Policy Implementation, Representation, and Democratic Governance

MPSA Blog - Policy Implementation, Representation, and Democratic Governance

At last year’s MPSA conference, Pamela McCann of USC Sol Price School of Public Policy was kind enough to ask me to participate in a roundtable discussion with other prominent scholars. The focus of the panel was “Why Do We Have No Theory of Policy Implementation?”. I agreed to participate and upon informing my friends in public administration and public management, many smiled quaintly and pondered whether we needed such a theory. Realizing I was serious, they wished me Godspeed as I was apparently about to descend from my own perch in regulatory policy and bureaucratic politics into the abyss.

Nevertheless, we do need a theory of policy implementation. For reasons I will note below, policy implementation is key to understanding policy change and outcomes broadly, and not just in the crevices left by public administration or public management. Policy implementation is fundamental to understanding enduring issues in American politics, such as representation, party governance, and democratic governance.

Let’s get to that question of importance first. Of the many things that scholars of political behavior have suggested drive voting behavior, one of these is the policies of the party in power—especially the party of the president. The assumption, sometimes heroic, is that voters sense when the party in power has moved too far left or right for their tastes, and in response, turn out the party in power. How do we understand this linkage in the context of administrative incompetence, or even more importantly, opposition party obstruction? If opposition parties are able to impede, or outright degrade, the quality of policy implementation, then citizens no longer judge policies, but their implementation. This leads to a quite different interpretation of representation and mass movements in party support.

In the United States, it is apparent that opposition parties are able to manufacture this dynamic. The Affordable Care Act, for instance, has suffered from day one due to decisions about implementation forced on the administration by the opposition. Similarly, as late as fall 2015, 20% of the regulations implementing the Dodd-Frank regulatory reforms of the financial sector were still unimplemented, confronting stiff opposition from the House Banking and Finance Committee. This phenomena works both ways. At the present, Democrats are holding out obstruction as one possible response to the recent election of Donald Trump.

For political scientists, this also opens up an avenue for studying party governance in a new way. Opposition influence does not end with the bargain struck in the legislative branch. Our recent past has shown, if nothing else, that debilitating the governing party’s attempts at implementation is a viable strategy for influence, and governing from the back. As for democratic governance, it emerges as a viable strategy for representation, even when out of power. In other words, credit-claiming and position-taking has both an affirmative, and preventative dimension relating to government action.

If I have convinced you that policy implementation might be important, why do we need a theory of policy implementation? After all, we have the prosperous fields of administration and management that bear heavily on many of the things bureaucracies do. It is difficult for research traditions built around the inner-workings of bureaucracies and administrative units to deal effectively with a problem that is inherently inter-institutional. The same could be said of bureaucratic politics with its focus on influence, the accumulation of power through reputation, and how bureaucracies navigate their political environment. Are these things important for understanding policy implementation? Of course they are, but they will never be theories of policy implementation.

Three characteristics of governance in American politics severely limit that ability of current research to speak to policy implementation. The first of these is the nature of the issues faced by government in the modern era. Issues like climate change, terrorism, and global economic interdependence are boundary-spanning (May & Jochim 2013) in nature—they cross many traditional substantive issues. As such, diverse interests and bureaucracies work within the same substantive area.

The second is bureaucratic competition in regulatory and implementation politics. My own work demonstrates that it is rare for one, and only one, bureaucracy to work within an issue area (Workman 2015). Bureaucracies compete to define policy problems, provide information, and steer the resulting policy debate with tremendous implications for policy implementation.

Third, federalism overlays the nature of these problems and the bureaucracies competing within them, adding an extra layer of consequences for policy implementation (McCann 2016). In many ways, the federalism components of the ACA’s implementation shaped resultant policy outcomes in the program for better and worse. Furthermore, there is ample evidence that legislators and parties were thinking about policy implementation when considering these choices.

If we understand policy implementation as important, and accept that a theory of policy implementation must move beyond our current approaches in management or bureaucratic politics, why now? The straightforward answer is that the problems and political dynamics we now face demand it if we are to understand policy change, outcomes, and how citizens intersect with governing structures. Beyond that, it is worth considering the history of policy implementation.

