(IAP ’18 EXPLORE) Pitchapa Jular
FIELD MEDIA RESEARCH INTRODUCTION
“THE VISIBLE FLOWS” | JANUARY 2018
My name is Pim Jular. I am Thai.
Formerly trained as an architect in education and practice, I am now enjoying studying in the Department of City of Planning at MIT. A universal truth in life being a second year graduate student here is – we all need to do thesis. And when the time comes we ask: What would my thesis be asking? Or what is it that I am interested in asking about and how important it is?
As a matter of fact, just as other things in life that I chose to do I started off with my passion. I have long been passionate to learn more about the ecology shapes the city and vice versa, specifically the coexistence of water and cities. Having born in Bangkok which is the capital city of Thailand, rivers are the life and blood of the country. The Chao Phraya River, the largest watershed in the country, is home to countless lives and remains the heart of our agro and trading society since the beginning of our ancestors until today. I look to make an impact to the way urban-rural are designed and planned along the river and how it can be changed for the better. Yet, I believe that this larger than life question can start from the smallest question by learning from the very ground the river itself runs through.
We just need to look more closely.
In changing with the world around us, I cannot deny my concerns in the growing issue of the water-related disaster – floods. The impact of floods is highly related to how water is being managed and, interchangeably, the impact it will make on the people.
The issue around water and flood management is often complex. This is due to the many competing facets and depth involved in the policy regime of the water resources including multiple competing uses, scales and actors. In addition, the anomaly of climatic patterns, hydrologic cycles and growing urbanization have exacerbated flood disasters in urban areas globally, particularly in coastal cities. This poses critical challenges for structural measure alone to shield vulnerable communities living in flood-prone areas from the growing flood magnitude.
My question is: why can’t we look at the small-scale, yet, effective management at the local level? What can we learn from those practices which are at the forefront of actions in order to build a collective network of adaptive water society?
The capacity of locally-based flood management operations is often underestimated. This is mainly because it requires time, people and the right attitude to make it successful. Other than that, local organizations are largely invisible. Why invested in something less tangible than building a dam or a levee to tackle floods? A lot of misconception as such has permeated the way ecology of cities and water are managed in Thailand and still continue to do so.
My concerns are of what is it that we should be focusing on to really solve the issue of floods? Can we rethink how we live with water and how we chose to frame the questions of flood? Moew imHow can we live reciprocally with the ever changing conditions- climate change – we can no longer deny?
A sustainable flood disaster mitigation and adaptation plan should pay more attention to integrate small-scale capacity within the disasters risk reduction policy framework more rigorously. Much can be learned from the structure of the self-organized communities within the Chao Phraya River Basin whereby water users have advanced local knowledge and experiences in adjusting to risks and hazards.
In this highly unpredictable world where creative problem solving can be tackled by the precision of technology, I believe we also need to invest more on the mind of the people – those who are experiencing the issue first hand and have the ability to make changes on ground. The coordination between local institutions to support proactive community adaptation is, thus, the key platform to implement water resource and flood management actions one can support.
To make a change, one may only need the right attitude to begin with.
In light of this goal, the making of a documentary film will be used as the main research tool to conduct a study in the flood-prone Hart Thanong Community. The study area I am focusing on is a part of Uthai Thani – a provincial town 202 kilometers away from the capital city of Bangkok to the North. Lying below the 4 major confluence of the tributaries including Ping, Wang, Yom and Nan, Uthai Thaini is highly susceptible to flooding. To scope down into the area of study a little further, you can now see that the Hart Thanong district is a smaller unit of administration that is located right along the Chao Phraya River as shown in the map below. Without having said, this is one of the most severely flooded area out of the entire province.
So the area is going to flood. No question. No matter what.
What surprises me most was the fact that Hart Thanong has, on the other hand, has successfully established a model for local flood management which have come to be known by only a few. The community has successfully demonstrated the adaptive capacity to live with floods; local participants has been mobilizing their resources and networks to prepare, mitigate and cope with the flood crisis in the past half-decade (Purotaganon 2017). It exemplifies a case where local institutional mechanism is formed based on the understanding of their own context and resources as well as through the dynamic community networks, mutual trusts and relationship building. This self-reliance mechanism establishes flood mitigation strategy internally in order for the community to be less dependent on external assistance.
Now you all may be asking: why making a film?
Well, first of all, this research problem is interested in the ‘people’ both as individuals and as a group and in learning about who they are, what they think, how they look at the issue and how they work together that has led them to take certain actions in dealing with floods. Last but not least, I would like to look at how they have come to establish a strong community-based flood management structure that one could learn from or be inspired by.
