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#GetYourManuscriptOut #SendOutFortNight (April 15-30th, 2017)

Almost three years ago, Dr. Steve Shaw (McGill University), Dr. Mireya Marquez (Universidad Iberoamericana Santa Fe) and I founded the hashtag #GetYourManuscriptOut. I was frustrated that I had SEVERAL papers whose conversion-rate-from-conference-paper-to-journal-article had been basically ZERO. So, I decided to look at my dormant papers and JUST GET THE MANUSCRIPT OUT. Throughout the years, since July 2014, I have been joined by many researchers who have found #GetYourManuscriptOut a supportive community for academic writing.

But, as I have previously written, I can very easily feel writer’s block. And yes, the reason why I wake up at 4am and start writing and write every single day is because I know that social media is addictive, and even with my own guidelines and tricks to avoid spending all day in social media, I can get easily distracted. That’s also why I have written about the hacks I use to trick myself into regaining focus.

So when Madeleine suggested that we commit to writing 500 words BEFORE starting social media, I was delighted. It’s hard for me to ALWAYS generate text, which is why I wrote about prompts I use to start writing.

But around the same time, I wanted to commit to submitting all the dormant papers I had to send out right about now. Let me explain: theoretically, my campus has two weeks of holidays right about now. I would LOVE to take these holidays. But I am way too busy as I am about to deploy fieldwork for four case studies. So, I moved my holidays towards the end of the summer and early December. And I will be working for the next two weeks. This means, while my campus will be empty, I can focus entirely on writing and research without having to worry about being interrupted by meetings and administrative stuff.


So, I invited my Twitter colleagues to join me in a #GetYourManuscriptOut #500words #FortNight. For the next two weeks, I will be focusing on getting manuscripts out.

I thought about creating a Google Spreadsheet to allow others to insert their own pledges, but in the interest of privacy, I decided against it. What I have done is to create my own Google Spreadsheets to track my own progress. Hopefully many of you will join!

Posted in academia, writing.

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Upcoming talk “Writing YOUR Way to your PhD (and Tenure): Doing Academic Work without Selling Your Soul”

you should be writingLike many political scientists, I will be descending on Chicago this week to present two papers at the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA). I was invited by Dr. Kelly LeRoux (University of Chicago at Illinois) to give a talk to her PhD students, and we decided to make it a public lecture. I have titled it “Writing YOUR Way to your PhD (and Tenure): Doing Academic Work without Selling Your Soul”.

Here is the abstract:

We read it on Sh!t Academics Says, on, we hear it from our advisors, colleagues and fellow students: “YOU SHOULD BE WRITING!”. Alas, getting words on paper (or on the screen) isn’t always as easy as people would want to make you believe. Writing is hard, and academic writing often times feels harder. In this talk, I will walk you through some of the hacks I have implemented to enable me to consistently produce scholarly research all the while maintaining some semblance of a personal and social life. From morning routines to daily naps, to achieving Quick Wins, to writing your to-do lists on the Everything Notebook™, I will share with you a few ideas that you may be able to implement in your everyday life.

Talk will be held at the University of Illinois at Chicago, 400 South Peoria St., Wednesday, April 5th, 15:00hrs (3pm). If you are in Chicago, feel free to drop by! This talk will be the basic backbone of my forthcoming book on my life as an academic.

Posted in academia.

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World Water Day 2017: Finally, the UN realized wastewater governance is important

This week, on March 22nd, we celebrated World Water Day. The theme for 2017 (and also the topic for the 2017 World Water Assessment Report) was the sudden realization that water that we use to flush toilets, wash dishes and produce goods and services is a waste unless we recover it (Wastewater: The Untapped Resource). All of a sudden, in 2017, the UN and its allied water agencies realized “Why Waste Water?”

Well, I would be a lot more impressed if I hadn’t been saying the same since, well, 2002. FIFTEEN YEARS.

One of the things that amazes me the most about studying water governance is the lack of interdisciplinary thought. To anybody who studies civil or environmental or chemical engineering, using water to wash waste is stupid. Using the basic mass balance equation, if you pollute clean water, you get wastewater and if you dispose of it, you’re losing it. Most water scholars I know who look at domestic (national-level) issues are concerned with access to clean water (and in Mexico, a large number of them are preoccupied with agricultural-use water). But I rarely hear anyone discuss the realities of how much wastewater we generate, how little treatment we provide and how few functioning sewage treatment plants we have. Social scientists seem to care very little about wastewater.

