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Working at my home office vs working at my campus office

A few weeks back, Ingrid Delavigne on Twitter asked me about my thoughts on working at my home office vis-a-vis working at my campus office.

I don’t know if my followers on Twitter or my readers here know this, but I actually start writing at home early in the morning. I wake up between 4 and 4:30 am and start writing. I’ve had a practice of writing for two hours every day. I do this even if I do not have “generative text” (e.g. “new” text) every single day. I write memos about research, transcribe field notes, interviews, build datasets, etc. I write stuff that will move my research forward.

Home office in Aguascalientes at night

Again, I am well aware that I write from a place of privilege and I acknowledge my arrangements may not work for every single academic out there. I live in a three-bedroom house (which for a single man like me, it is more than enough), and one of these bedrooms has been converted into a home office. This arrangement has one drawback: where I live (in a gated community), internet access is sometimes quite spotty. But having a home office to work has many advantages: I can write in my pyjamas, nobody bothers me because I write too early in the morning, and I can focus on my work.

My policy is as follows: unless I have to be on campus early for meetings or to teach, I arrive to campus AFTER I have completed a task or series of tasks. I do try to spend at least 6-8 hours on campus because I like to be available for my students in case they want to drop by. I have decorated and organized my campus office so nice that spending many hours there is actually enjoyable.

The only time when I don’t follow my rule is when I need to be on campus for Skype/FaceTime meetings. Given that our university’s internet is WAY, WAY faster than my home wireless network, I try to make it to campus super early so that I can get some writing done before my meetings. I also work on campus when I am writing a literature review or preparing a syllabus because it’s easier to download articles when online databases recognize my laptop as being associated with my university network.

Working at my CIDE Region Centro office

Also, I work on campus for the LONGER period of time. That is, I don’t work at home for a longer period of time every day than what I work on campus. This may sound counter-intuitive to those who feel that they are more productive working at home (particularly writing). My logic for this is as follows: I work at home to achieve a goal (getting X number of words or pages written). Spending the entire day at home wrecks my division between home and work, and therefore, enables a bit of workaholism. If, on the contrary, I decide to *only* write at home only for as long as necessary to achieve a certain writing goal, and THEN I move on and continue on campus, I already got my academic writing kick-started.

Regardless of where I work, my strategy is ALWAYS to make my working space my own. I decorate both my home office and my campus office. I make sure to add personal touches (photos of my nieces and nephews, paintings from the cities where I have lived or visited, etc.) Also, as many people may realize, I am a little bit obsessive when it comes to physically organizing my books and journal articles. That’s the only way I can feel at peace and do my work. So, my recommendation is, whether you work at home or at the office, having the best setup is the smartest strategy, and the most conducive to being productive.

Posted in academia, writing.

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Public Policy Analysis (Spring 2016 Syllabus)

As my followers on Twitter will know, it’s rare that I am asked to teach in the Spring. Normally I only teach in the fall (I have a 2-0 teaching load which this year turns into 2-1). But I’m really excited to go back to teaching policy theory rather than area courses. This Spring 2016 I will be teaching Public Policy Analysis. This is an undergraduate-level course (3rd year), but since I have graduate students taking it I will be adding components for those graduate students. Since my objective of increasing representation of female scholars, younger academics and underrepresented minorities is a priority for me, I had to entirely rewrite the course syllabus to make room for those who aren’t normally represented in the literature (syllabi, etc.) This process took the better part of two weeks. But I’m quite proud of how my syllabus worked out.

Here is the course abstract and goals, and the PDF version can be downloaded here.

Public Policy Analysis (Spring 2016)

Instructor: Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega

Course Goal and Prerequisites

The goal of this course is to provide you with both theoretical tools and practical skills to undertake applied policy analysis. While the course is primarily focused at the national level, it is quite likely that we will analyze state-level and local-level policies. At the same time, we will also learn a lot of comparative public policy theory. While it would be nice if you had a robust understanding of the institution of federalism and the Mexican institutional architecture neither of these is a mandatory requirement.

Course Objectives:

The course is designed as a survey of the literature on policy analysis, both from a methodological perspective and a theoretical one. We will also spend a substantial amount of time undertaking comparative cross-national policy analysis. Some of the content of the course will also be focused on policy learning, transfer and lesson drawing. Due to time constraints, the course content is necessarily a broad overview and students must go beyond the assigned readings in order to write their assignments. Using only assigned readings will not lead to a good grade!

The course is designed to provide the student with a broad understanding of the tools and techniques we use to analyze public policies. While the assumption of the course is that previous courses in public policy may have touched on the basic policy cycle theoretical tenets, we will also start from a common, homogeneous foundation bringing everyone to speed with the basic literature.

The course is also intended to help students develop practical skills to describe, analyze and synthesize data regarding, amongst other topics, the political dynamics of urban policy problems, the potential for cross-level and cross-regional collaboration and policy learning, the policy challenges of an aging population, etc. This course is eminently practical and thus I expect you to follow policy developments in Mexico on a daily basis.

As a survey public policy course, I will be touching on several substantive policy areas (namely, urban policy, water policy, climate policy, cultural policy, education policy and security policy) where the national, international and subnational dynamics plays a substantive role.

Posted in academia.