What could best express the people than a photograph or moving images of their actions, their choice of words, their interactions and responses? Visual research methodology can help us uncover a whole new understanding of the world and its people when it is carefully thought out of how and when it can be done.
More importantly, I would want to make sure that the research will be accessible to a wide range of audiences and across different levels. Using film to communicate the stories allows one to see, hear, and feel at least a glimpse of the world. My experiences and the research process is embedded in the making of the film which have truly become one of the most valuable aspects in my research process.
Lastly, I am sure no one would like to read a forty-pages written thesis, apart from your own thesis adviser, of course. A film, I hope is the medium that speaks for itself in reaching out to people and not vice versa.
What to come?
My hopes and concerns are, in fact, one and the same – the unpredictability of the field work. As much as it extremely frustrates me, it also excites me. But isn’t that really the major part of an exploratory research?
You will never know what you will know until you are there.
Without further ado and in the mean time during the field research, I would like to share with you a glimpse of my experiences on ground – the people whom I have met, what I have heard and what I have learned in the making.
Stay tune for the stories and more photographs from the field!
“THE VISIBLE FLOWS” | 1-7January 2018
Learning the People, Learning the Attitudes [Part I]
The very first week was literally immersing myself with the environment to learn as much as I can of the context and its situations. This include getting to know where people live, where they perform their routines through the day, where things are located, the relationship between places, the relationship between people and their own environment. These are all very important physical, real-world information that will later help me to understand better of why and how people do things the way they do. Observing the daily routines or ask the local about these routines can reveal many more information about how they live with water.
Some of the main community members who I have interviewed the first two weeks include
Municipality Administration Members
- Mayor Mr. Muan Kiew-Ubon
- Municipal Chairman Mr.Samruay Sriklad
- Water User Principal Mr.Sutas
- Municipal Deputy Mr.Phongphan Temeeyanan
- Village Headman No.1
- Village Headman No.2
Public Health Care Facility Members
- Public Health Center Doctor Aoy
- Part-Time General Doctor from Uthai Thani Hospital
- Health Care Volunteers
- Onsite Care Givers (CG)
- Elders (patients from the community)
Community Members: Housewives/ Chefs (food providers in flood events)
- Village Headman No.1’s wife Mrs. Wandee
- Head chef Mrs.Somkuan
- Mrs.Jieb (also a health care volunteer)
- Mrs.Su (also a care giver volunteer: massager)
What have I observed researching through a camera?
I have noticed several times that formal interview questions often constraint the answers and the viewpoints of the interviewees. I cannot stress how important it is to be reflective when you are researching with the people. It is very important to craft your ‘process’ because it have a profound and direct influence on the what your will or will not discover in the field. Have I not deviate out of the prepared question and had a small talk with them, I would not have found out about the informal ‘rules’ crafted by other groups of the community members?
From then on, I always start my research with a ‘conversation’ and not a direct question. This kind of process allows me to discover the unexpected and the informality of the information which are more valuable than what has been formally written.
General group of people may feel less comfortable sitting in a formal interview.
The nature of relationship building between the researcher (myself) and the community takes quite a lot of time. Every interviews requires informal settings and flows to instigate meaningful information and therefore cannot be rushed or be too direct. Another important thing is that one long conversation often naturally leads to another clue than shooting direct questions which makes the interviewee feel less comfortable. Instead, they talk more when the interview is less formal, or, being set in their own familiar environment i.e. a side road bamboo shack, in the rice field, in their own backyard or their own home.
I started to realize that the way I film make an impact on how people choose to respond and reveal their knowledge.
Once they seem to settle in with the camera, the wealth of the information can also become quite overwhelming and distracting from the main objective so I need to also be careful on how to frame the conversation to the point. Physically, I need to make a lot of eye contact from time to time with the interviewees to keep them engaged while filming. Emphasizing on the location, timing and the topic of discussion can stimulate their interests to inform me about floods. General questions which prompt specific memories (about flood) can help the interviewees reflect on their past experiences and allow them to lead the conversation about their values and/or challenges.
Some of the key insights I have discovered through the ‘conversation’
All of the administrative bodies are highly trusted and respected by the community members. There is high level of intimacy and strong relationship among the administrative officers as well as between the officers and the community members. This network of relationships had been long established since before the area was administered as the municipality, lending them mutual trust and reciprocating social capital. From the observations, my primary assumption is that these dynamics play major roles in community capacity building and cooperation.
I have noticed that there are similar visions among the members of the community from several conversations in the interviews. In the conversations, there are notable repetitive keywords such as ‘adaptation’, ‘context’ and ‘living with water’. There are explicit understandings about their own context with regards to their background and ways of living; Majority of people make a living being rice farmers and planters. Their primary interests are the constant adaptation and learning from and with the landscape.
