I reviewed four recent books on the translation of policies, assemblages and the growing role of ethnography in public policy and urban studies in a new book review essay published in Environment and Planning C. These books are as follows:

Blaustein Jarrett, Speaking truths to power: Policy ethnography and police reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK, 2015; 272 pp. ISBN 978-0-198-72329-5, $110 (hbk)

Clarke John, Bainton David, Lendvai Noemi, and Stubbs Paul, Making policy move: Towards a politics of translation and assemblage. Policy Press: Bristol, UK, 2015; 224 pp. ISBN 978-1-447-31336-6, $115.00 (hbk), ISBN 978-1-447-31337-3, $44.95 (pbk)

Kingfisher Catherine, A policy travelogue: Tracing welfare reform in Aotearoa/New Zealand and Canada. Berghahn Press: New York, USA and Oxford, UK, 2013; 230 pp. ISBN 978-1-782- 38005-4, $120.00/»75.00 (hbk), ISBN 978-1-785-33221-0, $29.95/»18.50 (pbk)

Peck Jamie and Theodore Nik, Fast policy: Experimental statecraft at the thresholds of neoliberalism. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, USA and London, UK, 2015; 328 pp. ISBN 978-0-816-67730-6 $105.00 (hbk), ISBN 978-0-816-67731-3 $30.00 (pbk)

The article is published first online and will appear in print either later this year or early next year. You can read the book review essay here.

For ADA University students, all four books are available in the ADA library for you to read.

Transfer, Diffusion, Adaptation and Translation of Water Policy Model. NEW PUBLICATION!

On Friday July 01, I am giving a talk at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS. The details are in the announcement. The paper is to appear later this year and will be found on Publications page.


Intensive cross-border movement of policy models is ubiquitous in the water sector. Examples include Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), Water User Associations (WUAs), and River Basin Organizations (RBOs), which have travelled around the world. However, despite the spread of global water policy models and their potential importance for sustainable development, scholars have struggled to develop adequate accounts of this process. To bridge this gap, we examine the extant analytical and methodological tools to study the movement of water policy models. We focus on the fit between a policy model and the context, the micro-politics of knowledge translation, and the inherent contingencies involved in water policy. Having recognized these obstacles, we offer some ways of conceptualizing the movement of water policy models. We illustrate each approach with vignettes from around the world.

The paper is to appear in Oxford Handbook of Water Policy and Politics, Oxford University Press in 2017.

Public Policy Bits: Grassroots Movements (Transition Initiative)

Today (18 April) in my class on sustainable development, we watched this video on transition network, an initiative to create and distribute the network of sustainable communities across the world. I think the students liked it. I thought that it would be a good idea to share this with the readers of my blog, and to offer a large feature in the Orion which talks about the initiative at length.

Gateway South East Asia

As some of you may have already noticed through my LinkedIn update, there is a slight change to my professional affiliation. Starting from May 2016, I will join the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, as an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow. This appointment is an “adjunct” appointment, which means that my major affiliation and place of work will remain ADA University in Baku, Azerbaijan. However, the adjunct appointment with NUS in Singapore will allow me to collaborate with world-leading scholars in the fields of public policy and the environment, and especially water resources, in the regions of South East Asia, China and Central Asia. I have already published on the Mekong river basin, have done fieldwork and wrote articles on Vietnam, and am currently working on an article on Sesun 2 Dam in Cambodia with my colleague from Singapore. Read more Gateway South East Asia

New Paper on Security in the Mekong River Basin. NEW PUBLICATION!

After three years of writing and revising, our paper on various ways of security being framed in the Mekong River Commission has come to light in International Relations journal Globalizations. Here one may read it. This is yet another wonderful collaboration with Andrea Gerlak with whom it is pure pleasure to work and write.

The key point of the article is that security has many faces, and it is not always what one expects. We studied the official documents of the Mekong River Commission in order to see what challenges and policy options to overcome such they have. And, to our surprise, we found that it is not “water security” that is the paramount concern to member-states, but “food security”.

This may be an interesting model for other scholars to study securitization of natural resources with the use of official documentation.

Public Policy Bits: Democracy in Crisis? What Role for Public Policy?

We live in the times of democracy in crisis. This is obvious not only in authoritarian countries, but also in traditionally democratic societies such as the US and The Netherlands. Those that are between the worlds, such as Hungary and other Eastern European countries, democracy is a patient in the emergency room. A prominent public policy scholar Helen Ingram delivered a plenary keynote speech last year at the International Conference on Public Policy in Milano, and there is a footage of this speech about democracy, politics and public policy. I invite all public policy students, scholars and professionals to watch this wonderful lecture. Click on the picture to get linked to the video of Helen’s talk. Apologies in advance for the poor quality of the recording.

