Communicating water-related climate change risks to improve local adaptation in the deltas of the Mekong Region

The potential impacts of climate change on low-lying delta areas in the Mekong Region are high. Floods, drought, storms and threats to water supplies represent a significant set of risk management challenges. This research project aims to identify effective ways to improve and share diverse understanding of water-related climate change risks and uncertainties in selected delta communities in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. The study will convene multi-stakeholder working groups to develop communication models and then test them in the three locations. The findings of the study are expected to contribute directly to climate action and disaster risk management plans of local governments.

Partnering institutions    

Project Coordination
1.    AMDI:

Technical Lead
2.    National Institute for Science and Technology Policy and Strategy Studies (NISTPASS): Website :

Countries covered    

Mekong: Viet Nam, Thailand, Cambodia.

Vision and mission    

The projected impacts of climate change on the densely settled, low-lying coastal and delta areas of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam make the Mekong Region one of the most vulnerable areas to climate change in the world. While local residents are familiar with current climate risk and exposure profiles, they may not recognize how these are likely to change in future, or what the effects of climate change are.

Climate change adaptation decisions will be made not only by local governments, but also by households, community groups and private enterprises. Improved and shared understanding of changing hydrological risks from hazards such as flood, drought, storm, and sea level rise will be essential to ensure a robust platform for both collective and private adaptation responses, as well as to empower the most vulnerable communities in making informed decisions. So far, communication of climate change information and uncertainty to non-scientific audiences has been insufficient [20]. Better tools and processes for communicating climate risk and uncertainty and sharing knowledge from different sources is necessary, as they will provide a shared local platform for adaptation decision making.

Local communities in flood and disaster prone areas often have substantial experience and local knowledge about their vulnerabilities, reducing their risk and adapting [1, 15]. However, understanding about additional or changed risks arising from climate change is usually very low both among residents as well as officials [3, 11]. Experts on climate change have a better understanding of climate-related risks but not of local risks or vulnerabilities or capacities to respond in particular places [6, 10, 13].  Likewise, disaster risk management experts have techniques to develop early warning systems or strategies for coordinating resources and responses during emergencies but often also lack an understanding of the local context and longer-term climate challenges [9, 10].

Bringing together different forms of knowledge and experience produced by different stakeholders is desirable but difficult in practice [8]. Differences among stakeholders in how specific risks in the context of uncertainty are perceived and understood make communication and social learning crucial [2, 18]. Broad strategies for improving cross- communication and fostering social learning are known but need to be tailored to specific places and risks [7, 11, 12, 16].

Previous work on coastal and delta communities in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam have identified the importance of risk perceptions to patterns of settlement [5] and the importance of local knowledge in living with and adapting to local flood regimes [14, 15, 17]. Floods cause losses but also create livelihood opportunities [15, 17]. Climate change and human interventions in delta areas and upstream have complex and potentially novel impacts on flood attributes and risks [4]. Integrating perspectives on flood management in Vietnam appears to be, in part, a communication challenge in which differences in perceptions of risk and uncertainty play a major role [6, 17].

This proposed research would build on experiences in adaptation planning and intervention support developed by other projects in the three countries. In Vietnam, for example, this would extend the work supported by the Rockefeller Foundation in the cities of Can Tho, Da Nang and Quy Nhon.

Although technical knowledge of climate change risks and hydrological implications is growing, uncertainties remain high. Collaboration with local government authorities and concerned stakeholders is crucial as it makes it more likely that knowledge will be co-produced and thus useful. It should also create a more informed and motivated group for application of research findings. More importantly, policy changes will be promoted through the engagement of policy actors and the capacity building of local peoples. The development of communication methodology will provide a good opportunity to open up dialogue with policy actors and support evidence-based policy making.

In addition, gender and socio-economic class are expected to be important variables for understanding risks in this study. To obtain this knowledge and ensure gender and social equity, the researchers will: i) Pro-actively involve women and other potentially marginalized social groups in the research process and as a dimension of analysis. A reasonable balance in numbers of women and men will be sought for risk communications working groups, key informants and other steps in the research process; ii) Give special attention to understanding gender-related differences in perceptions and understanding of risks and their causes, apparent actual levels of risk and vulnerability, and the effectiveness of different communication modes for sharing knowledge about risks and risk responses; iii) Work to understanding how gender relations may affect access to key resources important to reducing risks and vulnerabilities and participation in communication activities; iv) Finally, and where appropriate, research findings presented to administrators and policy-makers will be rendered gender-sensitive.