The group of people whom I have met have represented similar positive outlook towards flood events. Instead of framing flood as crisis, they always bring about the advantage of floods for their livelihood and restate floods as opportunity. Most people naturally embrace flood as part of their lives in which they cannot avoid. They explicitly focus on how to ‘live well with floods’.
“THE VISIBLE FLOWS” | 10-18 January 2018
Learning the People, Learning the Attitudes [Part ll]
This past week I have been talking to different actors which have expanded my understanding about the Hart Thanong water and flood management governance immensely. Key actors in the interviews include:
- Mixed farming planters – (Guava, Chili, Rice)
- Planters – Long Bean
- Rice Farmers
- Hart Thanong Elementary School Teachers and principal
- Village 1 Community Members Meeting
- Village 4 Community Members Meeting
- Village 5 Community Members Meeting
What interesting things have I observed?
Complete municipality public health facility is one of the most important organizations in driving the health and well-being of the community members during flood disaster. Knowing their own populations, elder is the primary vulnerable group for the Hart Thanong Municipality both before, during and after floods. Interestingly, public health facility which have been developed for the elders greatly facilitate other flood affected individuals i.e. Hart Thanong has established an on-site medical care and supply delivery system. Volunteered by the medical team to reach out to the elders and other patients who are stranded in their homes during floods. This immensely helps to de-stress the community members who are typically in charge of their parents, some of which are disabled or required constant medication.
The adaptation strategies used by Hart Thanong model work successfully because there are reliable and definite plans to accommodate all-inclusive members of the communities with regard to gender, age and capabilities. The flexibility in the plan of actions shift according to the situations but the framework remains focused on cooperation, before and during crisis risk reduction and community rebuilding. Long term vision that focuses on ‘rebuilding’ and ‘rehabilitation’ to recover proper living conditions for the members are fully integrated with the municipality policy.
i.e. The new evacuation center reflects this notion with complete amenities to accommodate the community from before, during and after the floods. These include Evacuation Center, Central Administration Office, new bathroom and toilet facility, Drinking Water and Sanitation Facility, Elder Development Center, Women Career Development Center and Childcare and Early Child Development Center. All of these are built within one single evacuation ground as a preparation for the next flood to come.
The community members do not only talk about adapting to floods but how to live ‘happily’ with floods. This makes me reflect on how disasters have been framed with minimal regards to include human emotion and sensitivities in dealing with the event. Since several community members explicitly employ the word ‘happiness’ at the forefront for the conversation and side by side with the word such as ‘adaptation’, I realize that people will only be willing to adapt only if they could see themselves being happy in the process of adapting or being happy in the way forward.
Hart Thanong Community places emphasis on continuation of normal routine including cooking fresh food during flood events. In order to maintain physical and mental health as well as to provide bonding activities within its own community, the members were eager to make themselves busy in making the best living quality out of the crisis together. Food logistic and provision were led by a group of housewives whose responsibilities were to cook and provide fresh meals for the whole community members during the time of floods.
What did I learn this week that I should remember?
Insightful comments were made by the elementary school teachers focusing on the importance of disasters recovery process. Their remarks pose different perspectives on direct impact of floods on education and children as well as the way disaster management should be rethink i.e. donations should be made with considerations on what is most necessary before, during and after the crisis. Donations on construction recovery and assessment, for example, are more critical than consumption items.
General donations that focuses on ‘rebuilding’ will not only sustain the lives of the community members, but give them hopes and way forward to look into. This lay positive foundation in which they can hold on to. It also shifts their focus from negative impacts and losses to a more opportunistic attitude.
The interviews should include different standpoints such as when I interviewed the teachers, I have gained a completely distinctive perspective from the prior understanding about Hart Thanong structure and organization. This also makes me reflect back on the other actions being taken to really contemplate on their value and intentions.
I have found that the community officials have established several detail data sets including information about the household members, the requirement needed from each member, the coupon system for food pick up, the roles taken by each community members during floods, rapid damage and loss appraisal, for example.
“THE VISIBLE FLOWS” | 22-30 January 2018
The interactions between me and the community members in the past month have been invaluable. It has gone beyond acquiring information because the stories I have found were built on their own willingness to help, and cooperate. I am very grateful to have experienced inspiring realities, kindness and goodness through my own journey in my own home land.
