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My experience at the 2016 Public Management Research Conference (Aarhus, Denmark) #PMRC2016

I am a political scientist and a human geographer who studies comparative public policy and has an academic home in a department of public administration. This degree of interdisciplinarity makes me feel, to be perfectly honest, a bit like the illegitimate child in my division. I do know the literature in public administration and public management. I took comprehensive exams in public policy, PA and PM. I am quite comfortable teaching public administration. I just don’t precisely WRITE about public administration and public management, and have eschewed (so far) publishing in PA/PM journals.

But that bit of self-loathing and fear of being branded “you’re not a public administration scholar” ended this month, with two participations in what turned out to be one of my favourite academic conferences: the 2016 Public Management Research Conference PRMC2016 (the conference of the Public Management Research Association), superbly hosted by the Department of Political Science at Aarhus Universitaet in Aarhus, Denmark. You can read tweetage from the conference below (the hashtag was #PMRC2016)


For me, PMRC 2016 became many things:

  • An opportunity to meet with some of the world’s top public management and public administration scholars to share ideas and see where the field was going.
  • A chance to present some of my work on field experiments in social norm activation and reduction in bottled water consumption.
  • A space to discuss openly the challenges and opportunities to publish in the PA/PM field, and to share my experiences not only in writing scholarly output but also as an associate editor of a journal.
  • The perfect venue to meet many great scholars whom I’d talk to before on Twitter.
  • A possibility to spend time with fellow academics in a more social environment (like travelling to Sweden with Dr. Staci Zavattaro and Dr. Kelly Leroux), and to see my friend, Dr. Derek Beach (yes, Derek Beach of process tracing and causal case studies’ fame), as he is a faculty member at Aarhus Universitaet.
  • A triggering event for a shift in the way I approach public management and public administration scholarship. My work DOES fit these journals and I am looking forward to reshaping some of my scholarship to fit this audience.
  • The opportunity to commit to be a more active member of the Public Management Research Association (led by Dr. Don Moynihan) and to contribute to the journals we publish in (IPMJ, JPART, PAR, Governance, etc.)
  • A space for reflection for my future research agenda as I move now towards tenure.

I gave two talks. First, I presented on a research design for field experiments targeted at reducing bottled water consumption (at a workshop on Experiments in Public Management, led by Oliver James, Sebastian Jilke and Gregg Van Ryzin). Then, I presented at a panel on getting your scholarship in PA/PM read and cited (you can find my slide deck here). I have to say, the PA/PM community I met at PMRC 2016 was incredibly welcoming and I look forward to continuing my participation in future PMRC conferences.

There were a number of positive things I saw at PMRC 2016: a lot more gender balance in panels, a very solid combination of young scholars and established ones, everyone was provided very kind feedback (in fact, I remember hearing something to the extent of “remember that this is preliminary work, so please be kind in your comments and feedback“). I believe that if you set the tone of the conference as privileging comments that are nicer, you will get that (Paul Pierson and path dependence and institutional stability and all, right?).

Some photos of the conference can be found below, and on my Flickr photo set.

Public Management Research Conference 2016 (Aarhus, Denmark)

Public Management Research Conference 2016 (Aarhus, Denmark)

Public Management Research Conference 2016 (Aarhus, Denmark)

Public Management Research Conference 2016 (Aarhus, Denmark)

Public Management Research Conference 2016 (Aarhus, Denmark)

Public Management Research Conference 2016 (Aarhus, Denmark)

Public Management Research Conference 2016 (Aarhus, Denmark)

My colleague Dr. Mauricio Dussauge participated in a round table on whether PA/PM scholarship was neglecting The State (as per Theda Skocpol et al).

Public Management Research Conference 2016 (Aarhus, Denmark)

Overall, an amazing experience. I am still missing a few photos that I downloaded on to my other laptop and need to be uploaded, so stay tuned for an update on the Flickr photo set.

Posted in academia, conferences.

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Policy transfer across cities and countries: Sustainable transportation policy in Copenhagen (Denmark) and Aguascalientes (Mexico) through a comparative lens

As I write this blog post, I’m on the plane from Paris (France) to Mexico City (Mexico). I just spent a week in Denmark and Sweden, and had a chance to visit four cities in two countries (Malmö and Lund in Sweden, and Aarhus and Copenhagen in Denmark). What impressed me the most of all four cities (but especially Copenhagen and Aarhus)

Reflecting while on the flight back on the different approaches to building cities, it struck me that Copenhagen and Aarhus are built for exactly the kind of sustainable, less-fossil-fuel dependent transportation that is required in a world where we need to put a stop to our carbon emissions if we are to reach the Holy Grail of reducing global warming to a mere 1.5 degrees Centigrade per year. The way Copenhagen and Aarhus are built, there are very ample, separated biking lanes with clearly marked areas for pedestrians and automobiles.