We ARE wasting water.

In my own research, I found that almost 60% of the wastewater treatment plants that were supposed to be operating in the Lerma-Chapala river basin in Mexico are actually functioning below capacity and suffering from poor infrastructure maintenance and lack of funding. Wastewater treatment is a function of local governments and yet, their water utilities are chronically underfunded and lacking in robust infrastructure and human capital.


You would have thought the world would have woken up to the fact that wastewater is an untapped resource decades ago. Heck, 2008 was the International Year of Sanitation. And yet, we still are just starting to focus, 9 years later, on how we can better treat and govern wastewater.

The other thing that bothers me is the lack of in-depth research on the topic of wastewater governance. I have read the WWAP report and it cites a lot of UN publications, but not the mainstream research I’ve found (or I’ve written) on wastewater and its governance. Given that my research on wastewater governance has been published since 2004, I am also slightly taken aback that the WWAP report didn’t cite me, not even on urban wastewater governance in Latin America, where I recently published a chapter on the topic. And it’s not like they didn’t cite publications in Spanish (they did, and I’ve published in that language too).

Anyway, I’m glad UN Water and the WWAP are appearing to be taking wastewater governance more seriously now, hopefully they’ll do something about it in the next few years, and I also hope it won’t be only lip service to the serious needs for wastewater treatment in developing countries.

Posted in World Water Day, academia, wastewater, water governance.

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Addressing the alleged ahistoricity of Elinor Ostroms’ commons theory

At a seminar last December, I was told that Professor Elinor Ostrom’s commons theory (mostly outlined in her 1990 “Governing the Commons“, but also well deployed in her 2005 “Understanding Institutional Diversity” and 2010 coauthored book with Marco Janssen and Amy Poteete “Working Together“) was “ahistorical”. Obviously, I was totally taken aback. As someone who was trained by the Ostroms, and who learned from them directly, it was very clear to me that the scholars who were telling me this were not very aware of how institutional analysis from the Ostromian perspective works.

IASC 2013 Panels 1, 2 and lunch poster sessions

There are two main issues I have with this assertion of alleged ahistoricity of Ostrom’s commons theory. The first one is that the mere definition of institution (seen as the set of rules and norms that govern interactions across agents), implies that the creation of this set of rules and norms takes time. Institutions are created through the routinization and repetition of norms. This process takes place through history. Therefore, by definition, institutionalism (and in particular historical institutionalism) IS historical. Learning how institutions evolve (as seen through the work of Kathleen Thelen, for example) requires us to understand the historical processes that take place to get from where we have been to where we are right now(***).

The second issue is that the actual temporal timeline within which the Ostromian perspective has been applied (from the 1960s through the 1990s all the way to the mid 2010s) is relatively recent. This doesn’t mean that you can’ t apply current theories to historical commons (see, for example, the work of Tine De Moor and Chris Short, as well as Jose Miguel Lana Berasain et al). I think there is a badly misunderstood idea among some Mexican social scientists that the Mexican agrarian reform and land tenure patterns were so unique that they could not possibly be analyzed through the relatively recent theoretical perspectives of a commons.

Gibsons (Gibsons Landing, Sunshine Coast)

I think that most scholars who aren’t really familiar with IAD or SES argue that it provides a snapshot of a social and ecological system, where this “instant picture” is devoid of any historical context. I actually disagree, simply because of how institutions are crafted and created through time. Moreover, within the system’s characteristics’ boxes you need to provide as much context about the system as possible. This context IS historical, and thus it’s important that we remember that this automatically implies that the framework in and of itself can be used through time and in a rather dynamic form.

I think it is important to clear up the alleged ahistoricity of commons theory because not doing so leaves a lot of room for misunderstandings. In this post, I tried to make this point in a very brief form, but I would strongly recommend that those interested in commons and history look at the works I’ve linked to above.

(***) – I am grateful to Dr. Dan Cole, from Indiana University, for making this point over an email exchange we had.

Posted in academia.

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Studying policy change vs policy creation – policy cycle theories vs policy regime framework

Whenever anybody asks me what does a double-major in political science and human geography do in a public administration department, I tell them that I study comparative public policy and use cases of environment and resource governance to explore differences across national jurisdictions.

