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: Setting the Scene
Companion Modelling, or ComMod, is a participatory modelling approach that makes use of role-playing games associated with agent-based computer model. ComMod is an iterative and evolving participative process whereby stakeholders are involved in the design of the simulation tools. Agent-based modelling allows participants to make links between the biophysical and socioeconomic characteristics of the environment and natural resource systems.
A ComMod approach was used in one CPWF phase one project. Titled “Companion modeling for resilient water management: Stakeholders’ perceptions of water dynamics and collective learning at catchment scale”, the project examined various water management issues at the catchment scale with diverse arenas of stakeholders at nine different sites (from the Mekong delta to the Himalayan highlands through rainfed lowlands and uplands). Internal and external evaluations of project sites showed that local stakeholders benefited from these collectively-developed, highly interactive simulation tools for capacity-building; they allowed people to share knowledge and perceptions, as well as explore and agree upon rules for sharing water resources at the catchment scale.
While it fell outside of the scope of CPWF’s phase two work, ComMod was recognized as an approach with high potential to achieve impact. As such, the project was awarded a Research into Use grant to explore the potential uses of ComMod for reservoir management in Lao PDR. The Mekong 18 (MK18) project was born.
The selected Mekong sub-basin, the Nam Theun-Nam Kading Basin, is home to two reservoirs and a cascade of three dams. One of these dams, the Nam Theun 2 Project, is the largest hydroelectric project in Laos and started full operations only in 2010. The most recently built dam, Nam Theun-Hinboun Expansion Project, started full operations at the beginning of 2012. Still in its infancy, the Nam Theun-Nam Kading River Basin Committee (formally established in 2012) and its Secretariat (formally established in 2011) are already faced with the fast-growing complexity of basin management, including a steady increase of development projects (more dams, more large-scale plantations and more mining operations), trans-basin water diversion by the dams and coordination of a multitude of stakeholders. This, on top of still having the challenge of establishing its own identity as a key player in the basin’s management. The Nam Theun-Nam Kading Basin was selected because of these challenges but also because of the strong interest of its River Basin Committee Secretariat in participatory and integrated management.
The ComMod experiment in Nam Theun-Nam Kading Basin will attempt to build the capacity of the Secretariat and its technical working groups through a learning-by-doing process. They will be directly involved in the planning and implementation of a ComMod process to progressively address, step by step, the integrated management issues of the basin. This process starts by identifying the first and foremost issue in the basin, e.g. mitigating floods and better management of their impacts. The long-term goal is for the Secretariat and the technical working groups to be able to implement their own ComMod initiatives in order to address the complex issues in the Basin at different scales, both geographically and institutionally. In doing so, they would bring a multitude of basin stakeholders into the basin management arena, learn about each other’s needs and the constraints they face, and hopefully, find solutions together.