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Upcoming talk: AAG 2015 – Citizen Participation in Water Governance as a Fetish? Explaining Mexico’s Integrated Water Resource Management Implementation Failure

I’m in Chicago right now for the 2015 meeting of the Association of American Geographers (can they please change it to American Association of Geographers already?!), and I’m loving it. While I’m a dual major in political science and human geography, most of the conferences I attend are usually public policy, political science or area studies (e.g. common pool resources, water, etc.). So I’m very glad I attended. It’s a new challenge to speak human geography while maintaining my political science background. I am also keen to see how a geography audience responds to my work, given that I usually bring up the spatial and locational dimension to political science and public policy groups. In this case, I’ve been bringing up the politics of spatial analysis to the geographical audience. This is an interesting and important challenge for me. I don’t want to just “rest in my laurels”. I want to be continuously challenged.

This conference is providing me with this opportunity and with the chance to meet up with geographers I’ve corresponded with on Twitter. AAG has been great even though I’m technically on holidays, and even though the panel sessions (Fetishes of Water Governance I and Fetishes of Water Governance II) I organized with Jeremy Schmidt and Oriol Mirosa are all the way on the Saturday afternoon.

river flow

My paper title and abstract follow.

Citizen Participation in Water Governance as a Fetish? Explaining Mexico’s Integrated Water Resource Management Implementation Failure
Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD
Assistant Professor, Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas (CIDE)

Scholarship both in the social and natural sciences on integrated water resource management (IWRM) has settled more-or-less on managing through river basins/watersheds and using the river basin council as a model for effective/efficient water governance. While this paradigm has become quite popular in the literature, and several case studies of IWRM implementation in Mexico have been documented, no cohesive analytical effort has been undertaken (to the best of our understanding) to explore and analyze the characteristics under which the river basin council model does not operate well, and when it does. This paper sheds light on our understanding of the river basin model and interrogates whether governance by river basin councils and citizen participation are fetishes of water governance instead of effective institutional reforms. The paper aims to offer a balanced view, showcasing case studies of successful implementation of the river basin model, as well as cases where the model has failed. In particular, the paper explores the case of Mexican water policy as one where implementing IWRM has been less than successful.

Keywords: water governance, fetishes, integrated water resource management, governance by river basin councils, geographies of water

I’m here until Sunday if anybody wants to discuss my work on water governance or my work on informal waste recycling.

Posted in academia, research, water policy.

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My #AcWri strategies: Fill up paragraphs, one idea per paragraph

Sometimes I get random emails asking me “but, how do you do what you do?“. Most of these emails refer to my academic writing strategies. I’ve written about what I do to get my writing unstuck, what I do if I feel like I need to kickstart a writing session, and how I am disciplined about writing two hours every day and even how to procrastinate productively as an academic.

Although I should be very clear that my writing 2 hours every day often times means 4 blocks of 30 minutes, because it’s hard to find time to write for 2 hours every day. Even with how challenging it is to find time to write (and yes, I have two research assistants and a 0-2 teaching load, so I know my privilege), I do believe in the “even 15 minutes help” rule (see Jo Van Every’s challenge).

My CIDE office

I’ve decided to start a series (also, to force me to find time to blog!) on how I write. My process is complex, as I often read up a lot, and then continue reading as I go. I also collect data and continue the process as I write up the paper. So, my process isn’t perfect (none of them are!).

The first strategy I thought I’d share is that I don’t focus as much on pages written, but in seeing paragraphs filled. More specifically, I write out an outline of what I want to say, and I map out broadly the main message of each particular section of the paper. I write a few “beginning sentences” that help me create a thread that allows me to craft the full paper. For example, if I am writing about “governance”, I usually start by defining what governance is, then what the main characteristics of governance are, then the main criticisms of using governance, and then my own specific definition. This creates four sub-sections of the paper.