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My 2016 word: FOCUS

If you follow me on Twitter you probably know that I decided not to write anything until I felt physically better. As usual for me, I finished the year 2015 sick. This was actually quite predictable. I accepted an invitation to participate in a “best practices in local government” judgment competition committee which increased my workload four-fold in the space of 2 months. My Mexican passport expired literally a week before I needed to participate in the polycentricity workshop. It was end-of-the-term and I was teaching two courses, plus I’m collaborating with a colleague who asked me to give a seminar in Guadalajara that I hadn’t expected would take all the time that it did. Final projects advising for the Diploma in Government and Public Policy students. Add to that a one-day fieldwork day in Guadalajara (really exhausting as we did 6 interviews in one day), and you can expect the world to start to crumble fast.

Some of my great academic friends on Twitter know all about what to do when the world crumbles. I recommend Steven Shaw’s essay for you to think about what you want to do in 2016 to avoid having a rapid crash-and-burn when tough times happen, which is what happened to me last year and to a lesser grade, this December. Trust me, it wasn’t as bad as 2014. If you read my post on SAS Confidential, you’ll know my 2015 went swimmingly. I had learned my lesson. I was doing perfectly fine through the year. Except, of course, for November and December of 2015, as I just mentioned.

I don’t have any big resolutions for 2016. Heck, I haven’t even written a Year In Review blog post for 2015! So far, I’m riding 2016 as it comes. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a plan. As I discussed on Twitter with Christiana Peppard earlier, I follow Janni Aragon’s model of writing what I want to achieve in the academic year (2015-2016) but I also map what I need to do for the actual calendar year (particularly my writing commitments).

You can read an excellent 2016 resolutions post from Kevin Gannon here. When I read his paragraphs on “be present”, it reminded me of the word I have been looking for as my theme for 2016. Psyc Grrl decided hers would be “don’t know” (and as Will Lowe reminded us, Bayesian thinking says it’s better knowing that you know that you don’t know than not knowing anything at all, and improves your decision-making). It’s ok if you don’t know. In many ways, this year I also don’t know. But there’s one thing I DO know. I need to FOCUS.

I want to thank Kevin, Steve and PsycGrrl for prompting me to write this blog post, particularly because their writing got me thinking and excited to blog about my own 2016. I am healthier now, and had been thinking for a long while about what my 2016 theme would be. This year, the word is FOCUS.


Photo credit: Dani Ihtaho, on Flickr Photo license: CC Attribution-Non-Commercial

I’m going to focus on WHO is important to me (my coauthors, my students, my friends, and a number of colleagues who are ALSO friends, but more importantly, my family and specifically my Mom and Dad). I’m going to focus on WHAT is important to me. I want my scholarship to be read broadly, which means I’m probably going to publish less, but HIGHER and with a BROADER dissemination strategy. I’m going to focus on ME. I decided that it’s ridiculous that I haven’t been able to teach (let alone TAKE) a dance class in 3.5 years. I’m going to at least, TAKE one dance class this year. Also, this will be the year I’m open to at least going on a date. Or a series of dates. Not to find the love of my life, but at least to find someone to see a movie with. And come hell or high water, I’m going to find a volleyball team.

Focusing means also saying no. I already started. I am doing the political science conferences (MPSA, WPSA, CPSA and APSA, as well as ISA), but there are MANY that are in my NO file: sorry geographers, no CAG, no AAG. No sociology ASA, no anthropology AAA nor SfAAA. And in public administration I’m only doing one. I also have refocused my writing commitments to reflect what I NEED to write rather than what I am asked to write. I agreed on chapters for books on this basis. I already have 6 co-authored papers committed, I’m not accepting anything else at the moment. I’m going to honor Every Single One of my Writing Commitments, and even more so, my priorities are my coauthorships. I owe my coauthors the respect of knowing that I appreciate our collaborative work, A LOT.

Focusing means submitting to higher-ranked journals. I took a high-volume, high-speed output strategy these past three years because I needed the numbers (ask me at a conference, in person, what I think of the “publish-and-perish” model that prevails in Mexican academic evaluation schemes). I no longer need the numbers. I want to publish high, but perhaps even more than high, I want to publish broadly. I want more people to read my work in English (and trust me, I am well aware that I had promised I wouldn’t publish in Spanish anymore – yeah, I HAD to do it because I am a professor in a Spanish-speaking country).

Focusing also means doing less of the community-building and promotion efforts that I’ve been doing. That doesn’t mean that I won’t participate in them, or that I will leave behind those that I already do (like #ScholarSunday ever weekend or the #TertuliaCIDE which I love). It means that I won’t be able to attend every movie club night, I won’t be able to take it upon myself to organize many of the social things on campus, I may not be able to come up with more initiatives to promote our degree. I may just need to take it down a notch, and FOCUS.

Focusing also means spending more time with myself. I’m a strange extroverted introvert. I need time with myself, which means also that I may decide not to socialize as much as people would want me to. Surprising to me, my social life is extraordinarily rich. I spend time with my parents, with my friends both in Aguascalientes and Leon, and with my colleagues-who-also-have-become-friends. My best friend from childhood also lives in Aguascalientes, so that means that at least I have ONE social event a week for sure, in addition to other social commitments. But I do so much personal interaction with teaching, collaborating, conferencing, that I need a lot of ME time lately. And given my schedule, it’s hard for me to give myself that time. This 2016, I’m going to focus on ME and MY energy levels and what I need. And obviously not to overwork myself and take care of my health.