Boundary partners   

1.    An Giang University:
2.    Department of Environmental Science, Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP)
3.    International Maritime College, Kasetsart University:
4.    Department of Agricultural Development and Environmental Management, King Mongkut Lad Krabang Institute:

Project’s objectives    

To identify effective ways to improve and share understanding of water-related climate change risks and uncertainties among local stakeholders as a basis for contributing to sustainable development of delta communities in the Mekong Region.

To develop effective models for communicating water-related climate change risks among national and local stakeholders in the Mekong Region.

1) To understand how different stakeholders (including, officials, researchers and students, farmers and fishermen) perceived types, levels and sources of water-related climate change risks and uncertainties.
2) To develop effective communication models on water-related climate change risks with participation of local stakeholders in order to promote shared learning and strengthen local adaptation capacity.
3) To facilitate sharing good practices and experience in climate change risk communication and advocate for replication of the communication models to delta communities in the Mekong Region.


2.5.1. Conceptual framework

There are a range of challenges associated with communicating climate change and disaster risks including
•    uncertainties in future climate;
•    changes in land- and water-use;
•    dynamic population movements;
•    diverse and competing interests;
•    different perceptions of risk and climate change; and
•    varying levels of understanding of water-related hazards in delta areas.

Communicating climate change information is difficult as it is complex and requires consideration of changing and uncertain future conditions. In these situations, social learning models of communication are necessary to build trust and account for the different levels at which learning needs to take place for effective responses.

Experience and expert knowledge are both likely to matter to managing changing and uncertain risks. Cognitive learning is needed to better understand change phenomenon and their consequences for vulnerability of different social groups and social learning is needed for different stakeholders to be able to respond at all time scales. Important features of shared learning models include the extent to which they are inclusive, participatory and deliberative.

2.5.2.   Research questions

How do different stakeholders (officials, teachers, students, residents) perceive risks from water-related hazards in a changing climate?
What are effective tools and approaches for communicating climate change risks among stakeholders in the delta areas of the Mekong Region?
What elements of the institutional, social and economic context need to be taken into account when seeking to improve communication of climate change risks?

2.5.3. Study design

The design of the study aims to create multiple opportunities for social learning about how to communicate water-related climate change risks to enhance the local adaptation capacity. The core idea is that to develop and strengthen communication models, they need to be tailored specifically to the risks and challenges specific to each location.                                    

2.5.4.  Baseline survey of perceptions and knowledge on climate change risks

Surveys will be conducted in the three sites (An Giang province, Vietnam, Samut Songkram province, Thailand and Prey Veng province, Cambodia) to evaluate the perceptions and knowledge of different stakeholder groups with respect to water-related climate change risks. Information will be obtained through household survey, in-depth interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs). Interviews will cover three time scales of action: (1) during emergencies; (2) preparedness for high risk seasons; (3) longer-term planning. The first two steps are in the normal domain of disaster management, whereas the third is more oriented towards adaptation to climate change. Informants will also be asked for suggestions on what they perceive effective communication of risks which will be considered in the development of the communication model. Desk study will be conducted by each research team. The relevant documents may include the annual disaster management plans, climate change adaptation strategy, local socio-economic and development plans and reports on relevant projects conducted in the study areas.

The quantitative survey will be conducted with two separate groups. Students and residents (farmer and fishermen) in the three study sites. This aims to have robust information on climate change risk perceptions of the community. Development of baseline information also allows researchers to evaluate the effectiveness of pilot communication models at the end of the study. Sample sizes will be set based on considerations of statistical power and desired precision of a few key variables or minimum detectable effect sizes. This ensures advanced analysis on people’s perceptions of water-related climate change risks.

Qualitative surveys will be conducted for quality control of the quantitative survey and to complement information obtained via the quantitative survey. Key informants including representatives from residents, students, teachers and officials will be selected for in-depth interviews. Separate FGDs will be organized with residents and student groups at each study site. The collected information will be analyzed using both quantitative and qualitative analysis software such as SPSS, Excel, and Atlas.ti.