My academic writing #AcWri process

Then I write (in the example I am using here) a few sentences that will in turn become paragraphs. I write a brief sentence related to what governance means to Author X, then what it means for Author Y. Then I know that if I want, I can write an entire paragraph comparing both authors, and then I can bring a third author either in that paragraph, or as a contrasting sentence that opens the next paragraphs.

My #AcWri #GetYourManuscriptOut process

I find that if I focus on adding more sentences to a paragraph rather than worrying about how many pages I need to write per day, I feel much less stress about what I need to complete, and I feel much more accomplished. And you can easily write a paragraph in 15 minutes intervals, a sentence at a time. For some excellent writing advice on writing paragraphs, I’d recommend Patrick J. Dunleavy and his Write 4 Research website.

Posted in academia, writing.

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Teaching public policy theories and analysis in continuing education courses

Following up from my previous post on what do you use to teach institutional analysis and public policy theories when faced with a different set of students (in this case, continuing education learners), I just wanted to add a couple of notes here. First, that I find this kind of teaching challenging as it often makes me wonder whether I am being clear on concepts that aren’t easy to grasp. One of the biggest challenges is to teach the concept of institutions, which are invisible and thus become a nebulous idea, and how organizations aren’t institutions. This conceptual confusion is frequent and has led to more than one student looking at me quizzically asking “uh… federalism as an institution?”

Diplomado Alta Direccion y Gerencia Publica 2014 CIDE Region Centro

This is an important issue and one that we don’t seem to be discussing enough. I Google’d “teaching public policy theories in continuing education” and I got ZERO results. You would think this would be discussed in a journal like the Journal of Political Science Education, or the Journal of Public Affairs Education.

Normally, I would teach Public Policy Theory using anything from Mike Howlett (like the Howlett and Ramesh classic), or Peter John’s book on public policy, or Paul Cairney’s. Right now I’m inclined to use (and I’ve already successfully used) Tanya Heikkila and Paul Cairney’s book chapter in the recent Weible and Sabatier (Theories of the Policy Process). But I wonder if there’s something much simpler for continuing education students.

I’d appreciate any and all suggestions!

Posted in academia, teaching.

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International Women’s Day 2015: Water, gender, sanitation and uncomfortable truths

March 8th is International Women’s Day. I’ve written before about how gender is a dimension that is often mentioned in water governance scholarship, but I don’t believe it has been given enough emphasis throughout the many decades of research on the social sciences of water. I’ve also written about the fact that we have not yet engaged in a holistic conversation on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and the disproportionate negative impacts of lack of sanitation facilities can have on women, including violence. We can’t deny the link between functioning toilets and a lack of justice. And having no functioning toilets are a form of injustice towards women.

I am genuinely shocked that it’s 2015 and I still get snarky comments from a number of male scholars (and, surprisingly, even a number of female ones!) about how “not everything is about gender“. My own research can’t evade the gender dimension. I study cooperative behavior for resource cooperation, particularly water. I also study sanitation and access to toilets. If you think about the fact that “on average women and children travel 10-15 kilometers per day collecting water and carrying up to 20 kilos or 15 litres per trip“, you’ll realize why gender matters to me and why it is always a dimension of my research. Women bear the brunt of a region’s lack of sanitation facilities.

Somo Samo village well

Photo credit: World Bank Photo Collection on Flickr

I study informal waste recycling, as well. You’d probably be surprised about the large numbers of women who engage in scavenging. According to a WIEGO report, women also tend to make less money from refuse picking, sorting and selling than men. Thus gender matters to me and has an impact on my research, yet again.


Photo credit: Basel Action Network on Flickr

Moreover, I co-author with many female scholars (colleagues, and my own graduate and undergraduate students), and I have been mentored by excellent women. So, yes, to me, it IS all about gender. It will continue to be until we are able to achieve equality and erase structural barriers for the progress of women.

Posted in water governance, water policy.

