In the spring of 2018, the students of the Chulalongkorn University Masters in International Development Studies (MAIDS) Innovation for Inclusive Development (IID) course embarked a journey of learning, discovery and community, centered on the organic farming collective of Khlong Yong – Lan Tak Fa located just outside of Bangkok in Nakhon Pathom Province, Thailand. While the courses requirements left the options and engagement in their hands, it did require the students to bring solutions or changes to certain issues for a group of people in their community, using the specific design processes that were learned during the semester. The economy of Khlong Yong Community primarily relies on their agricultural outputs but they now also have gardens and livestock and are looking towards sustainable, eco-tourism to bring in more interest and profit to their tight knit community. Using the design thinking approach of "empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test," the group of students, made of up nationals from all over Southeast Asia, engagement the community and created a set of publications and videos that they could use for the uptick of foreign visitors they hope to attract in the coming years.Read More
While heavy rains for the early onset of the monsoon season may be a fact of life for people in Ubon Ratchathani and most parts of northeast Thailand (Issan), the flooding of 2017 proved to be more than most could handle. With some parts of the city facing up to 30 centimeters of water during last year’s floods, over 578,814 households in 12,949 villages were affected and at least 29 people died during the summer deluge (21,330 families and 175,832 rai of agricultural areas alone in Ubon Ratchathani).1 For this reason, on February 6 and 7, 2018, researchers from Chulalongkorn University (CSDS and the Faculty of Architecture), Ubon Ratchathani University and the University of Brighton, United Kingdom traveled to Ubon Ratchathani town, Thailand to begin some preliminary scoping fieldwork to better understand how extensive and regular flooding is being caused, how it is affecting the various communities in the area, and how local officials are handling it and planning for the future. The project in sight aims to employ a transdisciplinary research method, focusing on the grassroots and upward to ensure inclusivity and innovation from the community level. Similarly, the researchers interested in this project come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and areas of specialties. Flooding in this region of Thailand and many others around the country have been increasing as urban expansion and wider watershed changes threaten wetlands which naturally protect and serve as a barrier to deluges, so this proposed project is also equally interested on finding innovative approaches that can act as solutions for all of society.
The first day of visits began with a stakeholder meeting at the local municipal office with a mix of participants who live in the community and those working in government offices associated with flood control and/or prevention. This meeting is a highly important piece of the initial project preparation process in order to ensure proper transdisciplinary research technique which is inclusive of all stakeholders who are affected by flooding or actively involved in working on solutions. The meeting was facilitated by Ubon Ratchathani University’s Dr. Kanokwan Manorom, and gave participants, particularly from the community, a chance to voice some of their experiences about past flooding and fears for the future, as well as constructive inputs in how they see solutions or opportunities to work closer with local government agencies to prevent future loss of land and livelihood. One of the most challenging issues identified was how several large private companies had built flood defense for their retail outlets that redistributed the impacts of flooding to nearby, whilst community members found it difficult to raise their concerns on this. A representative from the Thai Royal Irrigation Department (RID) was also in attendance to connect on a more grassroots level with community members and provide an alternative point of view of the issues from an official, government agency perspective.
On the second day of the trip, a meeting between the research team and the Thai Royal Irrigation Department (RID) was held to learn more about the current information and strategies they are using to implement solutions in flooding areas. Maps, models and projected trends were shared giving the team a more comprehensive view on what information has already been captured, how it is being used to implement procedures and solutions and what gaps are existing that can possibly be filled through this research project. From this meeting and others, it became apparent that there is presently a relatively short-term approach to addressing flooding in the watershed, in particular with regard to impacts on urban areas.
After the morning meeting, the team visited Warinchamrap community that is one of the areas of the city most affected by flooding. Casual discussions with community leaders and members allowed the team to begin getting an initial understanding on how deeply multiple flooding occurrences were impacting their communities, particularly the economy and livelihoods of these communities. We learned how some of the community had been able to work effectively in a network to relocate to a new housing area less vulnerable to flooding and build a community with a strong sense of solidarity in the process. For those remaining in the flooded area, they were keen, to explore how preparation for flood events, in collaboration with the local authorities, could be improved, and how the impacts of flooding could be better managed and compensated. However, regardless of the countless stories of hardships shared, one thing became clear, and that was a high level of resilience and determination has allowed these people to continue their dignity and livelihoods.