Focusing also means giving specific people more of my time and presence. One thing I learned after spending time with my current and former coauthors this 2015 (Oriol Mirosa, Staci Zavattaro, Kate O’Neill, Kate Parizeau, Kathryn Harrison) is that the personal side of coauthorship is fundamental. These are people that I find not only incredibly smart and whose research impresses me and inspires me and pushes my own boundaries and limits, but these are people that I CARE ABOUT. I love spending time with Oriol, with Staci, with both of the Kates, and obviously Kathy has become a friend after being my professor and mentor. Their personalities completely mesh with mine. We have similar outlooks on life and have all faced challenges that we can talk about openly and clearly. And their success is important to me, too. They support my growth and I aim to support theirs. I plan to further strengthen these coauthorship-friendships in 2016.

Focusing also means doing very specific advocacy activities. I am happy to retweet, connect people amongst themselves, etc. But I am NOT joining another organizing committee. I am going to FOCUS on advocating for the following:


Photo credit: Mark Hunter on Flickr, photo license: CC-Attribution.

I hope you will join me for an exciting 2016 where I’ll have to focus. For someone with the personality of a hummingbird it will prove definitely a challenge. But I’m looking forward to it.

Posted in academia.

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“Thinking Polycentrically” Authors’ Workshop at the Ostrom Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis

This week was one of the most intense yet extraordinarily rewarding weeks of the past year. I participated in a week-long (well, 4 days, but you have to include travel to Bloomington too!) polycentricity workshop at the Ostrom Workshop. For many years, the idea of multilevel, nested, non-hierarchical models of governance of natural resources and public service delivery has been on the mind of many scholars, but the Ostrom group (understood as Elinor Ostrom, Vincent Ostrom and their former students and research associates) have done an extraordinary job of bringing the concept back. This year, after the IASC 2015 meeting in Edmonton (where I also presented and organized a polycentricity panel) Andreas Thiel, Bill Blomquist and Dustin Garrick set the foundations for an authors’ workshop to be held in December of 2015. The goal of the workshop was to start building a shared, common conceptual understanding of what polycentricity means, does, achieves and doesn’t achieves, and whether polycentric resource and public service delivery governance models are the “right” ones.

"Thinking Polycentrically" Authors' Workshop

The whole group, which I found very balanced: experienced scholars, up-and-coming rising stars.

Thinking Polycentrically Workshop (Ostrom Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington)I have to admit that I was a little nervous about participating as several participants (Dan Cole, Mike McGinnis, Bill Blomquist, Edella Schlager, Bryan Bruns, Vlad Tarko, Tanya Heikkila just to mention a few) have been working on polycentricity for much longer than I have, and I profoundly respect their work. But as I wrote in my other post, being part of “The Cult” (as we Workshoppers sometimes call ourselves) made the experience an extraordinarily rewarding one. I presented on whether we can look at polycentricity as an emerging property of a system (using Complex Adaptive Systems theory, and exploring cases of Mexican river basin councils). This paper builds on earlier iterations that I presented at IASC 2013, IASC 2015 and WOW5. It is obvious that spending 4 intense days, 8 hours a day basically thinking, reflecting, writing, reading and presenting each other’s work on polycentricity may be daunting and exhausting. But it was very rewarding too.

Thinking Polycentrically Workshop (Ostrom Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington)

Thinking Polycentrically Workshop (Ostrom Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington)

Thinking Polycentrically Workshop (Ostrom Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington)

Thinking Polycentrically Workshop (Ostrom Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington)

Thinking Polycentrically Workshop (Ostrom Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington)

Thinking Polycentrically Workshop (Ostrom Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington)

Thinking Polycentrically Workshop (Ostrom Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington)

Thinking Polycentrically Authors Workshop (Ostrom Workshop)

Thinking Polycentrically Authors Workshop (Ostrom Workshop)

Thinking Polycentrically Authors Workshop (Ostrom Workshop)

Thinking Polycentrically Workshop (Ostrom Workshop)

Thinking Polycentrically Workshop (Ostrom Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington)

There’s a number of lessons I can draw from this workshop, but I think the main one is: always be prepared and willing to listen and learn. What we accomplished in those 4 days is something that will stay with me for decades to come. It was literally a brain-candy-fest. The high level of discussion, the kindness with which feedback was delivered, the willingness to work together (let’s not forget Lin’s last book with Marco Janssen and Amy Potteete was “Working Together”) was astonishing. I literally did not want to come back home.

"Thinking Polycentrically" Authors' Workshop

At the end of the workshop, we were exhausted but very happy for what we achieved

There will be a number of products arising from this workshop (a special issue, one or two books, and several articles by all authors), and I look forward to producing some of these myself, both in coauthorship and on my own. Thanks Andreas for the funding, the invitation, for collaborating with me during the workshop and future products, and for your initiative, and to Nadine for the help with all logistics to run the workshop, Dave, Gail and Patty for all your help with the workshop at the Ostrom Workshop, Dustin and Bill also for inviting me and spearheading this initiative, and every single one of the participants for an enriching experience. Tom, Tanya, Edella, Anas, Dan, Mike, Liz, Maria, everyone, I loved spending this week with you. Looking forward to seeing what 2016 will bring for us in the polycentricity realm!

Posted in academia.

