"Climate Heroes" study reveals insights into local government actions for inclusive WASH

Community members work together to create a wall from local materials to protect their water source. After 1st workshop of Persona #1 in Dailekh recommended for climate adaptation activities to protect their water source. The photo shows that community members in in Dailekh, Nepal stand on an embarkment and pass stones to one another downhill for a wall to protect their water source.

Climate adaptation in action: Following a workshop in Dailekh, Nepal, as part of the Climate Heroes research project, community members work together to create a wall from local materials to protect their water source (SNV Nepal / Heman Paneru)

An innovative research project, Inspiring Local Government Heroes of Climate Action for Inclusive WASH, has delved into the motivations and barriers faced by local governments in Nepal and Lao PDR in addressing climate change impacts on inclusive water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

Supported by the Australian Government through a Water for Women Innovation and Impact (I&I) grant, the project involved a collaboration between SNV Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) and the University of Technology Sydney – Institute for Sustainable Futures (UTS-ISF) and employed innovative research techniques that have revealed valuable climate action insights to lay the groundwork for future efforts. The findings highlight the need for tailored approaches that align with the specific country contexts of Nepal and Lao PDR.

Q-methodology, a powerful tool in psychology, was effectively utilised to understand the varying perceptions of climate risks for inclusive WASH in Nepal and Lao PDR. The results exhibited stark differences between the two countries, emphasising the need for context-specific approaches.

Q-methodology is a simple research approach that explores people’s opinions, viewpoints, sentiments, beliefs, attitudes, motivations, and goals related to a particular topic. It is based on a well-established premise from the field of psychology that groups of people tend to form shared sets of opinions on complex topics and provides a systematic way to study these subjective viewpoints.


In Nepal, the study uncovered high levels of interest and motivation among local government officials to tackle climate change. However, it also revealed a limited sense of mandate and low awareness of gender equality, disability and social inclusion (GEDSI) issues. To address these barriers, the Climate Heroes project aimed to leverage the government's motivation and engage community members.

“Local partners typically focus on disasters, but this project was useful for getting them to talk about climate change. The impacts of climate change and risks of climate change. Government is now more comfortable to talk about climate change.”

- Ratan Buddhathoki, SNV Nepal 

A participant shares her learnings in the final workshop in Sarlahi, Nepal.

On the other hand, in Lao PDR, the study exposed a prevailing feeling of disempowerment among local government officials to address climate impacts on WASH. Many officials viewed it as a distant problem, overshadowed by immediate challenges.

SNV and UTS-ISF are utilising these insights to enhance officials’ confidence and awareness by integrating climate risks into government Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) programs, and working to build local government capacity in the extension phase of SNV’s Water for Women projects in Nepal and Lao PDR.

A notable challenge identified by the study is the turnover of staff within local governments, which leads to loss of institutional memory from previous trainings. Overcoming this obstacle requires long-term engagement with governments on climate and inclusive WASH topics. In resource-limited environments like Lao PDR, addressing the additional layer of complexity introduced by climate change poses a significant challenge. However, the project has shown that incremental victories can be achieved.

In Nepal, the focus is now on establishing a sense of mandate and responsibility within the government, raising awareness on GEDSI issues, and supporting the implementation of climate resilience activities. In Lao PDR, efforts are being directed toward generating motivation, interest, and building confidence in local government staff.

Local government participants present the chain of impacts that various climate events have on the community at a workshop in Savannakhet, Lao PDR.

“Our project tried to mainstream GEDSI. We did the Power Walk game and training of authorities about climate change. After we piloted the climate change integration into  CLTS, through the community mapping and impact diagram, I realised this is crucial for addressing GEDSI. These approaches can help the community members see who is the most marginalised people in their community.”

- Outhikone Souphone, SNV Lao PDR

Broader WASH sector contributions

The Climate Heroes project builds on SNV’s Beyond the Finish Line projects in Nepal and Lao PDR, with learnings now informing the extension phase of these projects, which focus on building climate-resilient, inclusive WASH. The study aimed to inspire local governments to translate awareness into action, recognising that the impacts of climate change are already occurring. For local governments, these impacts can sometimes seem disconnected, intangible, or overwhelming. The objectives included implementing innovative techniques to understand local government motivators and constraints, identifying motivated local government authorities as "climate heroes," and providing training and capacity building to address climate change impacts on inclusive WASH.

The Q-methodology employed in this study represents a significant contribution to the WASH sector. Its application in exploring government perceptions of climate impacts on inclusive WASH can be replicated in other countries at low-cost and with little modification. The methodology also has the potential to explore subjective perceptions related to GEDSI or other dimensions of climate change.

Another key learning from the project is that supporting local governments to be more climate-resilient requires long-term, ongoing engagement. Climate change is a new and confronting issue for many local governments and it will take time for them to grasp its complexities. SNV and UTS-ISF are committed to providing long-term support to governments on climate resilience and inclusion and strengthening the capacity of the WASH sector to do the same.

Other learning and knowledge from the project:



Above right: A participant shares her learnings in the final workshop in Sarlahi, Nepal (SNV Nepal / Heman Paneru)

Above left: Local government participants present the chain of impacts that various climate events have on the community at a workshop in Savannakhet, Lao PDR (UTS-ISF / Avni Kumar) 

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