How can researchers influence policy to build a more resilient Mekong Region? Some lessons from the SUMERNET Learning Forum

The piece is a reflection from the SUMERNET Learning Forum held on 29 May that discussed how knowledge co-production, local knowledge, media engagement, and policy engagement are needed to build a more inclusive and resilient Mekong Region.

Sameang Chea By Sameang Chea - Jul 4, 2024

The Mekong Region is facing significant climate impacts, resulting in increased water insecurity.

The recent "SUMERNET Learning Forum" held on 29 May explored how to bridge the knowledge gaps and catalyze action to build a more inclusive and resilient Mekong Region. The forum featured diverse participants from the Mekong Region who shared their perspectives on how researchers can influence policy.

Climate change and water insecurity

Balanced diplomacy among countries can address climate change and water insecurity and create a cooperative and sustainable resource management system. However, dealing with policymakers in the region requires a lot of effort to understand their needs and priorities and also to “speak their language.”

Dr. Yanyong Inmuong, Director of the Research Center for Environment and Sustainability at Mahasarakham University, Thailand, shared that “carrot-stick diplomacy” can be a good way to communicate with policymakers based on his experiences working at the community level for more than a decade.

The participation of local-level policymakers is really important when you want to address community issues. However, the researchers themselves need to find a better way to connect and communicate with policymakers in an appropriate way (Dr. Yanyong Inmuong).

Dr. Suriyan Vichitlekarn from the Mekong Institute in Khon Kaen, Thailand, said, “We can’t just follow our ideas. We need a diplomatic way to influence policymakers.”

Know what is needed to influence policy actors

The climate crisis is linked to everyone, and everyone will be affected.

This was the reflection from Ms. Hap Navy, VICA Country Coordinator/Project Partner, Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute (IFReDI), who has been working closely with policymakers in Cambodia. She said, “Talking softly is not enough. We must understand and know who, what, and why your research matters.”

Even though influencing policymakers is a major challenge and often has a short window of opportunity, researchers need to work with them to ensure that the research benefits society.

We need to better influence or bring about a positive impact on the government and policymakers. So the knowledge producers must know what the officials need and the government’s priorities to build good connections with them (Ms. Hap Navy).

Closed-door dialogues and story-telling

Knowing what the government needs is one critical point, but identifying the correct influential actors with the power to influence and bring about policy change is also important.

Mr. Prak Rathyrea, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Manager, Ponlok Chomnes Program, The Asia Foundation, shared his experience about Cambodia when it comes to influencing policy actors. Mr. Rathyrea said that the government officials prefer to have closed-door meetings rather than open forums. This seems better for them to hear all the views and feedback to decide what is the best way forward.

“Sometimes, creating a close-door dialogue with policymakers is also more practical to bring up sensitive issues,” he added.

Ms. Oulavanh Sinsamphanh, Head of Post Graduate Division, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, National University of Laos, believed that a better way to make communication with policymakers that is also pragmatic is through “multimedia forms of communications.”

She encouraged the use of “media to elaborate on or generate scientific findings by producing simple videos, stories, news, or films that can tell a story and become very helpful for policymakers to understand the situation.”

*Photo 1: Dr. Yanyong Inmuong presented his successful research collaboration with local policymakers in Ban Phai district, Thailand. Photo: SEI Asia.

*Photo 2: Dr. Suriyan Vichitlekarn shared his insight on how policy influences work at the regional level. Photo: SEI Asia.

*Photo 3: Ms. Hap Navy shared her lifelong experiences on how to work with policymakers effectively. Photo: SEI Asia.

*Photo 4: Ms. Oulavanh Sinsamphanh showed her project findings on water accessibility for vulnerable communities in Laos PDR. Photo: SEI Asia.


SUMERNET Learning Forum (29 May) provided a platform for researchers and practitioners from the Mekong Region to exchange knowledge and experiences on various interconnected issues related to water insecurity.


This story is part of the following project

SUMERNET 4 All: Engaging with water insecurity in the Mekong Region


water insecurity



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Sustainable Mekong Research Network

Building research for policy towards sustainable development in the Mekong Region

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