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Elinor Ostrom, Vincent Ostrom and the ethic of kindness and collaboration of the Ostrom Workshop

I spent this week at an authors’ workshop for a book on polycentricity and a special issue of a journal. This workshop was convened by Andreas Thiel, Dustin Garrick and Bill Blomquist, and generously partially funded by a grant that supports Andreas’ work. We were hosted at a familiar space for many of us, the Ostrom Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis at the University of Indiana, in Bloomington.

Thinking Polycentrically Authors Workshop (Ostrom Workshop)
I have been here many a time, the two most recent were in the Spring of 2015 when I was invited to present a paper at the Colloquium Series, and last year for the 5th Workshop on the Ostrom Workshop (WOW5). In March, I presented my research on the application of IAD to the study of river basin councils, especially for sanitation and wastewater governance. Last year, I presented at WOW5 on polycentricity theory and its aplication to Mexican water policy. And of course, I’ve seen my friends who have had a connection with the Ostrom many times in recent years, at the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC 2013 in Fujiyoshida, Japan and IASC 2015 in Edmonton, Canada).

This workshop reminded me of the times when I had conversations with Lin and Vincent. Any feedback they offered was always couched in kind words. I never heard them speak ill of anybody, and their philosophy towards students and junior faculty was always to be generous, positive and to offer many suggestions for improvement. When we were driving after one of the afternoon sessions towards our respective dinner engagements, my friend Liz Baldwin mentioned something that I’ve felt extremely strongly in the past 3-4 years, and that has reignited the fire of my own research. Liz said that the expectation if you are in this field (commons research) or associated with the Ostrom tradition (the Bloomington School, as it’s often called), you are expected to be kind, to be generous, to share information and knowledge broadly and to provide constructive feedback. It’s not only a shared norm, it’s an expectation. Given the way in which the Ostroms defined institutions, through routine engagement, they (and their collaborators, students, staff at the Ostrom Workshop and associated faculty members) created an institution in and of themselves: the Ostrom tradition. An ethics of kindness and collaboration.

I have rarely felt more alive, more energized, more motivated to continue doing the research I do and the work that I do than when I am among those who share the Ostrom tradition. It’s electrifying. It’s reinvigorating. My brain cells were working full-steam ahead. During the polycentricity workshop, I had the opportunity to listen to excellent scholars whose work I respect, share ideas in an open forum, ready to have them challenged but always willing to listen and learn. I had the same positive experience at IASC 2013 in Fujiyoshida and IASC 2015 in Edmonton.

Even more so, being part of the Ostrom tradition sort of makes you into a family, where every time you see each other (given how geographically disperse we all are throughout the world) it’s a joyous occasion. When I came to the Ostrom Workshop in March 2015, I had dinner with Mike McGinnis and Burney Fischer, dinner with Catherine Tucker and breakfast with Eduardo Brondizio, and with Charlotte Hess. Not only are these great scholars whose work I deeply respect, they are also people whom I consider good friends. And even over dinner, lunch and breakfast, they kept giving me great advice not only on my research but also on navigating the academic world. Coming back to Bloomington always feels like coming home. And this powerful emotion that often overcomes me when I am at the Ostrom Workshop is in no small part because of the Ostrom tradition and the ethic of kindness and generosity and collaboration they spearheaded.

Sometimes, fellow scholars talk about those associated with the Ostrom tradition as belonging to “The Cult”. And to be perfectly honest, given that people who are in “The Cult” are kind, generous, and collaborative, I’m happy and honored to be part of The Ostrom Cult.

Posted in academia, research.

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6 Twitter tips for busy academics (based on my own strategy)

Many fellow academics, when they meet me in real life, ask me if I really tweet every single minute of the day (if you follow me on Twitter, you probably have seen me tweet a lot). The reality is… I don’t. I actually tweet a lot less than you think I do. Here’s what I actually do.

Because I’m the creator and weekly shepherd of #ScholarSunday, a lot of people (I believe) follow me for content that they find interesting, in their own disciplines. Since I follow broadly (in political science, public policy, public administration, human geography mainly, but also in anthropology, sociology, engineering) and I read broadly as well, many a time people will see tweets that are NOT in their own discipline or interest area. I’ve come to accept that this is ok. So, I divide my tweets in two sets: content tweets (e.g. stuff that I write about that I think my readers may be interested in) and retweets.

1. I schedule content tweets.

I use a tool called Buffer to schedule tweets (you can also use HootSuite). I usually do this for #ScholarSunday simply because I can’t (and I don’t want to!) be glued to the internet all day long. I also schedule tweets promoting my own blog posts, and #GetYourManuscriptOut.

2. I prioritize @ replies (mentions) and try to respond to all of these.

Because I started using Twitter as a conversational tool, I answer back to everyone (or almost everyone) who tweets me. Given the number of people who follow me often times I miss tweets (which I hope people won’t think is a snub). But I try to make it a priority to respond first and foremost. Conversation is what I find more interesting on Twitter.

3. My second priority is to RT content

Given that I often act as a distributional node (if you’re into network theory, I’m at the center of a pretty large academic social network), I am often asked to retweet stuff for a broader audience, or I find stuff (job opportunities, fellowship opportunities) that I think will benefit my followers. So, that takes the second priority. First, I converse. Second, I retweet.