From what I have seen, the horizontal governance within Hart Thanong community has led to the success of both the implementation and the negotiation for locally sustainable flood management strategies. In sum, I have synthesized the stories I have heard and experienced into these steps:
Learn their place, Learn themselves: True Empowerment
- Understanding their own environment and geography
- Understanding the risks from the pasts
- Understanding the interconnectedness of the spatial context
Positive Attitude is the Foundation
- Strong leadership and positive thought leaders
- Negotiation and trust-building towards inclusive planning
- Embrace the unexpected risks, prepare for the worse
- Collective actions and cooperation
- Assessing the performance, adapt for the better
Learning from the community actions, I further ask:
How can the capacity building in the community lay foundation to stronger flood management governance in other communities? How can it gradually open up the attitudes of the people for self-reliance and adaptation?
The most important issue I have found is the confine of these successes. Hart Thanong community has achieved its objectives in adapting with floods but the practice has not yet been disseminated, exchanged and amplified to other scales of management. It is most essential to be integrative in water resource and flood management actions. The missing piece is the oordination gap across and in between scales from the national, to provincial policy framework which is in critical need to reconnect with the practice on ground. Among the most important people I have talked to during the research are the external NGOs / action researchers: Ms.Vilaiwan Chanpuang and Dr.Man Purotaganon. Both of their insights allow me to identify the missing piece between good practice on the ground and the overarching policy which governs the larger scale of watershed and flood management.
This instantly makes me realize that the impact of my project lies on communication; how to communicate, develop and connect the model to various scales of other flood-prone communities within the watershed. Going back to MIT and beyond, I look forward to use my media research as a way to channel these information across various scales of actors within policy making, planning, and design sectors.
“THE VISIBLE FLOWS” | Summary
Embrace, Adapt, Learn. Repeat.
Although I have already been so prepared to go with the flow and whatever situations would take me, it really takes me some time to feel right and comfortable. From the researcher perspectives, I did as much as I can to frame the research outline, contact the coordinator on site for project implementation as well as gathering information ahead of time. Despite those being crucial first steps, one need to remind oneself that once you are facing with the community, your plan may have changed its track completely. Pre-assumption is important only to start guiding you into a direction but whether it is right or wrong, learning from the field will tell you that.
Not only I have realized that field work requires loads of flexibility as well as good instincts, it also opens up my way of thinking and working with other people by adjusting with them completely. Emerging from the field, I have learned to embrace so much more of the unexpected and absorb what I have heard, seen and experienced in person. The importance to adapt accordingly with the environment are embedded within the local members. I have learned from the conversations, formally and informally, the wealth of local knowledge and pride of their own context, their careers and their roles. All of these have helped to consolidate collective actions when it comes to flood events. Mayor Muan Kiewubon, for instance, have long been active as an environmental leader within the community before being trusted and elected by the community members.
The moment when I realize how important it is to reflect on my own process in working with the people came half way through the second week of my stay. It was when I had an informal conversation with a group of community leaders including the mayor, the municipal secretariat, the chief deputy and the head of water user association. Without camera filming and a little prompt asking about the role of the women within the community, all of them start informing me of the self-organized home cook kitchen initiated by the housewives during floods. I realize, then, that I need to facilitate a platform of discussion that is comfortable for them as well as to keep the conversation wide open and inclusive. Time and patience are very critical to be insightful and it is important to understand that you cannot rush things. Learning about people and their environment requires a good amount of time in order to build long lasting relationships with them. This make meaningful conversations and transform my own standing as a researcher.
Expect the unexpected.
That really is the heart of being in the field and one of the most exciting processes you will ever get out of it. The very first weeks made me realize that there is no plan. From frustration, I started to embrace the experiences, adapt, and learn – a cyclical process that helps me develop my understanding about the place, the people and the world. I have learned that through researching with the local members, I have gained more than I have expected especially new perspective about life and how we can choose to find our place among this world.
The most important lesson the community has taught me is that adapting with the changes is not enough but one need to think of how to live with it happily to make it last. I have learned that we can always change the way we do things in order to embrace the differences of the people and the changes in the world we are encountering. Taking all the lessons back to MIT and beyond, I would like to amplify the inspiring stories I have discovered and to identify the opportunities in minimizing the knowledge gap within the Chao Phraya watershed management. After the end of my thesis research at MIT, the next step is to bring back my documentary to be screened for the community and hear their feedback before further dissemination.
Thanks to PKG Explore for the opportunity for me to pursue this research experimentation! Over the course of this IAP, I have gained invaluable experiences and the relationship with the people from Hart Thanong that I would have never forgotten. I have learned about kindness, care, visions and many other things that might not have been well registered in the definition of a ‘research’ yet I have seen, heard and felt it in person. Looking forward to bring all these interviews stories back and continue synthesizing them in the Spring term !