Aarhus (Denmark)

Contrary to the cases of the two Mexican cities where I spend the most time (Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes and Leon, Guanajuato), Copenhagen and Aarhus prioritize biking as a primary mode of transportation. Not even pedestrians, bicycles are the primary focus of investment in urban infrastructure. Metro, buses, trains are the next priorities in transportation policy. Cars? Not at all the main priority. The main goal is to move people through biking, walking and mass transportation systems (trains and metro)

Aarhus (Denmark)

I contrasted these two cases with Mexico City, Leon and Aguascalientes. I am particularly struck by these cities because most of the investment I’ve witnessed in transportation infrastructure has been in road improvement and expansion, bridges and interurban highways. Are there any policy instruments implemented that can act as deterrents to car acquisition? NONE. Are there policies being implemented that can have a positive effect in increasing the number of bikes on the road and decreasing the number of cars (especially single-occupancy-vehicles) that are used for transportation? No, there aren’t. Leon, Aguascalientes and Mexico City are all cities built for the car. Cars are the priority, pedestrians and bikers are not even in the brain map of policy makers.

This sad situation is particularly acute when you consider the amount of money spent on travel for bureaucrats and politicians who allegedly travel to different (usually European) countries to “observe best practices that they can bring back to their home cities”. My view is usually that these people are giving themselves paid holidays in pretty cities in places in the world that they wouldn’t have been able to afford were it not for the fact that these trips are funded by taxpayers’ money.

Cynicism aside (although I could almost prove that just about every instance of “observational trips for policy makers” is a paid holiday for them since there is no evidence that any policy transfer occurs), what these policy makers seem to forget is that attempting to transfer or replicate a specific policy (or set of policy instruments) will unavoidably fail if there the conditions for appropriate transfer in the target country aren’t right. You can’t go to Copenhagen to “observe the amazing sustainable transportation and biking network the city has, so that you can then bring lessons for the Mexico City (or Aguascalientes or Leon) case”. This statement is both astoundingly stupid and extraordinarily naïve. You can’t replicate Copenhagen’s biking infrastructure in Mexico City because the cities aren’t identical. They aren’t even remotely similar. The city that is being used as a model to draw lessons for policy transfer and the target city aren’t in any way, shape or form identical. They’re not even similar. These cities have extraordinarily different populations, surface areas, road infrastructures, and cultural norms. Biking culture is ingrained in Copenhagen, the infrastructure was built decades ago and the policy incentives to deter automobile acquisition were implemented many, many years ago.

Copenhagen 2016

This willful ignorance of politicians and policy makers (at best, and malicious intent at worst) frustrates me to no end. I don’t expect bureaucrats and politicians to know even the slightest basic notion of policy transfer, but I would at least hope they would have a bare modicum of common sense. When I saw how Leon transferred the articulated bus network from the Medellin (Colombia) case, my brain exploded. I saw roads shrink, entire neighbourhoods destroyed and the number of cars in Leon grow almost exponentially. All things considered, I figured at least there was some effort on the part of local governments to push for some degree of sustainability in their transportation policies. I considered this case relatively successful and suggested to one of my undergraduate students in the Public Policy program at CIDE to study the Colombian case for potential policy transfer into the case of Aguascalientes.

But during this trip, something that was on the back of my mind really hit me hard: we don’t have the same culture of biking or accessing sustainable, mass transportation in Aguascalientes or Leon that we do in other countries’ cities. For example, in Aarhus and Copenhagen, I walked, biked, took the metro and the bus system. It didn’t even occur to me that I could rent a car. Same thing in Malmo and Lund (in Sweden) when I visited with two other colleagues. It wasn’t even in the cards to rent a car. We all were used to using mass transportation systems. Both of my travel companions while in Sweden (Dr. Kelly LeRoux from University of Illinois at Chicago and Dr. Staci Zavattaro from University of Central Florida) were used to walking, biking and using the metro system.