Public Policy Bits: What Happens When Policies Travel?

“Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come” (Victor Hugo)

What happens when a policy idea becomes internationally popular? An idea that becomes a darling of international policy communities that propagate it and institute a system of reward and punishment around its application. And how then do we know if an idea is only a buzzword or a real instrument that solves problems on the ground? At what level do we start such an examination, and using what set of criteria? Are we starting with the question of effectiveness, that is whether or not a policy is of any good in terms of problems it has been evoked to solve; or rather with the question of how an idea is proliferated and spreads around, that is the question of mechanisms, actors and interests of the process. In other words, what is to be studied first: the process of spread or the outcome of the spread?

And finally, when policy ideas spread internationally and ubiquitously, how can we position ourselves to make sure that the process is not random and completely unmanaged? What actions can we take to make sure that good ideas spread, that they spread in a certain way and get applied to the right type of problems and situations? If that is possible at all…

Examples help. Think of “participation” and “empowerment” along with “poverty reduction” (Cornwell and Block 2005). Or Integrated Water Resources Management (Mukhtarov 2009), River Basin Management (Molle 2008) and multi-stakeholder platforms (Warner 2006). Environmental policy is full of policy ideas and innovations that are popular internationally, yet have either unrecorded or dubious implementation record on the ground. Let’s take one, Integrated Water Resources Management and try to explore the problem a little bit in-depth. For this, revisiting the the title is a good idea as you perhaps started to wonder what do elephants have to do with all these.

Blind men and an elephant

As John Godfrey Saxe famously put it in “The Blindmen and the Elephant,” humans often dispute complex issues of whose essence they have grasped only partly. Being a versatile concept that exists at multiple levels and in multiple forms, IWRM has provoked a lively debate about its basic meaning, function, ways of implementation and the overall practical value. Few agree on a specific definition; the critics point to the poor record of implementation and the idealistic nature of the concept, whereas the proponents see it as a “boundary” concept that provides a common ground for various disciplines to come together. Still, one could see IWRM as a proverbial elephant to which Saxe alluded in the epigraph, but with an important difference: owing to the international popularity of IWRM and its proliferation at the global scale, it is rather a “flying elephant”. And not only IWRM, but many other policy ideas that are intensively debated can be seen as flying elephants.

Policy Translation

Introduced in this context, policy translation is a concept that attempts to capture the process of travel of policy innovations and the complexity involved in this process. This is an attempts to see all dimensions of an elephant, and see how different actors in different settings buy into varying interpretations and understanding of an idea.

The concept of translation is very attractive because of its breadth of possibility to look at several issues simultaneously through the same lens: “it comprises what exists and what is created; the relationship between humans and ideas, ideas and objects, and humans and objects – all needed in order to understand what in shorthand we call ‘organizational change’” (Czarniawska and Sevon 1996: p.24). Translation, in my definition, is the process of modification of policy ideas/innovations and creation of a new meaning and design that reflects the political struggle of actors within a particular context in which an innovation is introduced. As such, policy translation is different from policy transfer or diffusion as it allows for modification of ideas and views this process as essential to the process of policy making.

Implications for future research

There are 4 areas in which policy translation is innovation and in which it can be developed in the future. These are as follows:

1) It allows for explicit and better treatment of the issue of rationality and deliberateness in the transfer of policies, ideas and innovations.
2) It explicitly acknowledges and attempts to deal with modification of ideas and policy innovations in the process of travel.
3) It explicitly deals with the issue of scale in the travel of policy ideas, focusing on the “spill-over” effect of policy ideas which often are re-produced at multiple governance levels.
4) Finally, it allows for empirical examination of these ideas in contrasting policy contexts, such as in developed, developing and transition countries. The underlining hypotheses are that different context will influence different dynamics and trajectories of policy translation.

Some References for Interested

Bennett, C. and Howlett, M. 1992. The Lessons of Learning: Reconciling Theories of Policy Learning and Policy Change. Policy Science, 25: 275-294.

Busch, P., Jorgens, H., and Tews, K. 2005. The Global Diffusion of Regulatory Instruments: The Making of a New International Environmental Regime. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 598.

Dolowitz, a. M. 2000. Learning from Abroad: The Role of Policy Transfer in Contemporary policy-making. Governance:. An International Journal of Policy and Administration.

Dolowitz, D. a. M., D. 1996. Who Learns What from Whom: a Review of the Policy Transfer Literature. Political Studies,, 44: 343-357.