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Admitting failure in academia (and learning from it)

As I’ve written before, the more experience I gain in my academic work, the more I realize I’m still learning. Even though I’ve reshaped my research trajectory through time, every time I publish (or I have a rejected manuscript), I learn something about my research, about where my work is taking me, and so on.

Crossroads: Success or Failure

Credit: Stockmonkeys

The truth is that in the past few weeks, I’ve sometimes been assaulted by impostor syndrome. In particular because the first two things I did right after coming back from two months of absolute illness (that kept me mostly bed-ridden) were to give talks at prestigious universities (Carnegie Mellon University, twice and Concordia University, once), have research meetings (University of Pittsburgh, twice) AND participate in the International Studies Association 2015 Conference. I have felt inadequate more than once, despite having received nothing but stellar feedback.

This frustrates me because I realize that I am a big proponent of redefining success in academia. I should feel happy that I was able to successfully give talks in prestigious universities and conferences and receive positive feedback on where my research is taking me, and what I’m studying. I should be able to just simply enjoy successfully having presented a paper at an international conference despite having been bedridden less than a month before. And yet, here I was, in New Orleans, surrounded by many of the smartest people in the international relations/international studies/comparative politics fields, still wondering “Am I good enough to be here?

The irony is that when I shared my feelings of inadequacy with many senior scholars whose work I respect and who have published way more than I have, was that their unanimous response was “yes, I have failed too – I have had manuscripts, grant proposals, conference abstracts rejected. We ALL feel inadequate at some point“. The larger lesson was “inevitably, since nobody is perfect, you will fail at some point, and what you do afterwards is what will mark your pathway“.

And THAT was perhaps the best lesson I could learn in early 2015, as I move forward this year. That as long as I continue to do research that pushes my intellectual and analytical boundaries, as long as I’m determined to continue working towards my goals, even in the face of defeat, I’ll be ok.

Dealing with rejection is hard, particularly in the face of a couple of very successful years (I published more journal articles and book chapters in the past 12 months than I have in a long period of time, and I have a lot of publications forthcoming). I recently got two proposals for the American Political Science Association (APSA) conference rejected, and their rejection stung. But then again, I learned that many of my good friends ALSO got rejected, and having organized conferences myself, I know program chairs have a really hard time choosing panels and allocating spaces in the face of a myriad fantastic proposals.

Success - P'tit Bazar 2007 (02)

Photo credit: Alter1fo on Flickr

I think that I need to keep reminding myself (for my benefit and that of my own students) that failure and rejection are part of academic life (and of life, in general). That as long as I continue to strive for balance and I continue to champion a more human, kinder, gentler academia, and as long as I continue working hard, publishing, mentoring students and doing my job to the best of my ability while making sure to NOT overwork myself, I will be ok (and so will they).

Posted in academia.

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Teaching institutional analysis in continuing education public policy courses

This year, I’ve been teaching public policy analysis in continuing education (diploma) courses at CIDE. This is a nice (and refreshing) change from undergraduate and graduate teaching because it forces me to design simpler ways to teach people who already have their degrees and who need “just an upgrading/refresh crash course”. It is, however, a big challenge because it also forces me to find readings that will be simple and readable enough for the participants.

Call it personal bias, but I usually teach public policy theories and public policy analysis with work by Tanya Heikkila, Chris Weible, Paul Cairney, Michael Howlett, Kathryn Harrison, etc. This is quite normal, given that my PhD training in political science and public policy was in Canada, and thus I’m very familiar with the US, English and Canadian literatures. I’m slowly getting myself more acquainted with the Mexican literature, as well.

For my lecture on institutional analysis I relied on Cairney’s book chapter from his book “Understanding Public Policy: Theories and Issues“. I also relied on my colleague Mauricio Merino Huerta’s paper on the importance of routines, and on a table I created based on the Hall and Taylor 1996 classic on political science and the 3 varieties of neoinstitutionalisms.

