Cambodia Placeholder

A collaborative process that creates a shared understanding of the system, helps assess trade-offs and supports sustainability planning

About the Implementing organization

Name: Linked Indicators for Vital Ecosystem Services (LIVES) in the Mekong Flooded Forest (MFF) - MFF team, WWF Cambodia as project implementers

Country: Cambodia

Year of establishment: 1995

Type of organization: Legally recognized non-profit status


With LIVES, we tested a novel decision support system to help local stakeholders of the Mekong Flooded Forest to plan for sustainability and resilience in a context of uncertainty. We used participatory ‘systems thinking’ to understand and identify the key drivers of change in the MFF landscape with stakeholders. A systems map (causal loop diagram-CLD) is created to provide a holistic overview of the local context by linking ‘cause and effect’ from actions to outcomes across groups in the local community; with this map, stakeholders can identify key drivers of change. Having a shared understanding of what causes change and how to influence future trends helps decision-makers discuss and decide on pathways towards better economic, social and environmental outcomes. Our collaborative process involving provincial authorities and farmers produced 1) a CLD of the Mekong Flooded Forest, from which we selected 2) 15 indicators that reflect the relationship between drivers of change and the results of this change. Using these outputs, we created a System Dynamics model (a mathematical model) to analyze development at the landscape level by simulating ‘what if’ scenarios and modeling changes between 2000 and 2040. The model helps identify potential future trends to consider in evaluation processes. The lessons/insights gathered in the implementation process and the outputs have helped decision makers think more holistically about food, energy, and water security at different scales.

Nature Element


Type of Action

Sustainable use / Mainstreaming into sectors / Awareness and education

Sustainable Development Element

Jobs and livelihoods / Food security / Water security / Renewable energy

Related Sustainable Development Goal(s)


Environmental Impacts

This initiative has fostered awareness among local communities as well as among provincial planners, of the need for more sustainable natural resource management and of specific tools that can support in this process. Because the MFF team fully understood how CLDs help to show how everything is interconnected and how the over-consumption of natural resources impacts on local livelihoods, future generations, and food sources, they have been able to communicate this message convincingly to stakeholders. With government representatives, the aim was to show how CLDs could help improve planning processes to prevent the over utilization of natural resources. Representatives from our partner, the National Council on Sustainable Development, shared positive feedback following exposure to this process; they have stated that using decision support tools could help improve Cambodia’s performance in environmental conservation, wildlife protection, and sustainable natural resource management.

Sustainable Development Impacts

Having built capacity on CLDs and has produced a model that allows decision makers to assess alternatives (by understanding the trade-offs and impacts of their decisions in the future) we believe that stakeholders in the MFF have a stronger understanding of sustainability in their system. At the local level, stakeholders have been able to assess the negative impacts on food and water supply of national energy policies (hydroelectrical dams in the Mekong River), and are better equipped to plan for local resilience. We hope that through the efforts of the NCSD, national development planners can learn about our methods and implement them to assess the impacts of their national level policies on local communities, assess the overall trade-offs and find pathways for a balanced and sustainable development.


This initiative has been developed with the support of the National Council for Sustainable Development (NCSD), which values the effectiveness of LIVES methods for bringing together multiple stakeholders and promoting a shared understanding of challenges and alternative solutions. In the process of implementation of the project, NCSD staff received training on building and training others on CLDs. NCSD staff - along with WWF staff - are now in the process of facilitating workshops to transfer this knowledge to provincial government officials and farmers of the MFF provinces; the idea is to promote an exchange of information on water, food, and energy needs/security, and enhance their capacities to influence the processes of community development and investment planning. The NCSD also hopes to use LIVES methods at the national level, within the Ministry of Environment, and among other ministries in sustainable development planning.


The methods used in LIVES to come up with a decision support system are easy to replicate in other locations within Cambodia as well as in other countries because they are easy to customize to the specific location. CLDs, selection of indicators and the system dynamics models are produced by stakeholders of that location, using their local knowledge and with place-based data. Provincial government officials from another landscape in Cambodia (the Eastern Plains Landscape - EPL) have demonstrated an interest in bringing the LIVES methods to their provinces. They are currently receiving training on CLDs and we are discussing further steps to replicate LIVES in the EPL. In addition, WWF Colombia has requested to replicate the LIVES approach in one of their projects - bringing local actors from the water, energy and food sectors together to assess the short and medium-long term social, economic and environmental benefits of declaring the Bita River Basin a protected river.

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