2.5.5.  Development of communication model

A risk communications working groups (RCWG) will be formed and hosted by An Giang University. The RCWG members will include researchers from participating institutes and universities as well as representatives from government authorities, communities and students. The RCWG will include individuals who have expertise and experience working with the target audiences, specific communication and media techniques, as well as disaster risk management (DRM) and climate change adaptation (CCA) knowledge. The communication model will be developed with participation from the local community and local government to ensure that it is relevant and applicable to needs. Pre- and post-intervention controls will be established to help test understanding of the effectiveness of communication model. Design of the communication model will take into account features such as:

•    the type of media preferred (e.g. film, print, radio, animation),
•    example of key messages,
•    target audience (teachers & students, residents, local government officials),
•    communication styles (social marketing, social learning, education),
•    types of drivers (individual, network or community) and
•    information content (who is at risk, how big is the risk, what can be done to reduce it, etc.).

A final design will be made in consultation with stakeholders at each site to ensure that it is relevant to the in-country context while at the same time providing adequate rigor for testing and validation.

Once the pilot communication model has been developed in An Giang province, Vietnam, it will be tested and validated through direct implementation in several selected communities. To assess effectiveness of the communication models, methods such as pre- and post-intervention questionnaires or simultaneous controls in non-intervention households or communities will be used.

Specific criteria and indicators to measure the effectiveness of communication of risk and uncertainty in communication models will be developed by the RCWGs. These are likely to include comparative judgment scales with other, more familiar risks, analysis of realistic problem situations, and questions about risk perception.

As part of the analysis (and where possible from pilot work also in the design) an effort will be made to look at segmentation within the target audiences in terms of underlying perceptions and responses to risk as many studies have demonstrated important pre-dispositions that cut across types of hazards and risks [19]. In general, expect the validation process to cover people and place-related factors that can influence population behavior at various levels from individual through to network and community [19].

2.5.6.  Replication and dissemination

The communication model will be developed cooperatively by researchers in three countries. It then will be piloted in An Giang province, Vietnam. Following this it will be refined and adjusted for replication in Thailand and Cambodia. Two workshops will be organized to share findings and lessons learned between three countries and in the region.

•    The first workshop will be conducted in An Giang University to share the design and initial findings from piloted communication models.
•    After replication of the study in Samut Songkram and Prey Veng provinces, another workshop will be organized to share the findings, distribute examples of knowledge products and processes for local partners and individuals from other universities. Representatives from three study sites will be provided with leading role as facilitators in these workshops.
•    Research findings will be disseminated in regional and international conferences, forums, workshops, especially with MRC, ADPC, SET, and CKDN.

2.5.7. Next steps

Following evaluation of this project, a follow up project may be considered that applies the communication model to a number of key areas of the Mekong Delta and works to integrate the model into existing local DRM and communication plans.

Expected outputs    

1.1. Study tools (questionnaire, FGD guides, methodology, etc.)
1.2. Survey and desk analysis report
1.3. A workshop with stakeholders
2.1. Risk communications working group meetings
2.2. Training for RCWGs
2.3. Communication materials for pilot produced
2.4. Communication model developed
2.5. Communication model tested
2.6. Documentation of development process of the communication model
3.1. Hand-on training for government officials and research institute staff at study site
3.2. A workshop organized after piloting communication model in An Giang amongst stakeholders in three countries
3.3. A sharing workshop organized after communication models piloted in three countries amongst stakeholders
4.1. Project findings presented in regional forum/ workshops
4.2. Publication of the study on journals
5.1. Two (2) workshops or meetings with key policy actors in each country
5.2. Policy papers on project findings delivered to key policy actors

Planned project events    

1.    List of key events, tentative dates and venue.

  • July 25: Vietnam Research Team conducted a planning meeting at AMDI’s premise with participation of 9 researchers and assistants from AMDI and NISTPASS to launch officially launch the research, designate responsibilities of team members and brainstorm for the Inception Workshop
  • 21-23 August: Inception Workshop with all project teams from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, in Hanoi, Viet Nam (agenda attached)
  • Mid-September: Field survey in Vietnam, interviews of local community members to determine their understanding of climate change risks (3rd week of September, tentatively)

2.    Concept note or agenda of the events, if possible.

 Focal point for contact    

Technical Leader:
Bach Tan Sinh, PhD,
Director of Department of S&T Human Resource Policy and Organization; National Institute for Science and Technology Policy and Strategy Studies (NISTPASS),
Ministry of Science and Technology; 38 Ngo Quyen Street, Hanoi, Vietnam;
Tel: + 84.4.39344102.
Mob. +84 913076261;

Project Coordinator:
Mr Ngo Cong Chinh,
Director of Research Center for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change,
Asian Management and Development Institute;
1st floor, VAS Building, My Dinh Urban Area #1, Tu Liem District, Hanoi, Vietnam;
Tel: +84.932233248,

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