Copenhagen 2016

Of all the cities that I have visited this year (for conferences and fieldwork, all of them had robust transportation networks. Madrid (Spain), Bogota (Colombia), Paris (France), Chicago, New York City, San Diego, Washington DC (USA), the one where I didn’t feel it had a robust network was Atlanta (Georgia, in the US), and that was probably because I stayed in a weird neighbourhood (Historic Fourth Ward). Milwaukee didn’t strike me as having a robust bus and metro system, but I didn’t even need a car in Milwaukee as my friend Oriol drove me around, but at least we commuted by car but we were large groups rather than single-occupancy-vehicles. But every other city? I could access them directly from the airport through a quick, rapid link (by train or metro). If you land in Leon or Aguascalientes, you need to pay the equivalent of $25 USD (which may sound very cheap, but bear in mind that the Mexican peso has fallen almost 90% and lost a lot of purchasing power, so $450 Mexican pesos are A LOT of money for a taxi ride into the city). This ridiculously high jacking of taxi prices is also one reason why Uber is becoming more popular in Mexico (in general, and these cities in particular).

Transportation policy isn’t my area of research, but I do maintain a very strong interest in it because having speedy, accessible modes of transportation does affect me as my own research is very much fieldwork-dependent. Therefore, I need to be able to move around neighbourhoods and field sites swiftly without having to depend on having a car. I can’t do fieldwork (or at least, it is extraordinarily harder for me) if I don’t have access to a robust transportation network.

I have had weird experiences of staying in suburbs of main cities (as I did in Washington DC this year) or badly connected neighbourhoods (in Atlanta, GA this year and New Haven CT last year). When this happens to me, I usually cab into the city and then connect to the main bus, train or metro network. And do the same on the way back. But this method is extraordinarily time- and money-consuming. What would be easier for me, and more useful would be working within a walkable city, or at least, a city where the bus, train, metro systems are strong and the infrastructure is robust. Bear in mind that moving from Vancouver (in British Columbia, Canada) to Aguascalientes (Aguascalientes, Mexico) was a huge shock, because there is basically only one place where you don’t need a car in Aguascalientes: downtown. You can walk in downtown Aguascalientes, but from there onwards, the bus system is pretty run down and thus everyone depends on automobiles for transportation (be it taxis or their own vehicles). In Vancouver, I walked, bussed, Skytrained just about everywhere. Of course, there are huge gaps in the Greater Vancouver transportation network. I can’t say there aren’t. If you live in Maple Ridge and want to use mass transportation to get into Vancouver it will probably take you anywhere from one hour to hour and a half. Many of the suburbs of Vancouver are reachable primarily by car. There are huge gridlocks. I’m not saying that Vancouver (or Copenhagen or Aarhus for that matter) are perfect. I am saying that their infrastructure is way more robust.

Copenhagen 2016

Which brings me to the last point of this essay. I have travelled in Europe (twice this year), South America (once this year) and in many cities in the United States during the first 7 months of the year. I have seen the positive effect of spending taxpayer money in urban infrastructure. That’s the part that breaks my heart every time I come back to Mexico. I see decrepit buses, horrible airports, terrible bus stations. The Mexican government (at all levels, federal, state and municipal) doesn’t invest in infrastructure (much as it is heavily publicized by the Federal government) because Mexican politicians are (for the most part) extraordinarily corrupt. This country is a country of rich politicians and poor people.

The policy priorities of this government (at the federal and subnational levels) are clear: bringing as much money to their own pockets and bulging their bank accounts. Building strong transportation infrastructure? Not a policy priority. Creating a culture of compliance with rules and norms? Not a policy priority? Investing in renewing the bus stock and implementing interurban trains? Not a policy priority. Buying a new plane for the Mexican President? Of course, THAT is a policy priority. Spending thousands of millions of dollars in public relations and marketing? THAT is a policy priority. Cutting budgets of the Mexican science, health, environment and education secretariats? Of course, those are policy priorities. The Mexican government didn’t cut into their own budgets; they sank their teeth into high priority policy areas. Education, health, environment and science clearly aren’t a priority for this federal government. Their own image is. There were basically no cuts into the federal government’s public relations budget. This government has spent a record maximum in the history of federal governments on PR activities. What good does it do for perception of the government when citizens and taxpayers realize that their money is going into a PR campaign rather than actual investment in solving policy problems?

What I saw this week in Denmark and Sweden is what I doubt I will ever see in my lifetime in Mexico: two countries where the interests of taxpayers are the priority for the government. Where cities are built for people instead of cars. Where entire neighbourhoods are developed around concepts of sustainable, mass transportation, walkability and accessibility. When I went for dinner to Nyhavn (the Copenhagen version of the Navigli in Milan, and a similar concept to Trocadero in Paris), I saw a main metro station being built. Basically, the message being transmitted is that investment in Copenhagen is targeted towards more sustainable modes of transportation, not on more roads nor cars. I wish we could reach this point in Mexico.

Sadly, I’m sure we won’t.