Evans, M. a. D., J. 1999. Understanding policy transfer: a multi-level, multi-disciplinary perspective. Public Administration Review, 77.

Hall, P. A. 1993. Policy Paradigms, Social Learning, and the State. Comparative Politics, 25: 275-296.

Huitema, D., and Meijerink, S. (eds) 2009. Water Policy Entrepreneurs: A Research Companion to Water Transitions around the Globe. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Kern, K., Jörgens, H., and Jänicke, M. 2001. The Diffusion of Environmental Policy Innovations: A Contribution to the Globalization of Environmental Policy. Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung, Berlin

Lendvai, N. and Stubbs, P. 2009. Assemblages, Translation, and Intermediaries in South East Europe. European Societies:1-23.

Molle, F. 2006. Planning and Managing Water Resources at the River-Basin Level: Emergence and Evolution of a Concept. International Water Management Institute, Colombo.

Molle, F. 2008. Nirvana Concepts, Narratives and Policy Models: Insights from the Water Sector. Water Alternatives, 1: 23-40.

Mollinga, P. P., Dixit, Ajaya, Athukorala, Kusum 2006. Integrated Water Resources Management Global Theory, Emerging Practice, and Local Needs: Sage Pbn.

Mukhtarov, F.G. 2009. The Hegemony of Integrated Water Resources Management: a Study of Policy Translation in England, Turkey, and Kazakhstan. Doctoral thesis, Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Central European University, Budapest.

Rogers, E. 2005. Diffusion of Innovation. New York: Free Press.

Rose, R. 1993. Lesson-Drawing in Public Policy: A Guide to Learning Across Time and Space. Chatham NJ:: Chatham House.

Rose, R. 2001. Ten steps in learning lessons from abroad. Economic and Social Research Council

Smith, A., Voss, JP, and Grin, J. 2009 Designing long-term policy: rethinking transition management. Policy Sciences, 42 (4): 275-302.

Stone, D. 2000. Non-governmental policy transfer: the strategies of independent policy institutes. Governance: An International Journal of Policy and Administration, 13: 45-62.

Tews, K. 2005. The Diffusion of Environmental Policy Innovations: Cornerstones of an Analytical Framework. European Environment: 63 – 79.

Walt, G., Lush, L., and Ogden, J. 2004. International organizations in transfer of infectious diseases policy: iterative loops of adoption, adaptation and marketing. Governance: An International Journal of Policy Administration and Institutions, 17: 189-210.

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Public Policy Bits: Public Policy, Planning and Chess

Once a great Cuban world chess champion Jose Raul Capablanca was asked how many moves ahead he is able to see in a chess game. He famously responded: ‘one, the best one’.

Karl Wittfogel, in 1957, published his seminal book “Oriental Despotism“, his claim that state-formation and organization of societies in hierarchies originated from large structural works, mainly irrigation in Mesopotamia and in the Yellow River in China, received much attention. While the hypothesis of Wittfogel on the link between large-scale irrigation works and “despotism” is currently rejected, the Chinese water engineers can be credited for another achievement: they laid the foundation of the game of chess. Dr. David Lee in “The Genealogy of Chess” directly tied the control of water and disastrous flooding to the creation of the ancient board game of Go and the later game of Xiang Qi, which is seen as a prototype of modern chess. Chess, like water management, reached Europe through the Arab world from where the Moors brought it to the Southern Europe in their conquests. Read more Public Policy Bits: Public Policy, Planning and Chess

On Writing, Honesty and Van Gogh

I have recently received two reviews on my writing pieces, which felt like a great achievement for a number of reasons. Five or six other journals rejected one article before it was actually reviewed. Another, a chapter for a prestigious collection, which I am co-writing with a colleague in Australia, finally got reviews from two prominent scholars in the field of water policy. Many of these comments are very critical. Read more On Writing, Honesty and Van Gogh

“Rethinking Travel of Ideas” chosen as a free article in Policy&Politics in December 2015

Once a month, Policy & Politics chooses an article that is branded as “free” on its website and twitter account. This month, my article “Rethinking the travel of ideas: policy translation in the water sector” was chosen! It’s a sign that the article is good enough to be show-cased as a piece of research that gets published in Policy & Politics, something that makes me feel good about my work. Read more “Rethinking Travel of Ideas” chosen as a free article in Policy&Politics in December 2015

BBC: Big Tobacco Paying Bribes

I was recently taking breakfast with two friends in a quiet district of Amsterdam. While enjoying our salmon on omelet, and conversing in Dutch, we updated each other on our lives. A friend of my friend had a new job, he became a manager of a pharmaceutical company which works with plants. His job is to get permissions from authorities for new drugs which are 100% plant based. He told me that it actually does not matter if the drug works, all he needs for the permissions, is that the drug does not harm people. And he run experiments to prove that, and a lot of paperwork. Read more BBC: Big Tobacco Paying Bribes

