Los Angeles, California, USA, October 2018 — Erik Fruth has received a 2018-19 Fulbright research grant to study how public engagement takes shape during large dam projects in the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR).
His project is focused on public participation processes that occur when large dams are built on the Mekong River and its tributaries. The study will use interviews with local residents, construction companies, government officials, and NGOs to investigate how those groups communicate and interact with each other during the dam-building process. Fruth plans to incorporate community-based participatory methods that invite stakeholders to help craft the goals and trajectory of the project.
The research will add to a growing body of literature on the topic. “I think the research could produce information that’s useful for our global neighbors in Laos as well as environmental planners in the US”, Fruth reported in a recent press release.
The grant, awarded by the Fulbright US Student Program under the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, will fully fund his self-designed research project for a total of ten months starting in December 2018.
Fruth, a Master’s candidate in Environmental Planning at the Technische Universität Berlin, has spent the last three years preparing himself for this project. He spent several months in 2016 learning the Lao language and conducting research on behalf of an international NGO, World Renew, and then doubled-down on his efforts by attending the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute in 2018 to further improve his language skills. He plans to continue learning Lao while working in Laos.
Since then, Fruth has been conducting a literature review to hone his knowledge of environmental planning systems and qualitative research methods. He won’t be there without support – the International Water Management Institute, a global research-for-development organization with branches in South and Southeast Asia, will host him as a guest researcher and help facilitate the project.
“The project is an incredible learning opportunity for me as a researcher in the field of environmental governance. It's a chance to explore an interesting concept in environmental research (community-based participatory methods) and understand if it is a legitimate way to make knowledge production more representative and equitable. In this way, I hope my lessons learned also serve as lessons for others.”