Posted in academia, climate policy, governance.

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My #PMRC2016 talk on how to #GetYourManuscriptOut

This post contains my slide deck for today’s talk at the Public Management Research Conference 2016 special session on “How To Get Your Work Published and Read”, chaired by Dr. Staci Zavattaro (University of Central Florida), with Dr. Don Moynihan (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Dr. Stephanie Moulton (Ohio State University), Dr. Richard Walker (City University of Hong Kong), Dr. Arjen Boin (Leiden University) and yours truly (Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega, CIDE).

As always if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Posted in academia, writing.

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How to respond to reviewer comments: The Drafts Review Matrix

As I have been sharing my academic workflow with my blog readers, I realized that much of what I have been writing may be of help not only to PhD and Masters’ students, or early career scholars (postdoctoral fellows and assistant professors) but also to my own undergraduate students. I have decided that I will be creating a series of webinars to showcase many of the techniques I use, and I will also be writing an integrative blog post that goes all the way from having a research question and deciding what to search for in Google Scholar to integrating the literature review to drafting the research paper.

In the mean time, and given that I’m also doing revisions to a book chapter as I’m travelling in Copenhagen and Aarhus (in Denmark) for the Public Management Research Conference 2016, I decided that I would write a post on how to respond to reviewer comments. This chapter I’m revising is in Spanish, so you will have to forgive that the tables and commentary are in the Spanish language. I couldn’t find one of my revisions’ tables for my papers in English (my Dropbox crashed a few months ago so I moved a lot of files to other media), but these should do.

My Draft Revisions Matrix

Basically, I follow a similar model to that espoused by Tanya Golash-Boza (University of California, Merced) and Theresa MacPhail (Stevens Institute of Technology). I also got the idea from the emails I have received through time asking me to respond to specific queries from the university press or the specific journal where I submitted my paper. The table below is an example from my 2015 article published in the Review of Policy Research on transnational environmental activism in North America.

queries from article

I adapted this table and the models proposed by Tanya and Theresa so that I could make it work for my own workflow. For me, it is important to give myself the intellectual and physical space to make the changes and respond to criticisms and comments. Thus, the last column is empty until I fill it up with notes. I usually write the specific response to feedback by hand, and link it to the physical section of the paper (I often do this either with a highlighter or a Post-It adhesive note).

Here is how I revise my manuscripts, be it responding to comments and criticisms from readers or reviewers, or my own commentary after giving it a first read. I create a matrix of responses (what I call the Drafts Review Matrix) using the comments from my reviewers and writing my responses in the box with “Response/Action”. Please note that I also include text from the paragraphs where the specific comment was provided so that I can quickly find where exactly is the comment from the reviewer that needs to be addressed.

Draft review matrix

My Drafts Review Matrix has four columns:

  • Comment location: Where the reviewer inserted a comment asking for a clarification or a response. I usually make sure that my first column clarifies exactly where the coment is exactly located e.g. “first paragraph, line 3, page 44.”
  • Original text: I always make sure to include text that the reviewer highlighted when inserting their commentary or feedback, so that I can look it up and quickly understand what they meant with their comment.
  • Observations: This is the exact wording of the reviewer’s comments. It usually also appears on the margins of the Word document, so I physically connect the content of the cell with the comment on the margins with highlighter of the same color.
  • Actions: These are the actions I took to address the reviewers’ comments. Often times, I include the exact wording of what I am going to insert as text into the section that was highlighted. Note that I cross it off with red ink once I have addressed it, both in the physical copy of the paper, and on the Draft Revisions Matrix cell corresponding to the actions that were required. I also delete the comment box from the Word document once I’ve addressed the issues.

Revisions matrix

As you can see, I actually physically write the actions I take, or the text I am going to insert in the post, and then use a marker to cross the text across within the Actions cell so that I know I have addressed that specific commentary. If I were a bit more organized, I probably would include a column with the Date or Deadline for Actions (e.g. when will I deal with a specific comment), but to be perfectly honest, I prefer to finish editing the manuscript ONCE AND FOR ALL. So, if you do enjoy using your #AcWri writing time (which I do in the mornings) to edit then you may want to just specify the dates (and budget time for when you will work on, and by which date you will finish each specific editing task)

The beauty of integrating the Literature Review Excel Dump with the Drafts Review Matrix is that you can use the Excel dump cells’ content to write the specific changes you will make for a specific section. I also often write them in Post-It notes and stick them to the physical page with the number of revision or reviewer comment that I need to address. I almost always revise a manuscript in one sitting, but you do not need to do so if you prefer to do parts of the editing as single, discrete, achievable units of work (as I have often recommended before)

Posted in academia, writing.