Public Policy Bits: The Importance of Being Stupid in Research

This year I supervise three Master students in their thesis work, and a few other written assignments of students. It’s the time when students come up with their proposals and try to work out a puzzle and a methodology around it. Now, research would not be called research if it was easy. It’s a lot of searching, and often, without knowing what one is really looking for. It’s a stupefying process. What is important to note, however, that it is a necessarily stupefying process, one that is supposed to be such. Unfortunately, our education system is just not designed to prepare students for that, one just confronts this emotional and intellectual challenge after the years of training in problem solving.

One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time. No doubt, this can be difficult for students who are accustomed to getting the answers right. Read more Public Policy Bits: The Importance of Being Stupid in Research

Alumni Conference of the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy

Date: Thursday, May 5, 2016 – 9:00am to Saturday, May 7, 2016 – 7:00pm

The academic year 2015 – 2016 marks several important dates for our Department. These are the 25th anniversary of the Department (and CEU), the 20th anniversary of the first 1-year MSc class, and 10th anniversary of the first MESPOM class. We are all very excited about this and would like to celebrate with you! Read more Alumni Conference of the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy

Workshop on “Translation in World Politics” at Kate Hamburger Kolleg, Duisburg, Germany

Last week, on October 08-09, I took part in a workshop at the University of Duisburg’s Kate Hamburger Kolleg (Centre for Global Cooperation Research) named “Translation in World Politics”. It was very pleasing to see the ideas of policy translation making headway in other disciplines, and now also in International Relations and World Politics. I want to tell “thank you” to organizers of the workshop – Dr. Alejandro Esguera and Dr. Tobias Berger for organizing such a wonderful event, and for inviting me from so far to take part in it. It’s been fantastic… Read more Workshop on “Translation in World Politics” at Kate Hamburger Kolleg, Duisburg, Germany

Public Policy Bits: What Did you See in this Video?

One key advice I got from many columns for early-stage professors is not to be afraid to experiment in a class-room. So I went ahead with this last Friday, on session 2 of my undergraduate research methods class. I had to introduce students to the ideas of social constructivism and interpretation in order to sanction interpretive research design and methods later in the course. I decided to show them the video of an experiment in psychology designed and administered by Heider and Simmel in 1944, which I had learned about from Dvora Yanow Read more Public Policy Bits: What Did you See in this Video?

On Being an Academic and a Public Intellectual

Edward Said is primarily known for this views on Palestine and Israel and for this book “Orientalism” which defined and inspired the post-colonial studies, as discussed before on this blog. He, however, also left a dozens if not hundreds of essays and interviews — the goldmine for anyone interested in the issues of politics, literature, the art of living and struggles of (intellectual) exile and multi-culturalism. Said’s essay “On Defiance and Taking Positions” is very interesting as it tells us what it means, to him, to be a good academic and a public intellectual. Here a few extracts and quotes which drive his point home so powerfully. Read more On Being an Academic and a Public Intellectual

Crafting or Designing Socio-Ecological Systems? NEW PUBLICATION!

Finally, our Special Issue of Environmental Science & Policy is online, and you can enjoy the articles. You can read our editorial about the issue here, and the article I wrote with colleagues on water user associations in the region here. Read more Crafting or Designing Socio-Ecological Systems? NEW PUBLICATION!

“The Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb

After 3 years of owning the book, I finally made the effort and read the book from cover to cover. It was hard to start off, but then went in a free-flow. There are many reviews on the Internet, so I won’t go on about the book at length, only mention a few things which touched me personally and professionally. There are five points that I take from this wonderful and insightful book Read more “The Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb

Edward Said: Last Public Intellectual

Last autumn, I started being interested in Professor Edward Said, who is most known for his 1978 book “The Orientalism”. I won’t write about the book here, a lot has been written about it already. Edward Said, however, is much more than an author. He stands out as perhaps the last public intellectual of our time. We do not have public intellectuals of this caliber anymore, maybe with an exception of Noam Chomsky. Read more Edward Said: Last Public Intellectual

“Our Kids” by Robert Putnam, 2015

The New York Review of Books published a review of the new book of Robert Putnam “Our Kids”. This book is about where America is going in terms of the “morality” of life — increasing divorce rates, children born out of the wedlock and an overall decreasing happiness trend. Read more “Our Kids” by Robert Putnam, 2015

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