Policy implementation was born, grew, and expired long before the necessary conceptual and theoretical components necessary for understanding it where intellectually ripe. In other words, it was an important problem before its time. As Soren Winter, Christopher Barry and George Krause pointed out on the roundtable (Soundcloud audio above), many of our theories of politics today bear directly on policy implementation, including theories of delegation, the ecology of games, how governing systems process information, and how they accumulate expertise. None of this intellectual infrastructure existed when the concern for policy implementation burst onto the scene.

If not now, when? If not us, who? I hope that by connecting the study of policy implementation to larger concerns of democratic governance and representation, those in American politics, especially those studying legislators, parties, bureaucracies, and U.S. federalism, might forge a new line of research in policy implementation. The characteristics of modern governing structures, matched to modern policy problems demands it.

About the Author: Samuel Workman is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma, and author of The Dynamics of Bureaucracy in the U.S. Government. Workman served on the “Why Do We Have No Theory of Policy Implementation?” roundtable at the 2016 MPSA annual conference with Pamela Clouser McCann, University of Southern California, Chair; George A. Krause, University of Pittsburgh; Soeren C. Winter, The Danish National Centre for Social Research; and Christopher Robert Berry, University of Chicago.

Bias and Women’s Under-Representation in Politics

Even if Hillary Clinton shatters the “highest” glass ceiling this November, for many years to come women are likely to remain under-represented in elected offices in the United States and throughout most of the world’s democracies. If bias on the part of party leaders or voters explains some of this variation, we can imagine three ways that such bias might operate.

The first type of bias against women would crop up if voters or party officials preferred male candidates to female candidates, even when the candidates are otherwise identical. (Or worse, if less-qualified men were preferred to more-qualified women.)

The second type of bias would arise when voters or party officials “read” a candidate’s characteristics in different ways depending on the candidate’s gender. For example, if voters were confronted an otherwise identical male and female candidates, each of whom had two children and reasoned: “well, he has good experience and, given his family commitments, he is likely to be a responsible leader” while at the same time thinking “she has good experience but, given her family commitments, she is likely to be over-taxed if she is elected”, then they display bias (perhaps unbeknownst to themselves) against women.

The third way that bias might operate is if traits that are historically and statistically more likely to be associated with male candidates are valued by party leaders or voters, while traits that are more likely to be associated with female candidates are de-valued. For example, if female office-seekers are more likely to have backgrounds in education, while male office-seekers are more likely to have backgrounds in business, and party leaders preferred candidates with business backgrounds, then their preferences were biased against female office-seekers from the get-go.

The third type of bias is the most subtle, and therefore the most difficult to observe and confront with public policy and hiring best practices. But our study shows that in some contexts, it may be the most pervasive form of bias that female candidates face. In order to understand how each of these types of bias work, we embedded conjoint experiments into surveys of three groups of people: public officials from the United States; national-level legislators from around the globe; and American voters.

Video: Experience, Discrimination, or Skill-sets?: Using Elite and Voter Conjoint Experiments to Understand Women’s Access to Political Power – Presented by Dawn Langan Teele at the annual MPSA conference in Chicago, April 2016.

Conjoint experiments ask survey respondents to determine the winner of an imaginary competition between hypothetical candidates using nothing but simplified resumes to guide their choice. In our study, each candidate’s resume contained information including gender, political experience, marital status, number of children, and previous occupation.

In order to determine which characteristics were worthy of examination, we looked at the background traits that are commonly associated with female politicians and those that are commonly associated with male politicians. For example, the work of Susan Carroll and Kira Sanbonmatsu shows that since 1980, teaching has been the single largest feeder career for women in state legislatures in the U.S., while careers in law were the most common for men. Women who enter politics are also likely to be older, have fewer children, and more likely to be unmarried than men who enter politics. These different patterns are what Carroll and Sanbonmatsu term the “gendered” pathways to political office.

