The goal of this mini-blog series is to document the participatory process of a community modelling project taking place in the Mekong. Funded through a CPWF Research into Use grant, the project seeks to increase the diversity of stakeholders involved in the management of water resources in the Nam Theun – Nam Kading River basin of Laos. We also want to encourage reflection and learning in questioning or own assumptions and ideas about participation in natural resource management. The focus is not to highlight the “right” way to implement participation, but to learn from the process and reflect on our role as facilitators. Part 1 introduced readers to companion modelling and the history of the Lao project.
Part 2: Building on endogenous incentives
To alter the way a society manages its environment requires more than mere technical change; it inevitably involves changes to social contexts, institutions and power balances. Achieving lasting change requires shifting not only the local context but also the “surrounding scales”. Local changes will only last if surrounding behaviors and power balances support, and at least allow, these local changes.
Impact will only be sustained if it is underpinned by a large diversity of stakeholders. The project team will never have the means and the local knowledge to achieve lasting impacts (i.e. lasting changes of local and surrounding scales), perhaps especially at the national level. So, lasting impact means building on endogenous incentives rather than trying to transfer our own incentives. This is quite an unusual participatory position: you start with the endogenous issues about environmental management and assume that if our identified issue is relevant, it will eventually emerge from the stakeholders’ learning-by-doing management process.
Practically, building on endogenous incentives means starting with the target group’s own priorities for environmental management. Thus, in the Nam Theun–Nam Kading River Basin the key Lao partner, the Nam Theun–Nam Kading River Basin Committee Secretariat, was left to identify for itself the main issue of basin management it was interested in testing with our participatory approach. The group settled on the issue of how to prevent and mitigate flood impacts on downstream community activities. This approach works because we frame our focus in terms of the participatory impacts (launching a collective dynamics for management, improved empowerment) of the project, rather than on specific thematic issues (e.g. water management, livelihoods, land tenure…or floods).
How effective is launching an integrated and sustainable management effort, wherein we do not start with what we (the project team) consider to be the most crucial issue? Our hypothesis is that the most difficult hurdle for achieving a sustainable management goal is launching an efficient learning-by-doing process, i.e. being able to autonomously progress towards more and more integrated management. We do not subscribe to the idea that the solutions for integrated management are purely scientific. Successful integrated management is a combination of scientific knowledge, institutional abilities and power balances that only local stakeholders are able to shape. This is a tricky process, which need to be underpinned by deeply motivated and committed stakeholders. For that reason, it’s easier to start with their own challenge, isn’t it?