I am also interested in the governance of non-traditional common-pool resources (CPRs) and in the spatial, political and human dimensions of public service delivery. Potable water supply, wastewater treatment and solid waste management are all public services that need to be provided, which are regularly the responsibility of local governments and therefore an integral part of the public administration literature. But at the core, I have always studied policy change, more so than policy creation.

My first really important, empirical paper (Pacheco-Vega, 2005, “Democracy by Proxy”) examines the role of non-state actors and their coalition-building in influencing and changing domestic toxics policy. I showed how environmental non-governmental organizations, forming transnational coalitions of activists, changed the voluntary nature of the Mexican toxics release inventory from voluntary to mandatory. This was a contribution to the policy change literature.

But even before then, I had explained (with Peter Nemetz, 2001) the role of information-based voluntary programs in designing effective pollution control strategies. Voluntary or suasive policy instruments such as the toxics release inventory are considered some of the least effective, but gained a lot of prominence in the early 2000s as an alternative to regulatory, command-and-control instruments. This is a contribution to the policy creation (policy cycle) body of scholarship. These works were, as Dr. Debora VanNijnatten, what positioned me as “the policy instruments guy”. Further work I did with Dr. Kathryn Harrison and Dr. Mark Winfield looked at the role of policy transfer in disseminating ideas on how toxic release inventories should work, which is more again, on the policy cycle/policy instruments realm.

My doctoral work looked at industry responses to environmental regulatory pressure, which is also part of the policy change field (e.g. Pacheco-Vega and Dowlatabadi 2005, Pacheco-Vega 2008). And my wastewater governance research has examined and evaluated water and wastewater policies, so these contributions are definitely part of the policy cycle body of works. But even my transnational environmental activism in North America analyses (Pacheco-Vega 2015) focus on the role of policy change. I think overall my research trajectory is primarily focused on policy change.

I really love the versatility of doing interdisciplinary work, but if anybody asked me what is my specialty and wanted to peg me, I think I’d say that I am a specialist in the study of factors that drive policy changes. The policy regime literature (particularly those works which examine the impact of ideas, interests and institutions on how policies are adopted or shift goals/strategies/implementation) is particularly useful in understanding change in policies.

I’d rather be known as someone who understands how policies evolve, shift, and can fail, than someone who is an expert on agenda-setting or implementation (even though I’ve done work on both). A conversation with a current student of mine on Twitter reminded me that, to me, teaching policy analysis is relevant because it allows my students to learn how policies change, how they can fail, and what factors can be used to prevent failure. I don’t diss the policy cycle literature, I still love agenda-setting theory, and I am definitely keen on furthering my work on policy implementation (in particular, for example, what I am currently doing with the human right to water literature).

Posted in academia.

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Paris as a site of field research on water governance

I was in Paris last week for an EGAP (Evidence in Politics and Governance) meeting and workshop, EGAP19. I am a member of EGAP and was invited to participate in this workshop, hosted by Dr. Daniel Rubenson (Ryerson University, on sabbatical at Sciences Po) on field experiments (though the main focus for this meeting was policy interventions). As I always do when I travel somewhere for a conference or a workshop, I also scheduled some meetings and did a bit of fieldwork.


Whenever I mention that I have been doing fieldwork in Paris, I get a mixed bag of reactions, ranging from “wow, how interesting to study Paris” and “well, isn’t that lucky, you get to do fieldwork in Paris” (almost implying some degree of ‘academic tourism’).

I won’t deny that I absolutely love Paris, as it is a beautiful museum in and of its own. I have spent a lot of time in Paris, and done extensive fieldwork in the city, and I definitely wouldn’t mind living there for a while. But there are actual, real, research-based reasons to study Paris and its water history. In particular, for the topics I study (the governance of non-traditional common pool resources and the comparative politics of public service delivery), Paris is the perfect site for field research on water governance.

Paris offers an interesting research puzzle for those of us interested in the politics of water privatization, remunicipalization and alternative service delivery models: its water supply has been remunicipalized despite the fact that the two biggest water privatizing companies worldwide (Veolia and Suez Environnement) have their headquarters in Paris. France itself has been a pioneer in remunicipalization practices, as documented by Lobina, Hall and others.

Paris also has a very long history of public water provision in the form of drinking water fountains (including some historical ones of the Wallace model). The photo below is taken from the Water Pavilion (”Le Pavillon de L’eau“), a water-focused museum maintained by Eau de Paris, the local water municipality. This photo showcases a “Millenial Fountain”, one of the newest models of water fountains. From my conversations with Paris residents, there is very little interest in bottled water in Paris, given that the tap water quality is quite good.

