Learning to manage groundwater data in Thailand

May 19, 2021

A professional cohort of geologists and planners from Thailand’s Department of Groundwater Resources (DGR) has learned new skills for managing groundwater data, through a custom-designed training course led by the US Geological Survey (USGS). 

Thai farmers and poor household in some of the driest parts of the country rely on groundwater for drinking and irrigation, but changing patterns of land use, groundwater withdrawal and climate are all affecting groundwater systems in Thailand and the region. 

 “We had discussed with the department that such a training was needed, in view of Thailand’s water security concerns,” said Dr Pinida Leelapanang Kamphaengthong, program manager at the Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership (SIP), which designed the coordinated the event. 

In planning for the training, Dr Pinida noted that initial discussions between Thailand’s DGR and the SIP program had revealed some gaps in routine data collection practices, quality control and database management. Such gaps limit the possibilities for scientific research into how Thailand can best plan for water security. Groundwater depletion—when the wells run dry—could come as an unwelcome surprise in the future, if the data being collected can’t be used for planning and forecasts. 

Training in cyberspace

Thirty junior to mid-level professionals, 18 of them women, took part in the training. Most were geologists engaged in field-based roles, and a few were policy or planning staff. Twelve were from the department’s regional offices around Thailand.

The five-day training event took place entirely online, in line with COVID-related safety protocols and the current limitations on international travel. Sessions took place in three-hour blocks, with time in between for trainees to complete take-home exercises, in addition to the online lectures and Q&A opportunities.

The training helped participants ensure that the data they collect can be used for scientific research, can be compared across different regions, and is accessible to the department’s own users in central and regional locations. Trainees learned ways to describe and categorize their datasets so that they are useful to others, maintain quality assurance of data, and manage data so that it can be used easily for decision making. 

SIP staff noted that online learning brought its own benefits. Widgets on the Zoom meeting platform allow for holding quick polls, organizing breakout rooms and asking questions via the chat function, a boon for shy participants. Sessions were planned to avoid fatigue, taking place in three-hour blocks over five days on 21, 22, 28 and 30 April, and on 6 May. Video recordings, made available after each session, enabled participants to review and revise what they had learned before their next session of training. 

Training outcomes

Trainees gave positive feedback, saying they had acquired both greater knowledge and confidence in applying data management standards. One immediate outcome from the training event is a decision by Thailand’s DGR to produce a data management manual, as the first step toward achieving consistent internal standards. Participants have proposed that similar training should also be offered regularly to all staff, as part of the effort toward achieving industry best practice across its operations. 

“Through the training, participants have learned about the data ‘lifecycle’ from project planning, data collection in the field, through to data input, analysis, preservation and publication,” said Dr Pinida. “Thus, the benefits can potentially flow beyond borders, as data collected, once shared or published, may be used to better understand the situation in neighboring countries as well.”

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