Collaborative Governance and Governance Principles of Natural Resource Management: Water Management in the Lower Mekong Basin

  • Patchara Jaturakomol

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Governance principles of collaborative governance and natural resource management have not received much empirical scrutiny. It is even scarcer to find studies that link approaches and concepts to the outcomes of management. This is exactly what this study does by formulating hypotheses and subjecting them to robust empirical tests. The setting for the study is the Lower Mekong Basin in general and the Mekong River Commission in particular.

Following two alternative conceptualizations by Ulibarri (2015) and Thomson et al. (2014), the concept of collaboration is defined by three dimensions (principled engagement, shared motivation, and capacity for joint action) and five dimensions (joint decision making, administration, autonomy, mutuality, and trust). Regarding governance principles of natural resource management that serve as approach-related criteria, Lockwood et al. (2010) have developed eight governance principles: (1) legitimacy, (2) transparency, (3) accountability, (4) inclusiveness, (5) fairness, (6) integration, (7) capability, and (8) adaptability. The variables identified by the OECD (2015) serve to measure the stakeholder perceptions of effectiveness and efficiency. For the other outcomes (achievement of outcomes, quality of working relationships, broadened views, increased interaction, and partners’ equal influence), the measures are single-indicators proposed by Thomson et al. (2014).

The study employs mixed methods of inquiry (qualitative case-study method and a quantitative survey) to collect data from stakeholders. Semi-structured personal interviews were conducted to gather qualitative data from 164 local residents so as to understand their sentiments on the impacts of the dams on their livelihoods and environment. Ten administrators and staff members of the Mekong River Commission were interviewed in person. A questionnaire using a 5-point Likert scale was utilized to obtain quantitative data from the panelists and attendees of the 9th Regional Stakeholder Forum held in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR in late 2020. For the purpose of analysis, the stakeholders (attendees) were placed into one of three groups: government/public sector, private sector, and civil society organizations. The data, freely available, are stored at the research data depository of the University of Bath (

Qualitative analysis of the perceptions of the residents reveals that there are problems with the communications between the administration and the local communities. The local communities have to rely on word of mouth because they lack relevant information that should have been provided by the state. Interviews also reveal a widespread experience of the destructive effects of a dam on the landscape, water quality and conditions, the quantity and variety of the fish population, and unpredictable seasonality. These changes in turn immeasurably harm their livelihoods and way of life. Unfortunately, these grievances are largely ignored.

All three groups of stakeholders – government/public sector, private sector, and civil society organizations – are in moderate agreement with regard to the three and five dimensions of the Mekong River Commission’s collaborative practice. Additionally, they endorse all eight governance principles of natural resource management, but they indicate that the Commission does not seem to commit equally to all principles. The views of the three groups of stakeholders differ significantly with regard to the degree of the Commission’s effectiveness and efficiency. The public sector consistently gives the Commission a higher mark, while the private sector consistently gives a much lower score. Civil service organizations’ responses are somewhere in the middle.

With regard to relationships between variables, there is strong evidence of the positive relationship between the 3 dimensions and 5 dimensions of collaborative governance, meaning that the two collaboration scales measure the same thing. While the three dimensions of collaboration are positively and strongly correlated with the eight governance principles, the five dimensions of collaboration do not exhibit a good fit. The mixed results of the five dimensions are confounding and cast doubts on the compatibility of the two collaboration scales.

The results are also rather disappointing for the relationships between collaborative efforts and the Commission’s effectiveness and efficiency. The mixed results may imply that the OECD’s measures of effectiveness and efficiency need to be tightened. The more likely explanation for the rather poor association is that the effects of collaboration are not as straightforward as assumed or presumed. In particular, future research needs to carefully look at the role that autonomy plays in the decision-making process.

From the standpoint of policy, the Commission is in a tight spot. Its recommendations can be overruled by any member state in the name of national sovereignty. At the same time, the Commission needs to placate the riparian residents whose food security and economic security are destabilized by hydropower development. Additionally, there are ecological concerns expressed by civil society organizations on behalf of the local communities. In spite of its good intention and effort to be inclusive, the Mekong River Commission needs to realize that its role and performance may not be shared by others. It is imperative to have an accurate understanding of the stakeholders (especially riparian residents), and it is crucial for the Commission to adapt its communication strategy to gain the support of the stakeholders and member governments. Given the livelihoods of millions of residents, coupled with the unavoidable and harmful effects of a hydropower project on the ecology of the Mekong River Basin, policy errors of great magnitude may carry irreversible consequences. It is possible to find practical and balanced means to meet the needs of the various groups of stakeholders.
Date of Award11 Oct 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorTimo Kivimaki (Supervisor) & Jack Copley (Supervisor)

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