Handout for 3 Institutionalisms

I found Paul Cairney’s summaries of theories in 1000 words extremely useful, and I strongly recommend it for teaching purposes.

Posted in academia, teaching.

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Upcoming talk: Ostrom Workshop Colloquium Series (Indiana University, Bloomington)

As many of my readers know, I have a very strong connection to the late Elinor Ostrom and Vincent Ostrom. My research has been strongly influenced by their scholarship, and their mentorship.

Ostrom research

The 5th Workshop on the Ostrom Workshop #WOW5OstromThus, it is a pleasure for me to come back to Bloomington to Indiana University’s Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis (I presented last year at the 5th Workshop on the Ostrom Workshop, WOW5). I will be presenting my paper River Basin Councils as Action Arenas: Analyzing Rules and Norms in the Lerma-Chapala River Basin Council Using the IAD Framework on March 23rd as part of the Colloquium Series. My talk will be broadcast live here. The abstract for my paper is shown below:

This paper uses Elinor Ostrom and collaborator’s Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework and applies its insights to an underresearched area in the water field: sanitation policy. Water governance in Mexico has been paradigmatically driven by an internationally praised concept: integrated water resources management (IWRM). This paradigm suggests that water should be governed through multistakeholder roundtables called river basin councils. This paper uses empirical data from a cross-regional analysis of wastewater policies in five Mexican states whose territory is embedded within the Lerma-Chapala watershed to shed light on the complex network of cross-jurisdictional linkages and policy interactions around wastewater governance. To explain how policy decisions within river basins are made, I conducted an institutional ethnographic study of rules, norms and interactions within the river basin council, exploring the emergence of formal and informal governance rules. I use the Lerma-Chapala river basin council in Mexico as a case study to explain how norms, rules and interactions shape wastewater governance. The paper illuminates the complexities inherent to the politics of wastewater management in diverse urban habitats and provides fertile ground and a foundation for future research on the limitations of the river basin council model for water and wastewater governance.

Raul Pacheco-Vega outside Ostrom Workshop
If you’re in Bloomington, I’d love to see you there. Otherwise you can just check the livestream.

Posted in academia, policy analysis, public policy theories.

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Why I don’t plan to publish in Spanish anymore (in 2015 and beyond)

When I wrote my post on why I believe it is important that we take holidays and weekends off, and how overwork really tired me, I mentioned 5 goals I had for this year. Among these, I mentioned how I wasn’t planning to publish book chapters, and write in Spanish. A few Mexican colleagues of mine have raised their eyebrows and wondered why I was planning to do this. Their argument (very valid) is that by publishing only in English, my writing benefits a smaller portion of the Mexican population (given that Mexico’s language is Spanish).


I understand my colleagues’ argument and agree with it to a certain extent. I teach students (at the undergraduate and graduate level) whose command of English may not be perfect, and I would probably want to publish key pieces for them to read in Spanish. I live in a country where the main language is Spanish, where the literacy in English may be reduced. I want to have policy impact in Mexico, and it is quite likely that legislators, senators, government officials will only read Spanish. But there’s also the other side of the coin, and one that I’ve been thinking about for a very long time.

The reason why I decided to stop writing and publishing in Spanish has to do both with the perception that the only language in which I publish is Spanish, and the reduced readership (as English is, whether we like it or not, the lingua franca of academic publishing). Another colleague told me last year “but … you’ve ONLY published in Spanish” (this isn’t true, as I’ve published a lot of pieces in English). I have to admit that hearing this really stung me (particularly for the implication that publishing in Spanish would somehow be easier). But, once I overcame the sting of being told I didn’t have enough publications in English, I realized that I want my work to have GLOBAL impact. I want my scholarship to have international influence. I want my work to be widely cited. And yes, if you look at my Google Scholar Citations profile, my pieces in Spanish have been more widely cited than my articles and book chapters in English. But I have to admit, I do think that in due time, my English-language publications will be more cited.