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Overcoming structural barriers to reducing bottled water consumption

Incentives to refill water bottlesWhen people ask me about my research on the politics of bottled water, often times they will ask about ways in which they can change their individual behavior in order to reduce packaged water consumption. As I travel quite often for research and conferences, I have been realizing that there are several structural barriers to reducing bottled water consumption. That is, no matter how much we “activate” social norms and encourage individuals to shift consumption from water in a bottle to water from the tap, there are structural barriers that posit a challenge for anyone to change their own behavior. I will note two barriers in this post, specifically.

Incentives to refill water bottlesThe first one I noticed is the lack of infrastructure for refillable water bottles. This absence of refilling stations is also often coupled with a total failure in providing water fountains. I have noticed this at airports everywhere, but Mexico specifically. This is quite problematic given that Mexico is the top-ranked country in the world for per-capita consumption of bottled water. It is also one of the countries where bottled water companies are raking huge profits. Ironically, this problem (lacking water fountains and refilling stations) is not only present in airports, but also at schools (where we can often see young kids rush to purchase soft drinks) and local parks. My own research has confirmed what other authors have said: much of the rise in bottled water consumption can be traced to a lack of trust in tap water. This problem is also compounded by recent municipal water utility breakdowns, like the case of Flint, in Michigan. My good friend, coauthor and water governance specialist Oriol Mirosa (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee) makes an excellent case for why this is happening.

Bottled water as a public policy problem is not only a case of governments needing to respond to the increased commodification of the human right to water, but also a case of designing policy interventions that can lead to an actual real improvement in the face of acute water scarcity situations. The second structural barrier I have encountered in my experience doing fieldwork is compounded by the first one: regulatory frameworks that prevent the travel and reuse of water bottles. This is very specific to airports, where you can’t get a bottle of water through security (and therefore you need to either empty it or dispose of it). This is compounded by the fact that, if you have a refillable bottle you would need to empty it before going through security at the airport. If there is no infrastructure to refill your bottle, you’re basically out of luck and you MUST purchase a bottle of water.

Lately, I have dealt with this second structural barrier by bringing my refillable water bottle (empty) through security and then going to a coffee shop and/or restaurant and asking if they can refill it with tap or filtered water. It’s unlikely that they will say no. But this is just an example of how we need to go beyond offering incentives to reduce individual bottled water consumption and, instead, creating structural conditions to increase tap water consumption.

THAT is where one of the main policy challenges remains.

Posted in academia, bottled water, governance, water policy.

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Synthesizing different bodies of work in your literature review: The conceptual synthesis Excel dump technique

Since I’m writing a series of posts on literature reviews (and undertaking a few of my own), I figured I could expand on how you can combine citation tracing, concept saturation, results’ mind-mapping with a method that Professor Elaine Campbell showcases in her excellent post “How I use Excel to manage my literature review“.

I call this technique the “conceptual synthesis Excel dump” – I call it “dump” because I basically throw into the Excel file everything that is already in my research and conceptual/reflective memoranda. Doing the conceptual synthesis Excel dump as you do your reading allows you to create a nice map of the literature. It also helps reach conceptual saturation during the literature review.

What I am showing here is my Excel dump on bottled water. There are a number of themes (if you’re doing coding in qualitative methods, you’ll understand what I mean) that interest me:

  • Fear of the tap water.
  • Decisions on whether to consume tap water vs. bottled water.
  • Branding water and bottled water and the use of branding techniques in promoting bottled water.
  • Ethical bottled water.

I am showing three screen captures of the Excel file I created. Note that the columns I use are the following:

  • Concept – here I list the main idea or major theme of the specific literature review.
  • Citation – here I include the full citation (article, book, book chapter).
  • Main idea – here I summarize the full article in a sentence or two.
  • Notes 1 – here I make notes about specific ideas or whether I agree or disagree
  • Notes 2 – same as the above
  • Notes 3 – same as the above
  • Cross-reference – which references and citations are linked to one another.
  • Quote/quotation – specific quotes, as per my memorandum technique, that could be useful
  • Page – the page from where I drew the quote. Note that I can draw several quotes from same article

bottled water dump 3

concept dump bottled water 1

bottled water dump 2

My conceptual synthesis’ Excel dump technique is quite handy in the process of creating a literature review (both to reach concept saturation and to create the mind map). Hopefully it will be helpful to you too! I wrote this post partly as a response to the tweet below :-)

Posted in academia, research.