Pavilion De L'Eau (Paris, France)

I am particularly interested in Paris not only because of the remunicipalization of its water utility (which in and of itself is an interesting case study), but also because there is some scholarship about the history of bottled water within France, which is relevant to my current research on the politics of bottled water. Some brands of premium bottled water are French (for example, Perrier’s sparking water is quite popular worldwide) and while individual adoption of bottled water consumption practices doesn’t seem prevalent nor occurring nation-wide, there’s definitely a chance that it may happen in the future.

Overall, Paris is an excellent site for field research on water governance, and French scholars (as well as France-based) have produced a lot of really relevant work in the French language that also should be read by everyone who is interested in the topic.

Posted in academia, water governance, water policy.

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International Womens Day 2017: On the structural barriers that women face in academia

Given my field of research (the governance of non-traditional common pool resources), it’s often easy to write about the negative effects of lack of access to water and sanitation can have on women. For previous International Women’s Days, I’ve written about the disproportionately negative impact that open defecation and lack of menstrual hygiene management strategies can have on women and girls, including the very real threat of sexual violence. I also have written about how women often share the biggest burden of home-based work and informal work, specifically in waste picking (which is the activity I’ve studied).

But this year, I wanted to write about a different topic. I think it is important that we reflect on the fact that women still face structural barriers to their development in academia. This is not something I am making up, it is something I have witnessed since my childhood, and now as a professor I am even more keenly aware of it. I have heard horror stories of hiring committees where female candidates have been asked about prospects for children-bearing, and for getting married. At a few conferences, I have heard snarky comments on whether female students and/or professors are quantitative enough (or how their only trick is doing statistical analysis). I have been asked (seriously) why do I push so much for the inclusion of female scholars’ writing in syllabi, not only in mine (where I can proudly boast I have 67% of female scholars’ works), but in other professors’ too.

I am the son of a professor of political science. My Mom faced structural challenges to career development, even when she decided to do her PhD (apparently, she was too old to do it in France, so she decided to go to one of the best schools in Europe for political science, the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, where she was welcomed with open arms). I am the uncle of a political science and international relations major (who, by the way, studied with some of the most awesome political scientists at University of Pittsburgh, who also happen to be good friends of mine). So whenever I hear the notion that “not everything is about gender”, I cringe.

Honestly, everyone should push for gender equality in academia even if their Moms or nieces aren’t political scientists. But apparently this is a topic that is still hotly debated, because some people seem to think that women haven’t faced structural barriers (the so-called glass ceiling). Even though there’s serious scholarship on how female scholars are cited less than their male counterparts, how their work isn’t used as often in syllabi as male scholars, how stopping the tenure clock for parental leave benefits male academics more than female ones. This frustrates me to no end.

But in closing on a positive note, I wanted to celebrate the women in my life, especially those scholars who help me learn and grow every day, those students and research assistants of mine who keep pushing me to be a better scholar every day as well. As far as the day goes, International Women’s Day doesn’t feel as much a celebration but more as a recognition of the fact that we have come a long way, but we still have a lot more to go.

Posted in academia, research.

Using prompts to motivate writing: Five strategies to get some words out

I just came back from a week in Paris attending a meeting of field experiments’ scholars, and I took the opportunity to do some fieldwork. There are perfectly good reasons why I study French water governance, specifically in Paris, but that discussion is reserved for another post.

#AcWri at the SFO airport

When I do fieldwork or when I am at conferences, I am often constrained by how intense the workshops are, and therefore I sometimes don’t have the time to write 2 hours per day, as I have on my schedule. I need to be more flexible and take care of my own physique. So I write when I can, often times, on planes or trains or buses during my commutes.

But when I travel for conferences, workshops and fieldwork (obviously becoming quite exhausted) what I also face sometimes is the dreaded blank page. Sometimes I don’t know how to start writing something, despite the fact that when I am editing I always have my Drafts Review Matrix in front of me. So, what I do to motivate me to write is that I use prompts. And coincidentally, as I was researching my own Twitter account, came across this excellent blog post by Nicole Cesare on turning your notes into prompts.

When I see these prompts, these physical cues, these calls to action, I feel prompted to start writing. It’s like I have an opportunity to capture some thoughts and I shouldn’t let it slide. In examining my own workflow, I have identified four different types of prompts.