Working and filing journal articles

For better or worse, English is the main language of academia nowadays. I think publishing at least one or two pieces in Spanish makes sense for a foreign scholar who studies Latin American countries, or a scholar whose first language isn’t Spanish (even if they’re based in Latin America). It legitimizes their scholarship as “being in the know” (given that they are able to publish scholarship in the language of the countries they study).

But in my case, I’m 100% bilingual (Spanish and English), and quite frankly, I have made the decision that I prefer to have international recognition and have my work be more global rather than just seeking policy impact in Mexico. Given that the vast majority of academics worldwide will read English and not Spanish (unless they study Latin America), the probabilities of me getting cited would probably increase if I publish more in English. This is completely a gamble, as I don’t actually know if this exercise will be deleterious or not.

But I want to take the risk. I want to see if I can increase my citation counts by publishing more in English than I do in Spanish. I have a few pieces forthcoming that are in Spanish (in press, particularly), and I already had committed to two additional pieces in Spanish (and a book). But my writing in 2015 will be entirely in English.

Posted in academia, writing.

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Joe Turner’s Q&A with Leo Heller (UN Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation)

It’s rare to find a science journalist who will be passionate about sanitation, so when I came across Joe Turner and his work covering sanitation and soil science, I was fascinated. We struck a wonderful conversation about whether sanitation is “safe” and whether naming it a human right would ever change things and improve access. From there, Joe mentioned he had done a Question and Answer interview with Leo Heller, the current UN Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, succeeding Catarina de Albuquerque).

Below the entire text of the Q&A, courtesy of (and authored by) Joe Turner. Thanks for letting me publish it on my blog, Joe! I find Heller’s responses extremely insightful.

Leo Heller Q&A

Question: what does it mean to describe access to safe water and sanitation as a human right?

Heller: The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation establish a legal framework, which clearly defines rights and obligations, in order to promote pro-poor and non-discriminatory provision and to avoid retrogressions in the level of access. They decisively have the potential of contributing to the empowerment of individuals by transforming them from passive recipients to active agents of change.

Question: does this mean that there should be universal access to high quality water-based sanitation everywhere in the world?

Heller: Water and sanitation are integrally related and equally important for a life of health and dignity. Lack of safe sanitation is a major cause of contamination of water sources. Without safe and environmentally adequate sanitation, safe drinking water can be seriously jeopardized. On the other hand, sanitation are not necessarily “water-borne sanitation” especially in rural areas.

Question: Do you see the right to water and the right to sanitation as conflicting things?

Heller: In my opinion, the human right to water and the human right to sanitation could be recognized as two distinct and interlinked human rights, derived from the right to an adequate standard of living. The recognition of the specific right to sanitation would contribute to the perception of the need of specific efforts for its universal access. Moreover, would eliminate the idea of this dimension of the right as the “poor cousin” of the water dimension.

Question: On that point, should there not be a Special Rapporteur for sanitation?

Answer: Improving sanitation may require a different type of interventions with a strong focus on creating or reinforcing demand for sanitation, hygiene education and behaviour change. However, in most urban areas, served by sewerage systems, the provider and the regulator of both the services are usually the same and the tariff structure considers water and sanitation together. Those interlinkages justify having only one Special Rapporteur, avoiding to fragment this traditionally holistic approach.

Question: How will you promote sanitation in your appointment?

Heller: There is now a good momentum to prioritize sanitation in discussions on the post-2015 development agenda because a target on sanitation is one of the most off-track targets under the UN Millennium Development Goals. I will certainly promote access to sanitation on an equal footing with access to water, and accord it more significance in the dialogue with State parties. Adequate solutions for sanitation may vary depending on people’s needs, locations, human and financial resources among other considerations. “Improved sanitation”, as considered in the MDG [Millennium Development Goal] statistics, does not necessarily meet the requirements of the right to sanitation and can increase the gap between Northern and Southern countries regarding the level of access. The right to sanitation entitles everyone, without discrimination, to have physical and affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, that is safe, hygienic, secure, socially and culturally acceptable and that provides privacy and ensures dignity.