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Designing and implementing a Publications Planner

Several scholars have written about how they plan their own publications, and I was a bit wary of writing a piece that would address how I plan my own publications stream and trajectory. Professor Erin Marie Furtak wrote on the Chronicle of Higher Education about how she has 11 types of pieces (categories) that she includes in her publications’ planner. The website Jobs.Ac.Uk also published a nice Research Publications Planner (free PDF) that can be also very useful. Finally, I also strongly recommend Professor Matthew Lebo’s “Managing Your Research Pipeline” piece in PS: Political Science.

In my case, my Publications Planner is quite simple, and I divide it in two different sections: Conference-to-Journal Article, and Direct Paper. The conference-to-journal-article section basically outlines which journal I’m submitting the paper to, and what I am supposed to do to finish it.

Conference to Journal

The direct paper section focuses on manuscripts I’ve decided to write and submit without going through a conference submission.

Publications planner

One thing I do is update my Publications Planner through time (every week/two weeks) so that I know exactly where I am with each manuscript. But I recognize that maybe this method may not be optimal. The one thing I really ought to do is go through the list of manuscripts (these two tables are just a draft), and make sure EVERY SINGLE MANUSCRIPT I have in the works is included in these tables.

Posted in academia.

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How to do a literature review: Citation tracing, concept saturation and results’ mind-mapping

There is a number of academics (and coaches and consultants) who have both a strong presence online and do a marvellous job of writing excellent blog posts as guidance for undergraduate, graduate students and early career professors. Two of my favourite who write specifically about literature reviews are How To Do a Literature Review (written by Aurelie) and Literature Review HeadQuarters (written by Ben – see this helpful post of his on when to say “I already have enough literature, thankyouverymuch“). I would refer you to their websites so that you can learn a lot more about how to do literature reviews. Recently, I was asked to write about how I do literature reviews. I could simply point you to Ben and Aurelie’s blogs, but I figured I could contribute something to the list of posts on academic workflow techniques.

Reading and #AcWri on the plane

In my case, there are a number of things I could share about how to write a literature review, but I want to focus on 3 major themes that I think are important to the way in which I write my own literature reviews: citation tracing, concept saturation and mind-mapping of results. These three concepts are interrelated and quite relevant for anybody writing a literature review.

First, to find whether you have read everything you need, you must engage in citation tracing: you will need to find the key references across the literature for your particular project. Then, you need to map whether your literature review has reached concept saturation: have you exhausted the field for the specific topic you are working on? And finally, you will need to lay out how different citations, bodies of work and key concepts relate to each other. I normally do this using the technique named mind-mapping.

Citation Tracing:

Citation tracing refers to the activity wherein we trace which authors cite which work, and the relationships across these cites. For me, citation tracing is fundamental, because it allows me to see whether there is a gap in the literature, and how each author is working through the concepts. For example, I have seen about 4 articles on the human right to water and how to implement it from a policy perspective. None of these articles actually link to the literature on policy implementation. They talk abstractly about policy implementation of the human right to water, but they fail to link to the literature. How did I know this? Because not only did I read the article, but also looked through the reference list. I did not recognize any articles that were specific to the policy implementation literature (a body of works that I know very well given that I teach the omnibus course on public policy theories).

There are different ways to do citation tracing. Aurelie offers a good overview using Google Scholar. Generally speaking, I combine two methods: the first one is a Google Scholar backtracking search. I search on Google Scholar for the keywords I aim to do, and restrict the search to the last two or three years. This allows me to find a few (generally 4-5) relevant articles, which I then try to read and write a memo (if I decide using my triage technique that memo-ing the paper is worth my time). As you can see, I searched Google Scholar for “ethical bottled water” and found a few articles that are relevant. The problem with Google Scholar is that sometimes, depending on the keywords and sequence, you end up having to sift through several pages’ worth of results. In this case, both the Hawkins and Brei and Bohm articles are present in both searches, which means they might be relevant to my search.

Google Scholar searches

As you can see, the set of results and citations you will get changing the wording slightly may be completely different, which is why it is important to make sure that you use different combinations of keywords. See the results of a different set of keywords related to ethics, branding and bottled water.

Google Scholar searches

The second one is a narrow Mendeley keyword search, as I show in the figure below. I search my 6,000 entries’ database on Mendeley for specific keywords. Usually (and Mendeley is very good at this), the top 5 items in the search will be pretty relevant to what I am trying to find. Below you can see the citations for the top 5 entries that are specific to “human right to water”, “policy” and “implementation”.

