressures on deforestation. Published sources and local sources suggested that 11 factors are considered to be the most relevant in terms of causality dynamics, and they provided the limits to the applied component of the research. Then, the theoretical notion that these eleven factors are the most important direct agents of deforestation at the country and regional level in Central America can be formally stated. The above reflect the nature of step 2.

2.     My data availability checks suggested that there was secondary information ready available from international sources, but not primary data. Primary data was supposed to be collected in Costa Rica with the help of funding secured by the Faculty of Forestry of UBC through its international forestry program and its director at that time Dr. Andrew Howard from external funding sources/The World Bank. Because funding was already secured, the project was supposed to have initially more emphasis on primary data; and secondary data was to be used for validation purposes and the project was supposed to start February 1996 with a trip to Costa Rica. However, a 1996 Latin American project approved by FAO to the Faculty of Forestry with more money that the one generated by my PhD research from the World Bank and no need for supervisory duties from anybody provided apparently the selfish incentives that Dr. Howard needed to drop/withdraw the PhD proposal formally approved by my PhD thesis committee at UBC from the World Bank. Dr. Howard suddenly left me without funding and immediately procceded to carry out the FAO project with the help of others. The Dean of the Faculty of Forestry at UBC at that time, Dr. Clark Binkley, was also a member of my PhD thesis committee and he was present when the research proposal was formally reviewed and approved to be presented to the World Bank through Dr. Howard who was also a committee member to release the funding that had been allocated for this research. Yet when Dr. Howard left me suddenly without funding, Dr. Binkley, instead of protecting me as a Dean of Forestry and/or as a committee member, did nothing and apparently decided to start looking down at me and my approved research. (Both Dr. Howard and Dr. Binkley stopped working for UBC when I brought my academic ordeal at UBC while under the care of the faculty of forestry to the attention of the UBC Senate). This situation forced me to reverse the research process, focusing the research first on available secondary data, and then collect primary perception data for validation purposes. Since the qualitative comparative methodology can start with what ever is available first, and then we can use the other components for validation purposes I had no problem adjusting my research to very negative conditions: lack of funding and a non-cooperative PhD thesis committee. Hence, I selected the existing secondary information as the starting point, and proceeded to collect it. This is the information presented in the deforestation data tables in the deforestation data page. At the same time, I proceeded to collect deforestation perceptions from local and non-local officials for validation purposes listed in the deforestation perception page together with relevant deforestation literature and theories of deforestation that could be located presented in the deforestation theories page. All information was later processed to be converted into consistent qualitative comparative information. How the secondary information was handled and organized is described in the deforestation data page; how perceptions were handled and organized is listed in the deforestation perception page; and the deforestation theories found and used are presented in the deforestation theories page. Hence, the use secondary data to the maximum and primary data to the minimum was induced by the lack of research funding, but the flexibility of the methodology still allowed me to adjust nicely to this extreme constraint.

1.     All the information in the deforestation data page, in the perception data page, and in the deforestation theories page was used to demostrate how the different possible qualitative comparative analyses may work empirically and the different types of questions that this information can answer were listed.

2.     The same information above was used to show how the different types of qualitative validation procedures work and the type of information generated was highlighted as well as their potential usefulness. How these procedures work is summarized in the qualitative validation page as well as the different types of deforestation typologies that can be produced, both at the country and regional level.

3.     The relevance of the information generated and validated to support the preparation of deforestation profiles focused on country conditions or regional conditions and/or the determination of available policy options to address the findings were pointed out.

4.     Finally, it was highlighted the importance of the information gathered and/or contained in deforestation profiles and action plans may have for establishing a program of ongoing monitoring of deforestation causality; and to support flexible deforestation programs that are consistent with the dynamic nature of deforestation causality. This could be done easily by updating the secondary information available, by updating the deforestation perceptions used, and by updating the pool of existing deforestation theories at specific points in time so that though time the quality of the research output increases. As planned, my next step is exactly to do this updating procedure to show the potential of this qualitative comparative methodology to support the production of research outputs of increasing quality through time. Deforestation perceptions were gathered in 2000 aimed at ongoing collection, assessment, learning, and monitoring of deforestation perceptions.

Methodological advantages and disadvantages

The methodology described above in theory and in practice has the adventages of simplicity, flexibility, replicability, and of cost-effectiveness associated with rapid assessment research; and has the advantages of consistency, comparability, theoretical soundness, eliminator of illusions of precision, and of conjunctural characteristics associated with qualitative comparative research. The main disadvantage that rapid qualitative comparative methods of research are facing is that they are practically unknown as few people have worked or are working on it. In fact, I do not know of anybody else who like me has combined formally rapid assessment research with qualitative comparative theory.

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