4. I tweet during “dead times”.

If you see tweets that don’t come from Buffer, it’s likely I’m waiting for the bus, I’m on the bus, I’m waiting in between meetings… I use times that I normally would be doing nothing to tweet/retweet.

5. I accept that I won’t see everything on Twitter, so I delve every so often and without regret.

Given that I’m not often at my desk, I simply open Twitter to see if there’s something interesting. I’ll tweet during a limited period of time, and then I’ll go back to whatever I’m doing.

6. When I am overwhelmed, I go back to my Twitter lists.

If I feel that there’s too much content I simply check my Twitter lists. This allows me to only focus on those people who I have included in those lists. You can create lists particularly to focus on specific scholars/topics.

Hopefully my readers will benefit from these tips!

Posted in academia, social media for teaching.

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World Toilet Day and the global politics of sanitation

World Toilet DayNovember 19th marks World Toilet Day, perhaps the one day that justifies what has been the bulk of my scholarly research for the past 11 years. When you realize that World Toilet Day was founded in 2001 by Jack Sim, from the World Toilet Organization, and that it’s only been in the past three years or so that it has been adopted as a United Nations sanctioned official day (with UN Water as the official agency for WTD), you realize that the politics of global sanitation are much more complex than simply shining a light on the fact that more than a billion people still defecate in the open.

I’ve written before on how toilets are political. Access to toilets has been used to control individuals’ lives (through what Foucault calls biopower, the foundation of his scholarship on biopolitics). Can you imagine? Depriving humans from one of their foremost human rights, the right to relieve themselves and fulfill a bodily function that necessitates privacy and dignity? Ironically, as I demonstrated a couple of weeks ago when I gave a talk on the human right to water from a public policy analysis perspective at the University of Connecticut, the human right to sanitation is conceptually separated from the human right to water. Scholars in the field are keen to discuss how human beings have a right to access enough water for their livelihoods. But when it comes to discussing the human right to sanitation? Almost nowhere to be found.

Dual flushing toiletI’ve also been extremely critical of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in their “oh we’re totally going to change the world”, magic-pixie, fairy-dust, flying-unicorn version. Sanitation is the goal where the least progress has been done. Between 2.4 and 2.5 billion people don’t have access to the dignity of a toilet, and over 1 billion (a number that grew from 936 million) people still defecate in the open. Heck, in downtown Vancouver you can find open defecation because homeless people don’t have access to the dignity of a toilet! So, for me, the politics of sanitation governance are real because the big problems include lack of proper implementation mechanisms and political will to solve the issues.

There’s been a lot written about the behavioral determinants of sanitation adoption, and the potential for community-led total sanitation (CLTS). But I strongly believe that, alongside trying to understand why are toilets adopted or not, we need to create the political and societal conditions for global toilet access first. We need to think and talk about sanitation in the same breath as we do with water access. In some ways, as Joe Turner said, the human right to sanitation is even more important than the human right to water.

I’ve written before about the main topic for this year’s World Toilet Day:

Equality, Dignity and the Link Between Gender-Based Violence and Sanitation” is the theme for this year’s World Toilet Day, which seeks to put a spotlight on the threat of sexual violence that women and girls face due to the loss of privacy as well as the inequalities that are present in usability. Toilets generally remain inadequate for populations with special needs, such as the disabled and elderly, and women and girls requiring facilities to manage menstrual hygiene. With the tagline “WeCantWait”, the Day is an opportunity to inspire action and underscore the urgency needed to end open defecation, especially for the women and girls who are particularly vulnerable.

It worries me that it’s 2015 and we are still not there yet with the sanitation goals. Hopefully World Toilet Day will help galvanize people to make a difference, be it twinning a toilet, donating to a sanitation-focused charity or simply, spreading the word. Because We Can’t Wait.

Posted in academia, research, wastewater.

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On the need for reflection in academic writing

Three weeks ago, I submitted a grant proposal for a project that would require four researchers (me and 3 others) to engage in a water conflicts project. I wrote the grant proposal in basically, three hours. 3 hours where nobody else but me, my colored pens, and my notebook were in the same space (mental, physical in terms of location and in terms of lack of activity). I had both the mental AND the physical space to write the grant proposal (I had finished my meetings and keynote lecturing commitments and I was waiting for my flight back home). I was able to write a new grant proposal, with fresh thoughts, because I had the time for reflection. What bothers me is how a lot of things occupy our time, as busy academics (graduate students and professors) we end up lacking the time and mental space we need for exactly the thing we are supposed to be doing.

#AcWri and reflection and highlighting

It took having to come to University of Connecticut for a few days to give two talks to force me to write a talk on the human right to water from a public policy analysis perspective and preparing Power Point slides for another talk on deep ethnography, transnational activism and vulnerable communities. Both talks will become papers in their own. But it took having to commit to do these activities to really engage with these topics again. It took having to come to a different country (the US) and university (UConn Storrs) for me to dialogue with other bright students and faculty members from other universities to engage deeper in my own work.

#AcWri and reflection and highlighting

The fact that our busy lives force us to do a lot of things fast and hurriedly has made me more keenly aware of the need for time for self-reflection and a defender and promoter of “slow research”. Those 2 hours in the morning when I write, I often write reflections, rather than “generative text”. That is, I give myself the morning hours not only to write papers, but also to write memorandums, reflective notes to myself, etc. Otherwise I will never move forward in my research trajectory. If I don’t MAKE time to take a self-reflective stance and think hard about my next steps in my academic career, I will not be able to progress. I will be spinning my wheels, and that would pretty much derail everything I have been working so hard to achieve in the past three years. I cannot allow for this to happen.