Joe Turner is a science journalist with particular interests in soil science and sanitation. You can read more of his work on his site. You can also follow him on Twitter as @bucksci.

RPV’s commentary – I have to say that I find it interesting that Leo Heller doesn’t seem to think we need a special Rapporteur for the Human Right to Sanitation. Given my years of working in this field and studying the governance of sanitation, I have found myself frustrated with the lack of interest in what happens with water AFTER it has been used. Wastewater is (apparently, to this day) still an after-thought. I am very glad, however, that it seems to be gaining (slowly) more recognition as an important issue.

Posted in academia, sanitation.

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On self-care, balance and overwork in academia

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you may know that I ended this 2014 extremely sick. I was under an impossible amount of pressure (finishing two project reports, my Mom was in the hospital undergoing cardiovascular surgery, and I also had a negative reaction to the flu shot). Overall, these conditions combined leading to me being sick for two weeks. As in, my physician told me “you need to rest or you’re going to die”. Those are not the words you want your physician to tell you, at any point in time.

Sunset while on the BC Ferries to Vancouver

I understand why I ended up this broken. We have 3 holiday periods at CIDE: April (3 weeks), July (3 weeks), and December (2 weeks). I didn’t take any holidays last December, nor this April, nor in July. Not even statutory holidays and long weekends. Which means I was on 24/7, 365 days. No human being is capable of sustaining this amount of pressure for an extended period of time.

Sunset in Parksville (The Beach Club Resort, Parksville BC)

Yes, I do schedule self-care every day (I go out with my friends, with my parents, I schedule naps). But even daily self-care isn’t enough in academic life. Because it’s not a job that is 9 am to 5pm, as most jobs would be. In academic life, you are on 24/7. Your brain is always thinking about your research (at least, mine is).

This amount of pressure isn’t something my institution brought on to myself. Much to the contrary, all senior faculty at CIDE insisted “you need to slow down” in late 2013. And to be perfectly honest, I *thought* I had slowed down. I was learning to say “no” to requests, I said NO to many conference calls, and invitations to participate in academic seminars, etc. BUT (and here is the big BUT), all the planning I did ended up being screwed because there were things I didn’t foresee (like my parents’ poor health, which is something you can’t schedule or plan around).

So what am I going to do in 2015, with all this learning I just gained?

1) I’m not going to answer work-related emails on weekends.

2) I’m going to take weekends, statutory holidays and holiday periods. All of them.

3) I’m going to erase any commitment that doesn’t bring me forward in my career. This means book chapters, Spanish language publications and edited volumes.

4) I’m going to make my commitment to my own health and well-being public with my institution (which I have to admit, is incredibly supportive and human), with my colleagues (who are simply amazing and understanding and caring) and with my own students (who are fantastic), and with my international colleagues (who are outstanding scholars who understand the need for self-care).

5) I’m going to go home for the holidays. I miss Vancouver and Canada like crazy and this is the first year since I left Canada I haven’t been back to Vancouver. I did go to Toronto, but I miss my own home and my friends. So next year, a visit to Vancouver WILL be in the cards.

Sunset in English Bay (Vancouver, West End)

I have ZERO fear about how much I need to publish. I have 5 journal articles in press for 2015, 2 English-language, peer-reviewed book chapters, and I’m working on another book and a special issue. That’s more than enough. I am not putting myself through the wringer again. As I said, if I am to be a role model, I want to be the academic who can prove that you can be human AND publish AND mentor great students.

But first, I need to be healthy again. And the only way this is going to happen is if I take holidays seriously, rest and rejuvenate. I encourage my readers to do the same.

No academic accolades are worth your health and your life.

Posted in academia.

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