Uppsala University, new partner in Mistra Digital Forest – focusing on social sustainability

Over the next four years, Mistra Digital Forest will be intensifying its work on social sustainability, and Uppsala University is becoming a partner in order to contribute to this perspective. In one project, the researchers are examining individual forest owners’ views on digitalisation and how digital tools can be developed to meet their needs.

Anna Bengtsson, Uppsala University,

In order to understand how digitalisation affects the business relationship between forest owners and other forest stakeholders and whether it contributes to more robust, democratic decision-making, Skogforsk has initiated a research project with Uppsala University.

– With my specialist area within industrial marketing, I would like to understand the relationship between stakeholders in a network, and bring the perspective of individual forest owners into the programme. Sweden has hundreds of thousands of forest owners, they are a heterogeneous group and we want to investigate both how they affect digitalisation, and how they are affected by it, says Anna Bengtson, professor at the Department of Business Administration at Uppsala University.

Conditions for individual forest owners are about to change

The work is taking place within the framework of Mistra Digital Forest, and Anna’s colleague Associate Professor Susanne Åberg and Maria Nordström, digitalisation manager at Skogforsk, are also working on the project. Over the next four years, Mistra Digital Forest will be in its second phase, with an increased focus on social sustainability in the forest sector, which has contributed to Uppsala University now becoming a partner.

Maria Nordström describes how the conditions for individual forest owners are about to change, in step with access to increasingly large amounts of data:

Maria Nordström. Photo: Johan Olsson.

– We are in a situation where access to data on the one hand creates the preconditions for transparency and democratisation. For example, if handled correctly, individual forest owners become less dependent on timber-buying organisations and other collaborators when making decisions about their forest, says Maria Nordström who continues:

– On the other hand, we see how decision-making is becoming increasingly complex as increasing amounts of data, climate change and new legislation change the conditions for forestry. This is the landscape we want to explore.

The forestry industry can benefit from the experience of the banking world

To capture the diversity that exists among individual forest owners, the project is being conducted as a case study. Representatives from a forestry company will be interviewed in order to identify the efforts currently being made to meet the needs of forest owners. In addition, the forest owners participate in focus groups where they explain their digital aid requirements. This dialogue with forest owners will be based on the decision support that is available, and will look at how this can be developed in order to provide improved support.

But within the project, gaining knowledge about how the relationship between actors is affected by access to digital tools is at least as important. Anna Bengtson cites the banking world as an example, and the way we have moved from having personal banking relationships to doing all our business online. When interaction decreases, customers become less loyal.

– These are experiences that the forest industry can benefit from, says Anna Bengtson. Digital tools can make forest owners more competent and could well deepen the important relationship between forestry companies and forest owners. At the same time, experience from the banking world shows that interpersonal relationships continue to be important for maintaining strong bonds between stakeholders.