#AcWri and reflection and highlighting

I also have decided to start blogging about my research interwoven with other scholars’ writings (e.g. engaging in an intellectual dialogue across our respective work, see for example my “conversation” with a recent piece by Murdie and Urpelainen). This is a new model for self-reflection for me. I know several people who think that spending as much time as I do engaging with the literature when I prepare my lecture slide deck, or even when I read and highlight papers is in some way a waste of time or an inefficient use of the same. But in my view it is not. Writing memos, highlighting, writing notes on the margin, reading itself and looking at data and creating datasets are all activities that require deep engagement, not superficial browsing.

Therefore, to be perfectly honest, I am really glad in some ways that I travel as much as I do. I take time to read, do some writing, reflect, highlight, etc., while I am travelling. Since I teach twice a day, two days per week, and I spend a lot of time preparing my lectures, any time I can get to reflect on my research needs to be maximized. Again, I just find it ironic. Our profession is all about “think hard, reflect, expand your horizons” and the reality is, we have become paper-churning machines. Whether this is the result of the corporatization of the university or the nature of academic life, I am not going to debate, but what I will continue to do is carve time and protect it for my own self-reflection.

Posted in academia, research, writing.

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The human right to water: A public policy analysis perspective #UConnRight2Water

I promised I would post the crib of my talk at the UNESCO Chair & Institute for Comparative Human Rights, as well as the slides. If you are interested in reading the tweetage coming from the conference, you can do so here too.


I want to take this opportunity to thank the UNESCO Chair & Institute of Comparative Human Rights for inviting me to give a talk at their 16th Annual International Conference here at University of Connecticut. The conference focus, the Human Right to Water, is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and one of the foci of my scholarship for a number of years now. Thank Dr. Bandana Prukayastha for chairing the panel and co-chairing the conference, Dr. Omaara-Otunnu & the organizers, staff and volunteers. Dr. Mark Healey – thank you so much for your generous giving of your time to host me, and Dr. Prakash Kashwan, thanks for your kind feedback and for attending and promoting my talks. Very grateful.

I am honored to be sharing the podium with two scholars and activists whose work I deeply respect, Professor Christiana Peppard and Ms. Candace Ducheneaux. Dr. Peppard’s research on global water ethics and Ms. Ducheneaux’s work on collaborative ecosystem restoration and rainwater harvesting techniques in South Dakota are both profoundly inspiring and I’m humbled and honored to be in their company here. Both of these amazing women work in areas that are often forgotten and their scholarship and activism highlight a commitment to the proper implementation of the human right to water in their respective fields.

My field of study (the global governance of water and sanitation) is also often forgotten, in particular the wastewater and sanitation side. This is regrettable since more than 2.4 billion people lack the dignity of access to a toilet. Yes, that is true. More than 1 in 3 people worldwide lack access to the most basic need a human being can have: relieving themselves from one of their most fundamental physical needs: excreting waste. More than 900 billion people still defecate in the open, and we missed the Millennium Development Goal on sanitation by at least 15 years. Despite having been recognized as one of the most important health discoveries of the century, the toilet is still shunned, and so is the need for access to them. Lack of proper sanitation has a disproportionately large negative effect on women and girls because of the potential for sexual violence against them in their search for private locations to relieve themselves.

Most of my work has concentrated on the human and political dimensions of cooperative and uncooperative resource governance. My work on the human right to water literature has made two arguably bold and controversial but necessary claims. First, that ensuring global access to sanitation facilities is equally if not more important than access to clean water . And second, that bottled water as a global industry represents a threat to the global implementation of the human right to water. For this talk, I have framed my claims in the form of research questions I’ve been tackling, and I have added an additional one:

1) First, why is the human right to water mobilized as a frame of meaning against water privatization (aka public service delivery) and NOT against bottled water?
2) Second, why are we so concerned about how we can implement the human right to water when it’s not even clear governments at all three levels (and citizens) understand what it means in practical terms?
3) And third, why is the human right to water practically separated from the human right to sanitation (for all practical purposes), when we have a complete and closed hydrological cycle?

With regards to the first puzzle, I find it fascinating that Mexican activists have used human right to water as a conceptual and mobilizing frame for anti-privatization campaigns rather than anti-bottled water campaigns. In the last few years, the Mexican federal government has been pushing for privatization of water supply, even attempting to make it part of the new General Water Law proposal. This proposal was obviously quickly shut down, partly because of strong activist pressure, but also because of academics’ involvement in its analysis and subsequent critique. Anti-water privatization activism has been popular in Latin America, as demonstrated by Romano with the Nicaraguan case study (Romano 2012), Mirosa with the Bolivian example (Mirosa 2012), and Pacheco-Vega with the Mexican case (Pacheco-Vega 2015a). For a new research project, I have been following the protests against Nestlé in California in the US and British Columbia in Canada in order to compare strategic mobilizations against bottled water and against water supply privatization in North America. I find that mobilizing against privatized water utilities is conceptually and strategically simpler for activists rather than lobbying against the Goliath of powerful transnational bottling water companies. Strategically, anti-privatization activists face less resource consumption in the case of targeting private water supply than when taking on transnational corporations such as Nestlé and Danone. In my previous research on transnational environmental activism I have found that one of the best strategies to mobilize policy action has been to build transnational and global coalitions that put pressure on domestic governments (Pacheco-Vega 2015b, 2015c). Anti-privatization protests have been able to exert more pressure because of an increased global focus on, for example, the Irish and Detroit cases. There is a shared frame of meaning: all populations, whether rich or poor, have a right to water. But we still haven’t found as much of a homogeneous frame of meaning in the case of bottled water. However, as Sultana and Loftus encourage us when discussing water activism in their edited volume on the human right to water, “we have an obligation to build on such struggles rather than simply using them for our own intellectual debates” (Sultana & Loftus, 2012b, p. 18).