Mendeley human right to water policy implementation

In both cases, what I do is I read the article, then quickly search through the references’ list and make sure that I have read some of the references. I usually find one or two articles that are very relevant to my research and that have been cited often. I highlight those, and remark if I have read them, or if I haven’t, whether they look relevant enough to try and find them and read them. Here is where concept saturation comes in.

Citation trading from references list

Concept saturation:

I define concept saturation as the point where I am seeing the same citations repeated on a regular basis. I borrow this term from qualitative research methods, as it is also the point when you are seeing the same concepts repeated over and over again. For example, I think much of the work around ethical bottled water has been done in the marketing literature from a branding perspective. Methodologically, I have seen most of the work using qualitative discourse analysis. So, when I start seeing yet another piece on bottled water branding using qualitative methods, I think I have reached concept saturation. Time to skip to a different approach. For example, the work of Gay Hawkins has been fundamental in developing the notion of bottled water as an assemblage. I have looked through basically all her citations, and read all her work. See the Mendeley search below.

Hawkins bottled water

Basically, I have used Gay Hawkins’ work to map everything scholarly that there is and that is related to a “material culture” approach to understanding bottled water. Once I found that every single author I had in the short list of cites that I had to review in my citation tracing process were associated or citing Hawkins’ work, I knew I had reached concept saturation. Another idea that I have seen floating in the bottled water literature is the idea of “accumulation by dispossession” promoted by David Harvey, and implemented by Jaffee and Newman, so I went and read their work until I found no more citations associated with this idea.

Results’ mind-mapping

Finally, once I’ve read a number of papers using citation tracing (seeing who has cited whom, and whether their work is useful), and to ensure concept saturation, I map these citing relationships and ideas in a mind map. Results’ mind mapping is important because it allows you to both have a clear overview of the literature and a map of who is citing whom, and where your own work may fit, as well as the different gaps in the literature you might be able to fill with your own research and literature review. To do these mind maps, many people use mind mapping software, but I usually do it by hand.

Below, I show a brief and incomplete mind map of the literature on policy transfer, policy learning and policy convergence. If you are a scholar of public policy, most likely you will recognize these names.

Mind mapping

Obviously you can make the results’ mind map as large as you may need it. When I am mapping a large body of literature I usually do it on a whiteboard or corkboard and use Post-It adhesive notes (one per each relevant author or concept). Then I link the different ideas in the mind map using different materials, depending on which surface I use to create the mind map.

I am hopeful describing the processes I follow to undertake my literature review is helpful to you. I know it’s kind of weird for someone as connected and tech-savvy not to use a mind mapping technique that is more modern, but I am sure you can hardly find better tools than using hand-written notes.

Posted in academia, research, research methods.

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My Fall 2016 schedule: building flexibility into my calendar

One of the criticisms I received when I first published my weekly template was that I had never built buffers into my calendar. It is, in many ways, a fair criticism. You can’t be ready to do what you’re scheduled to do All The Time. Here’s the backstory to why I wrote such a strict calendar: when I first read Tanya Golash-Boza’s post on how she built a weekly template, I figured “yay, FINALLY someone validated my Type A personality and I can basically schedule EVERY SINGLE MINUTE OF MY DAMN LIFE”.

We all know how well that went.

Last academic year, I started experimenting with building buffers and relaxing my requirements. I still aim for 10 hours a week of writing, and I have scheduled pretty strict and rigid blocks of time for my teaching and lecture preparation, making myself available for office hours and to meet with my students for supervision. But everything else? I can do basically anything with that time.

Since this is my heavy teaching semester (2 courses, both undergraduate, both in English) I decided I wouldn’t be doing any traveling nor fieldwork. The research time I use will be for either quantitative analysis using datasets I’ve already either created or assembled, or qualitative data analysis of fieldwork I’ve already done (remember I went to Madrid for two weeks? Those field notes are still quite valuable for writing up).

You can now see my new Fall 2016 schedule, with plenty of time built into the calendar. Many people will wonder if I work 40 hours or more or less – I can’t really say, since I didn’t calculate the number of hours I need to do X or Y activity per week, with the exception of 8 hours of teaching, 10 hours of writing, and 6 hours of lecture preparation, plus office hours and graduate student supervision (a quick calculation I made puts me to about 33 hours per week of scheduled time).

Calendar for the fall 2016

You may wonder why I didn’t budget 16 hours of class lecture preparation (I usually budget 2-3 hours per hour of lecture to prepare lecture slides, read, train for my lecture delivery). The two courses I’ll be teaching (Public Policy Analysis and Regional Development) are both courses I’ve already taught at least once, and I already have lecture slides, in-class exercises, etc.