While initially difficult to grasp and often equally hard to plan and implement, the foundations and practice of transdisciplinary research have the important ability to create more inclusive and impactful projects, better benefitting the community and transferring knowledge to multiple parties. In a development climate where community engagement, particularly of the most marginalized populations, justice seeking and empowerment have become the goals of practitioners and increasingly, researchers, utilizing a transdisciplinary methodology and mindset can help achieve the goals of both scientists and participants, closing the gap that often exists in such settings. Throughout the training and subsequent field work, I not only found the methodology sessions but also the conversations and debates incredibly insightful for my own work, research and future goals. As someone who has taken up work in the development sector with a particular interest in giving voices to members of society long forgotten, ignored or targeted, I believe employing transdisciplinary methods is something that will more easily allow me to achieve those goals.Read More
When we think of innovation or “design thinking”, it’s often in the context of technology. We may think of places such as Silicon Valley as being capitals of innovation, where thinking outside of the box is the key to success. In reality, however, innovation is more prevalent, extending far beyond the tech world, and we now see the process of design thinking being applied in new ways to create positive social impact in developing areas. Some examples include design thinking for natural disaster risk reduction and response, enhancing access to reproductive health and hygiene for women in rural areas, and re-packaging health products to increase its appeal to low-income communities. Design thinking is also being recognized as a way to support more inclusive development, where the intended beneficiaries of development interventions are fully engaged in the process of formulating that intervention.Read More
"...In the water there are fish, in the fields there is rice..." This famous line from the ancient inscription by Rapee Sagarik is still heard nowadays, but in reality, Thai farmers’ way of life has changed from time to time. I had the opportunity to attend the Innovative for Inclusive Development (IID) course for my second trimester in the Chulalongkorn MAIDS program. For the course, I interned at the Ban Chanote, Klong Yong-Lantakfa Community Enterprise, which is located in one of the most fertile areas of the Central region in Nakhon Pathom province.Read More
“When ecosystems change, people change.” These five words, spoken by a member of the Rasi Salai community, really capture what we were able to observe during the MAIDS program’s first trimester fieldtrip this year. From November 13 – 15, we traveled to Rasi Salai in Northeastern Thailand to learn about the impact of the contested Rasi Salai irrigation dam on the surrounding community from the Tam Mun Association. The Tam Mun Association is a community organization working to raise awareness about the impacts of the dam on their livelihoods as well as share local traditional knowledge.Read More
In 1993, on the Mun River in Si Sa Ket Province, Northeast Thailand, an irrigation weir called Rasi Salai was built that would lead to almost two decades of at times intense conflict between the communities whose livelihoods were harmed by the project and the government agencies that built and operated it. Since the late 2000s, however, the conflict has gradually thawed as a participatory social impact assessment was produced supported by the Royal Irrigation Department (RID), the government partly compensated affected communities, and negotiations began on how lost livelihoods could be recovered.
In this context, the RECOVER project in Northeast Thailand, led by the Mekong Sub-Region Social Research Center (MSSRC), Ubon Ratchathani University and with support from SUMERNET, has worked together with community leaders and affected villagers, community-based organizations and non-government organizations, local authorities, and government officers from RID and the Office of Natural Resource and Environment in a collaborative wetland mapping project. The project addresses a self-identified goal agreed upon amongst the project partners to clearly categorize a wetland area affected by the Rasi Salai dam, and designate permitted uses within it which may range from rice and cassava growing, to fish or forest conservation areas.Read More
The first workshop for the project was hosted by the Vietnam Academy of Water Resources in Hanoi on 20-22 June 2015.
The “Capacity Building and Professional Development of Water Governance and Regional Development Practitioners in the Mekong, Salween and Red river basins” project will strengthen the capacity for undertaking research and policy engagement of scholars and practitioners of water, land and energy use, management and governance in the Red, Mekong and Salween river basins. It also intends to build a learning community amongst these scholars and practitioners.Read More
Across the Mekong Region, a great diversity of wetlands and the agro-ecological farming that they support are central to many rural communities’ livelihoods, and contribute to local and national economies. Unfortunately, many areas have been degraded or lost due as a consequence of large-scale infrastructure development, including for irrigation and hydroelectricity. In October 2014, our SUMERNET Phase 3 project got underway in three locations in the Mekong Region in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam aiming to contribute towards the recovery of such wetlands, their agro-ecological farming systems, and local ‘situational’ knowledge associated with both.Read More