Secondly, it’s interesting that perhaps the challenge that government officials say they face is the domestic implementation of the international norm of human right at the subnational scale . I believe this is a problem that is derived from a lack of understanding of the notion of human right to water as a global norm and as a conceptual framework (Gerlak and Wilder 2012; Gupta, Ahlers, and Ahmed 2011; Hall, Van Koppen, and Van Houweling 2014; Meier et al. 2014; Salman 2014; Schmidt 2012; Sultana and Loftus 2012a). On the regulatory challenge of implementation and building a new regulatory framework for the human right to water, I argue that while in 2007 we could say (and Karen Bakker in fact did) that the legal grounding for the human right to water was shaky, that’s not the case anymore (Bakker 2007). The international norm on the human right to water was effectively implemented in Mexico since February of 2012, just a couple of years after the UN agreement. The Mexican government enshrined the right to water access for all in its Constitution’s article 4 . As Gupta, Ahlers and Ahmed make the case, a human rights approach to designing and implementing human right to water legislation is appropriate, though tey recognize 3 types of bottlenecks (Gupta et al. 2011). In my view, the human right to water can be enforceable IF we have strong enough institutional and regulatory frameworks. As indicated by Olmos Giupponi, the HRW has elements of “justiciability” (Olmos Giupponi 2015). The mere notion of a human right should facilitate implementation and enforcement (both elements key to policy analysts and government officials). Nevertheless, we can’t just desire to implement the HRW as a policy directive but we also need to embed our thinking in a profound water ethic. That is, we need a place-specific, context specific strategy of water governance as posited by Schmidt and Peppard, where adaptive management takes place within a framework of a robust water ethic (Schmidt and Peppard 2014).

And thirdly, I still find it puzzling that much of the human right to water literature uses it as a frame of meaning and action is that it is separated from the human right to sanitation. I am often appalled by the treatment of sanitation in the global water governance discourse. For many, many scholars, activists and policy makers, the sanitation component of the water and sanitation Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) seems always relegated to being “the ugly duckling” in the equation. I find it puzzling that we are so concerned with the very idea of having a right to universal access to water while maintaining very little regard for the bodily functions that require most water (contrary to what many people may think, these are not food production!).

From a policy studies perspective, and to conclude, I would like to offer three concluding remarks.

First off, whereas previous conceptualizations of HRW focused on it as STRATEGY, I side with Mirosa and Harris (2012) in that we need to reconsider HRW as a framework for GOAL ATTAINMENT (Mirosa and Harris 2012). In public policy analysis, we focus and are much more interested in policy outcomes rather than strategic mobilizations. A proper implementation of the HRW will require us to use it as a framework that sets clear objectives for policy-makers and government officials rather than simply an emotionally-charged ideal goal.

Secondly, policy designs that aggressively push for public water supply should also engage with and bring along proposals to ensure global access to toilets, sewerage infrastructure and robust wastewater treatment (Pacheco-Vega 2015d). We can’t just focus on the human right to water, we need to ensure that we discuss the human right to sanitation. 2.4 billion people don’t have access to the dignity of a toilet, more than 950 million people defecate in the open. Think about it. We can’t have a human right to water that is disassociated from a human right to sanitation.

Thirdly, implementing the HRW will necessitate a focus on three simultaneous strategies: remunicipalization of private water service delivery, strengthening of local water utilities and regulation and control of the global bottled water industry across multiple scales. Not only will we need to ensure global access to publicly-supplied water, we will need to also make sure that private consortia are aware of the reasons why remunicipalization is occurring. Perhaps in finding the reasons why municipalities choose to de-privatize water utilities may lead to cooperative approaches to public service delivery (Furlong 2012) (what Furlong calls Alternative Delivery Models).

In closing, I would like to share one last thought that is specifically targeted to our student participants. As I have outlined in my talk, delivering the human right to water in a practical way is a tough challenge for governments and citizens alike, but if there is a reason I am a professor is because I strongly believe in the power of students to change the world. You can be that change. Every time you choose to consume water, remember that each bottle of water brings us one step closer to the global commodification of a human right. Don’t be part of that process. Thank you.


Bakker, Karen. 2007. “The ‘Commons’ Versus the ‘Commodity’: Anti-Privatization and the Human Right to Water in the Global South.” Antipode 39:430–55.

Furlong, Kathryn. 2012. “Good Water Governance without Good Urban Governance? Regulation, Service Delivery Models, and Local Government.” Environment and Planning A 44(11):2721–41. Retrieved January 26, 2014 (

Gerlak, Andrea K., and Margaret Wilder. 2012. “Exploring the Textured Landscape of Water Insecurity and the Human Right to Water.” Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 54(2):4–17.

