Article / Policy Innovation, Urban Development
Published: 03.02.2024

‘Khong Nakhon District, a cooperation to improve and promote the creative economy district and learning city’ is a research project aiming to improve the Nakhon Phanom city area based on the history and the cultural capital it holds, along with developing it as an “emerging” economic city. The project starts out with the process of listening to various groups of locals in order to create public policies for Nakhon Phanom city that reflects everyone’s voices and needs. The project aims to work with 25 district municipalities, also known as “Khum”. 

Thailand Policy Lab, along with COLA KKU (College of Local Administration, Khon Kaen University), have discussed and introduced some policy making tools to the Head of the Nakhon Khong District Research Project, Assistant Professor Dr.Kanlaya Mikhama, who is now a Professor at the Faculty of Agriculture and Technology, and Director of the Research and Development Institute Nakhon Phanom University. Her goal is to shape Nakhon Phanom into a learning city for both tourists and locals. The boundary of the research project runs 5-6 km. long along the Khong river until the end of Nong Khai province.

The Beginning of the Khong Nakhon District 

Asst. Prof. Dr. Kanlaya Mikhama’s first intention to conduct the research is not only because of Nakhon Phanom’s unique charm of being the enchanting tranquil city by the Khong river, but the contradicting facts in the studies she had found about the city. She said that the studies show the rapid growth of Nakhon Phanom tourism in recent years with a 132% increase in the number of tourists after to the construction of the landmark of faith, Phaya Si Sattanakharat (Nagas) monument in 2016, the construction of the dam, roads and other facilities which reflected in the increased number of hotels and coffee shops. After the COVID-19 pandemic, Nakhon Phanom is considered to be the fastest province to recover from the pandemic economic collapses, yet one tourist only spend a little amount of money during their stay in Nakhon Phanom (which does not correspond to the spike in tourism and therefore, does not increase locals’ income as expected).

Moreover, the problems in transportation, water management systems, and criminals have also increased despite the growth in tourism. The research team applied for the research funding from the PMUA (Program Management Unit on Area Based Development) and worked with the municipality to identify pain points in Nakhon Phanom and later on develop them into policies. The policies would be based on the cultural assets of Nakhon Phanom used as a “storyline” to develop a learning city with the Khong river area as an experiment ground.

Cultural Capital, Stakeholders in the Nakhon Phanom and the Municipality

In this research project for sustainable policy for Nakhon Phanom, Asst. Prof. Dr. Kanlaya categorised the objectives into three parts in order to ensure that the public policies will be truly created from the bottom up. 

“The first one is to enhance the cultural capital of Nakhon Phanom and promote the city into a learning and economic city. We have studied and collected art, cuisine, architecture, and language ‘capital’ which convey the story and character of Nakhon Phanom. The objective of this research project is to create a learning space for those who visit Nakhon Phanom such as tourists, etc. So, we start identifying where and what kind of activities we should create for tourists if they are to learn about the city. We also focus on how locals from different professions and children, who own these cultural capital, would create a learning process out of them for tourists, how they would preserve this cultural wisdom and, most importantly, how to create more income for locals too.

“The second objective is to develop digital skills to create added value to the local businesses and raise the income for the locals. We have introduced the digital skills to various groups of stakeholders in the area, especially local entrepreneurs such as store, restaurants, and hotel owners, tricycle taxi groups, including the groups recently emerged after the construction of Phaya Si Sattanakharat (Nagas) monument like flower vendors (for worshipping the Nagas monument), etc.

“We have identified and categorised these entrepreneurs into groups to see what digital skills each group needs to communicate their services and who they are for people to get to know Nakhon Phanom more. Once people know who they are, what they do, and have experienced Nakhon Phanom more as a tourist destination, their income would increase and also there could be the emergence of new businesses in the city as well.

“The third one emphasises on the prototype area to create a mechanism for a creative city. We focus on analysing the municipality’s roles in managing the city during regular days and during festivals where there is an influx of tourists and see how it is managed.”

“While we are doing the research, we have found the tricycle taxi groups called Skylab which are considered to be one of the important “representatives who convey the city” as they are the only mode of transportation tourists can rely on when sightseeing. The research team tried to help set the standard fares based on the distance and manage the common locations for getting on and off the tricycle taxis. Even though it is not 100% successful yet, we have received more cordial cooperation from local entrepreneurs.”

Learning Together: Between People and Policy Making Tools

“Inviting TPLab into this project has exposed us to various policy making tools in collecting data from all the stakeholders. We have used the tool called ‘Persona’ with the Skylab tricycle taxi groups to get to know them and their needs better. We also used policymaking tools with high school and university students to see what they think of Nakhon Phanom. For example, to see if they want to stay and work in Nakhon Phanom after graduation or not. We try to find the city’s assets and deficits to see what we need in order to create an inclusive policy for everyone.

“Before the Lai Reur Fai Festival (Illuminated Boat Procession Festival), we teamed up with TPLab to design a questionnaire with the new question design and data collection to see why tourists visit the city, what and how much money they have spent during their visit, and what kind of atmosphere or vibe they expect to see from Nakhon Phanom. When the festival ended, we collected the data from the locals to see what their ‘dream Nakhon Phanom’ looks like, what are their expectations and pride they have for the city to see what would be their first priority if we are to create public policies for them. We found that after the renowned grand festival ended, their primary concern is the waste problem that comes after. The environment is their first priority.

“After working with TPLab, we are more skilled in matching policymaking tools that are appropriate for each group of stakeholders. We learn how to match the tools to the objective of our research.

“The tools we have used are quite flexible. But, it also depends on how clear our objectives are. We have to be clear and precise on our objectives, stakeholders, objectives of conversation with the stakeholders and what we would do with the data we have collected. If we are clear on that, the tools would definitely be used more effectively.”

Asst. Prof. Dr. Kanlaya leaves a final remark that policymaking tools allow two entities, this research project and TPLab, to learn from each other. The research project learns to use alternative tools for data collection that fits the stakeholders, and TPLab gets to try out their tools with Nakhon Phanom. The same process of learning also happens between the research project, the municipality, and also the people of Nakhon Phanom who are now working towards creating Nakhon Phanom, the Learning City and the newly emerging Economic District.

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