‘Useful’ research and policy development: Social forestry in ASEAN

Contributed by: Dr. Pheakkdey Nguon, Royal University of Phnom Penh

The Royal University of Phnom Penh in collaboration with the University of Forestry, Yezin and Kasetsart University was supported by the Sustainable Mekong Research Network (SUMERNET) Phase 3 (2014-2017) to conduct a comparative study on national REDD+ strategy in Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand (Link to Project). The research team had successfully completed this collaboration with productions of various academic, peer-reviewed papers (currently under-review) and non-academic publications (published policy briefs, newsletter, etc.). With support from the SUMERNET Small Grant for Partners’ Outreach, Engagement and Partnerships, lead researcher for the consortium, Dr. Nguon Pheakkdey, is currently conducting activities to disseminate findings from the team’s research to relevant government and non-government stakeholders in the target countries, and to seek their continue supports and partnerships for the next phase of SUMERNET, tentatively known as SUMERNET 4 All.

With this support, Dr. Pheakkdey Nguon participated in the: 1) 6th CSO Forum on Social Forestry ASEAN: From Planning to Concrete Action, held on 9-10 June, 2017 in Chiang Mai, Thailand (Link); and 2) 7th ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry Conference: Enabling Partnerships and Investments for Sustainable Development Goals, held on 12-14 June, 2017 in Chiang Mai, Thailand (Link). In addition to attending and speaking at these meetings, Dr. Nguon also met with researchers at Chiang Mai University.

The objective of the 6th CSO Forum on Social Forestry was to continue being the platform to discuss, distil, consolidate, and elevate messages and learnings of CSOs and smallholders on Social Forestry, Climate Change and related topics and develop concrete recommendations to be endorsed to the ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry. Dr Nguon was invited as a speaker for the session on “Sharing on Lessons and Experience on how to Engage Regional Actors and Institutions”. This capacity building session aimed to draw experiences, lessons, and opportunities in engaging regional actors and institutions in securing forest rights and livelihoods. Using experiences from the SUMERNET supported research, Dr. Nguon outlined the detail of stakeholder engagement processes, its challenges and suggestions. Those suggestions/ lessons learned include:

  • Ensure knowledge is current and accurate (credibility)
  • Pay attention to context (saliency)
  • Offer practical solutions, options (scenario-based solutions are preferred)
  • Team work and network (context)
  • Understand the messages clearly and have different means to communicate them
  • Be attentive to how people receive those messages
  • Be patient, mindful of schedule differences

The Royal Forest Department, on behalf of The Royal Thai Government hosted and co-organized The 7th ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry Conference with collaboration and support from all the ASEAN Member States (AMS) and Civil Society Organizations. The main objectives of the Conference included: 1) to share lessons and experiences on social forestry particularly in forest landscape restoration with respect to community livelihoods, and sustainable forest management, climate change, and partnership investment for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); 2) to promote social forestry policy and practices in forest conservation within broader landscape management; and 3) to strengthen dialogue and facilitate concerted action among the AMS, civil society, private sector, academia and other stakeholders to enhance the roles and contributions of social forestry in addressing forest restoration in achieving sustainable SDGs.

Discussion on Research and Development session (ASEAN Working Group on Social Forestry Conference). Photo Credit: Pheakkdey NguonAt this conference, Dr. Nguon was a resource person/ speaker for a session entitled ‘Research and Development’, organized by Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). This session was participated by representatives from CIFOR, Non Timber Forest Product Exchange Programme Asia (NTFP-EP), The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Chiang Mai University, Kyoto University and Indonesia Forest, Ministry of Environment and Forestry Indonesia, Coopita, and WARSI Indonesia. This session focused on two topics 1. Issues and challenges in making research ready-to-use for policy development, and 2. Measures to address these issues and challenges.


In terms of issues and challenges, participants identified the following:

  • Research conceptualization and findings do not fit or reflect the local context
  • There is a mismatch between the objectives of basic/ exploratory research versus policy-informed research
  • Some research is only responding to donor’s needs, and so its intended audience (policy-makers, private sector, local communities) do not feel that the research addresses their needs
  • Recommendations derived from research are often too general/ generic to effectively address the issues it identified. Some recommendations seem to be present over the last 20 years.  
  • There are challenges in disseminating research findings since most research expenses do not factor this particular expense into its overall budget. 
  • There is difficulty in replicating good research because either there is no framework shared or difficult to access the data.
  • Some of the measures/recommendations that were identified included:
  • Donors should require research teams to involve its target audiences be it government, private sector or communities since the research’s inception stage and not only at the very end. SUMERNET is a good example in terms of its boundary partner engagement.
  • Research need to have policy engagement. We need to allocate time to talk and coordinate with various policy making components. This will help in ensuring research findings being perceived as salient, credible and legitimate by its intended audience particularly policy makers.
  • To address structural issues in coordinating research activities within government research center, the recommendation is: 1) decentralize decision making to local level. Many already hand over decision making process to the local level, but village government still needs capacity building to follow requirement form national; 2) more flexibility to use the budget to respond to the evolving needs of the intended audience; 3) highlight success stories, so others can see and be motivated to do more policy-informed research.
  • To increase policy uptake, research can involve representatives from government since the very beginning of the research. A great way to ensure that research finding would be used is to involve the policy-makers to co-write the findings.