Gupta, Joyeeta, Rhodante Ahlers, and Lawal Ahmed. 2011. “The Human Right to Water : Moving Towards Consensus in a Fragmented World.” Review of European Community and International Environmental Law 19(3):294–306.

Hall, Ralph P., Barbara Van Koppen, and Emily Van Houweling. 2014. “The Human Right to Water: The Importance of Domestic and Productive Water Rights.” Science and Engineering Ethics 20(4):849–68. Retrieved (

Meier, Benjamin Mason et al. 2014. “Translating the Human Right to Water and Sanitation into Public Policy Reform.” Science and engineering ethics. Retrieved January 23, 2014 (

Mirosa, Oriol. 2012. “The Global Water Regime: Water’s Transformation from Right to Commodity in South Africa and Bolivia.” University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Mirosa, Oriol, and Leila M. Harris. 2012. “Human Right to Water: Contemporary Challenges and Contours of a Global Debate.” Antipode 44(3):932–49.

Olmos Giupponi, Belén. 2015. “Transnational Environmental Law and Grass-Root Initiatives: The Case of the Latin American Water Tribunal.” Transnational Environmental Law 1–30. Retrieved (

Pacheco-Vega, Raul. 2015a. “Agua Embotellada En México: De La Privatización Del Suministro a La Mercantilización de Los Recursos Hídricos.” Espiral: Estudios sobre Estado y Sociedad XXII(63):221–63.

Pacheco-Vega, Raul. 2015b. “Assessing ENGO Influence in North American Environmental Politics: The Double Grid Framework.” Pp. 373–89 in NAFTA and Sustainable Development The History, Experience, and Prospects for Reform, edited by Hoi Kong and Kinvin Wroth. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Pacheco-Vega, Raul. 2015c. “Transnational Environmental Activism in North America: Wielding Soft Power through Knowledge Sharing?” Review of Policy Research 32(1):146–62.

Pacheco-Vega, Raul. 2015d. “Urban Wastewater Governance in Latin America.” Pp. 102–8 in Water and Cities in Latin America: Challenges for Latin America, edited by Ismael Aguilar-Barajas, Jurgen Mahlknecht, Jonathan Kaledin, and Anton Earle. London, UK: Earthscan/Taylor and Francis.

Romano, Sarah T. 2012. “From Protest to Proposal: The Contentious Politics of the Nicaraguan Anti-Water Privatisation Social Movement.” Bulletin of Latin American Research 31(4):499–514. Retrieved (

Salman, Salman M. a. 2014. “The Human Right to Water and Sanitation: Is the Obligation Deliverable?” Water International 39(7):969–82. Retrieved (
Schmidt, Jeremy J. 2012. “Scarce or Insecure? The Right to Water and the Ethics of Global Water Governance.” Pp. 94–109 in The right to water: Politics, governance and social struggles, edited by Farhana Sultana and Alex Loftus. London, UK and New York, USA: Earthscan.

Schmidt, Jeremy J., and Christiana Z. Peppard. 2014. “Water Ethics on a Human-Dominated Planet: Rationality, Context and Values in Global Governance.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water n/a – n/a. Retrieved September 17, 2014 (

Sultana, Farhana, and Alexander J. Loftus, eds. 2012a. The Right to Water: Politics, Governance and Social Struggles. London and New York: Earthscan.

Sultana, Farhana, and Alexander J. Loftus. 2012b. “The Right to Water: Prospects and Possibilities.” Pp. 1–18 in The right to water: Politics, governance and social struggles, edited by Farhana Sultana and Alexander J. Loftus. London and New York: Earthscan.

Posted in academia, policy analysis, research, water governance, water policy, water stress.

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Deep Ethnography, Transnational Social Movements and Vulnerable Populations (Talk at University of Connecticut)

I gave a talk today in the Latin American Studies Seminar Series at the University of Connecticut, hosted by and sponsored by UNESCO Chair and Institute of Comparative Human Rights, El Instituto: Institute of Latina/o, Caribbean, and Latin American Studies, the Department of History and the Department of Political Science. The audience (graduate students and fellow professors from a variety of departments) was very lively and I had really great feedback. Dr. Mark Healey was kind enough to host me and introduce me (with perhaps the best introduction I have ever had in my entire academic career!). Anyway, I promised I would post the slides to my talk, and here they are. I am also including the abstract for the talk.

Ethnographic inquiry (the study of social and political phenomena using qualitative methodologies, especially in-depth observation) has recently come under strong scrutiny given the ethical, methodological and substantive challenges in its recent implementation. Studying survival behavior of extremely vulnerable populations using ethnographic methods presents different issues to the examination of activist strategies of transnational social movements. In this talk, I share my experience studying transnational environmental non-governmental organizations’ mobilization strategies and compare it with my recent analyses of informal waste pickers’ strategic choices across a broad range of Latin American and European countries. In the talk, I address both the substantive issues of undertaking comparative public policy studies across different target populations, and the peculiarities of fieldwork in two very different environments. I draw some preliminary conclusions on what we can learn about ethnographic methodology and how we can address the ethical issues within deep ethnography.

Posted in academia, research methods.

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