Prompt 1: A PDF of an article or book or book chapter (external or on Mendeley)

If I feel like I can’t write anything, because I am facing writers’ block (it does happen to me from time to time) I open a PDF of an article or a book chapter. I feel even more compelled to write notes when I am writing on my Everything Notebook or when I have the PDF open on Mendeley. Having Mendeley open alongside Word usually prompts me to write a memorandum.

iPod March 2017 038

Having Mendeley and Word open simultaneously basically forces me to write some words, because if I don’t, I would feel like this travel time would be wasted (I only write on a plane when I’ve actually already had a good, solid nap – my health comes first).

Prompt 2: A data table or textual dataset (on Excel, or a .CSV file)

Datasets are one of the easiest sources for written material, and act as fantastic prompts to inspire me to write, because I need to, at the very least, describe how I assemble the dataset, what it contains, what it means for my research, for the paper I am writing, data sources, etc. Even just describing the dataset will prompt me to write.

Also, as Dr. Adam Wellstead mentioned in response to my tweet, datasets can allow you to use them and reuse them for multiple papers, using different theoretical and empirical strategies.

Prompt 3: A newspaper article or news clipping (from Evernote)

I almost always keep at least 2 or 3 programs open at all times: Evernote, if I am surfing the web or doing a Google Scholar search, or a Google News search when I am looking for specific news clippings related to my research. Mendeley, and Word/Excel. Having Mendeley open at almost all times reduces the excuse that I often give myself to avoid writing “well, I’ll find that reference later“. My good angel brain tells my evil angel brain “NO YOU WON’T. You have Mendeley RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. Search for the damn reference and insert it RIGHT NOW.”

Prompt 4: A results table

Results are also some of the best prompts to write when you have writers’ block, at least for me, because I know that I already have something that I have analyzed and I need to make sense of them. That’s why having STATA or Atlas.Ti open in front of me helps me feel compelled to start writing those results, to understand why they came out the way they did.

Handwritten notes in academic research

Also, assembling tables of results by hand, as I show above, is one of the ways in which I feel the most energized and compelled to write. Moreover, tables really help me clarify my mind.

Prompt 5: Scribbles on the margins of an article or my Everything Notebook

Because I do a lot of things the analog way, I often need to transcribe notes from the margins of my articles or my Everything Notebook on to a Word file (often combining the literature into a nice, in-depth memorandum). Having handwritten notes acts as one of the strongest prompts for me to write.

iPod March 2017 015

For example, in the case above, my own scribbles on the margins of the paper act as prompts, because I am leaving a note to myself saying that I should check Dr. Arn Keeling (a dear friend of mine who is an urban historical and environmental geographer and who studied the governance of wastewater in Vancouver in the late 1800s and early 1900s)’s PhD dissertation. This is EXACTLY the strategy Nicole Cesare mentions in her excellent blog post here.

These are, as I have mentioned with all my other blog posts, hacks I use to motivate myself. I get distracted, like any other human being, but I use these techniques to bring me back on track. Hopefully they’ll be useful to you if you are facing writers’ block!

Posted in academia, writing.

#SA42 – Moving Beyond Work-Life Balance: Self-Care and Well-Being in the Academia #ISA2017

I was invited by Dr. Christina Fattore (West Virginia University) to participate in a round table on the challenges of self-care and well-being in academia, and how we need to move past the work-life balance discourse. As someone who has strongly advocated for a more human, humane academia, I was really excited to participate. Unfortunately, our panel was scheduled for Saturday morning at 8:15am, resulting on exactly what you could have expected: basically no audience, but we were fortunate to have 3 people show up in the end, and they found it valuable. Besides, my co-panelists and I really had a fantastic experience and a wonderful discussion. I live-blogged the entire thing, and made it available here as a Twitter stream using the hashtags of the conference and session code. Hopefully some of the discussions we have permeate globally.

Posted in academia.

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TC04: Online Media Caucus – Live Tweets for (Political) Science #ISA2017 #TC04

My dear friend and coauthor Dr. Amanda Murdie (University of Georgia) is chairing the Live Tweets for (Political) Science session at the 2017 International Studies Association meeting (starting 1:45pm Baltimore time). You should join us! This blog post will keep the tweets specific to this session as a tweetstream.

Live tweets for political science

IF you would like to join us, please come to the room, or join us remotely using both the #ISA2017 and #TC04 hashtags.

Posted in academia.

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