Also, much of what I’ll be doing this month of June will be preparing lectures for the fall (that is, front-loading lecture preparation). Thus, I believe 6 hours of lecture preparation will be enough. I already learned my lesson about redesigning two entire courses while attempting to do fieldwork and go to conferences and still write (I got terribly sick twice in two years).

You may also notice I didn’t schedule “self-care” into my calendar. That’s because the assumption that anything after my activities (e.g. on Monday and Wednesday, anything after 2:30pm, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays after 4:30pm) is my own time. I work really hard in the mornings and early afternoon, and then it’s time to do my own stuff. If I preach that we should seek balance between academic and personal life, I should be practicing it as well.

I feel quite comfortable with this new calendar. It doesn’t put much pressure on me other than to do my teaching, write every day, and meet with my students. Maybe it was high time for me to follow Mark Carrigan’s advice and NOT schedule my life to the every minute.

There ARE actual, real disadvantages to being a Type A!

Posted in academia.

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Remunicipalization in Latin America: Where are we now and where are we going? (my #LASA2016 talk)

LASA 2016 New York City 061I am certainly out-conferenced, but I would not have participated in this year’s Latin American Studies Association (LASA) conference if I hadn’t committed to join a great panel chaired by Clara Irazabal from Columbia University and organized by my friend and coauthor Marcela Gonzalez-Rivas from University of Pittsburgh. It was in New York City (Manhattan) and I ended up only flying in and flying out for my presentation, so I didn’t actually develop a full paper (yet).

LASA 2016 New York City 028Instead of actually writing a full-fledged paper, I gave a slightly retouched version of a previous paper I presented at GIGAPP 2014 in Madrid (Spain) but updated with my new dataset and the conceptual framework I presented at the Midwest Political Science Association in Chicago this year. Basically, the paper’s premise was that de-privatization (also known as remunicipalization) is a trend that has started to gain traction in the past few years despite Brookings Institutions’ push for private municipal water supply. I also presented some data from the Ramos Arizpe case, the only Mexican case (to date) that we know of remunicipalization, and a case I’ve studied myself. The Mexican National Water Commission (CONAGUA) has pushed quite aggressively for municipalities to outsource their water utility management to private companies.

Such is the case in the city I live in right now, Aguascalientes, which has private water supply. The fact that the federal government pushes for private water supply is somewhat bewildering, but even more so that they do so quite openly. Obviously, as I’m a fierce critic of privatization of municipal water utilities, I’m not popular with them (I’ve written extensively about the fallacy of efficiency in privatization of public service delivery and on the politics of water privatization in Mexico).

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Me presenting at #LASA2016 Photo credit Dr. Bernardo Bolaños, UAM

Here is the slide deck of my presentation, and below is the paper’s abstract. Once I’ve finished it I’ll publish it too.

Remunicipalization in Latin America: Where are we now and where are we going?
Raul Pacheco-Vega
Assistant Professor, Public Administration Division
Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE)
A paper presented at the 2016 Meeting of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA)
New York City, New York, USA
May 29th, 2016

Remunicipalization is one model of public service delivery where the local government takes back provision by ending private concession contracts. In the words of Wollman and Bakker (both of whom have used the “swinging pendulum” metaphor), we’re moving from public to private to public again. While the vast majority of the literature on remunicipalizations has focused on European cases, we have reached a point where there are enough instances of Latin American municipalities taking back drinking water supply back into their hands. This paper uses a unique dataset on global remunicipalizations (Kishimoto, Lobina and Petitjean 2015, N=235) and focuses its analysis on Latin American countries. In the paper, I examine the factors that drove remunicipalization of water supply and discern potential causal mechanisms for this de-privatization movement. I argue that, while we have a larger number of cases of remunicipalization, it is hard to discern if there is enough data for a generalizable enough theory of water supply de-privatization. In light of this insight, I propose a research agenda on the potential effectiveness of remunicipalization as a strategy to strengthen local water utilities, bring the public back in and provide more democratic engagement in water policy in Latin America.

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My friend and coauthor Dr. Marcela Gonzalez-Rivas (University of Pittsburgh) presenting her #LASA2016 paper

Overall, I have to admit I had a really good time. I am looking forward to working with Marcela on the second part of her research paper (we are coauthoring a paper now), and Clara Irazabal is an excellent discussant. On the personal side, I saw a lot of really good academic friends, I managed to squeeze some time to eat All The Ethiopian Food in Hell’s Kitchen, I wandered through Times Square, Chelsea, but still, I think I need to lay low at least for a couple of weeks. My photo set from LASA can be found here.

Posted in academia, conferences.

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