PrimarySeat-Resumes

To examine the role of each type of bias, we conducted three tests. First, we looked at whether, all else equal, male candidates were preferred to women. Remarkably, we do not find much evidence that women are discriminated against as women in this way. In nearly all of the surveys (and most sub-groups) women actually get a boost over men. This female preference is strongest for respondents who are themselves women, and it does not exist among Republican leaders and voters in the U.S., or independent voters, though neither group shows a type 1 male bias.

Second, by looking at interaction effects, we can see whether certain attributes become more important depending on the gender of the candidate. We find that men and women are evaluated similarly if they have high versus low levels of political experience, if they are unmarried, and they have particular previous occupations, however some respondents seem to penalize women more harshly for having children than men.

Finally, we examined whether gendered traits, like having fewer children, being un-married, or older, affect the evaluation of a candidate. Overall, we find that candidates fared worse when they have characteristics that are associated with women’s gendered pathways to political office. Older candidates and single candidates are less favored. Candidates with more children fare better than those with fewer—a pattern that damns disproportionately childless female candidates. In some surveys, respondents, and especially male respondents, passed over hypothetical candidates with backgrounds in teaching, choosing candidates with backgrounds in business or law.

In sum we don’t find much evidence of explicit bias against women, as women, and it seems that given the same characteristics, male and female candidates are evaluated similarly for most traits. However, the typical profile of female candidates—their age, marital status, family characteristics, and career backgrounds—are de-valued by leaders and voters, and thus may hinder their careers.

Hillary Clinton exhibits some although not all of the female pathway to politics. If she wins, in spite of having only one child and getting a relatively late start on her elective career, we can only hope that it might change the way voters evaluate candidates, erasing gender bias in the years to come. Until then, there is more work to be done understanding how gendered pathways influence political selection.

About the Authors: Dawn Teele is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at University of Pennsylvania,  Joshua Kalla is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and Frances Rosenbluth is a Professor of Political Science at Yale University.

How Do Experiences with Government Programs Shape Political and Civic Engagement? Looking Beyond the American Case

A key insight of policy feedback theories is that government offices are sites of adult political learning. As Joe Soss explains:  “…public bureaucracies provide relatively immediate experiences with government. Legislatures may host more dramatic political activities, but the police station, the motor vehicles office, and the Internal Revenue Service are more likely to supply citizens with lessons about government that ring with the truth of first-hand experience.” The key point is that people are apt to generalize their personal experiences with government bureaucracies to government and politics at large. These experiences and the lesson about government that they impart can influence people’s sense of political agency, their perceptions of government responsiveness and their propensity to participate in political and civic life. People’s experiences with government bureaucracies will, of course, differ and the policy feedback effects can be expected to vary accordingly.

A key finding to emerge from studies of the impact of program experiences on political and civic activity in the United States is that programs that are structured along paternalistic lines typically have negative feedback effects. Clients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program are particularly likely to have experiences that are disempowering and politically demobilizing. Their lives and personal circumstances are subject to a good deal of scrutiny and control and they are apt to be stigmatized and treated as deserving, at best, of pity.


The Impact of Program Participation on Participation in Politics and Civic Life – Presented by Elisabeth Lesley Gidengil at the annual MPSA conference in Chicago, April 8, 2016.

The question is whether these findings generalize to other welfare states. The United States is hardly a typical case. It is usually viewed as the archetype of the liberal welfare state where the neoliberal restructuring of welfare programs has been the most thoroughgoing. The result has been a very paternalistic welfare system that makes the receipt of benefits conditional on fulfilling a variety of obligations and gives case workers a good deal of discretion in administering benefits. This restructuring is reflected in popular discourse where welfare recipients are caricatured as “moochers” and “welfare queens”.

North of the border, Canada is also usually classified as a liberal welfare regime. However, Canada’s regime is less robustly liberal than the United States. Canada’s national social insurance programs, for example, include paid maternity (15 weeks) and parental (35 weeks) leave and unemployment benefits are available for up to 36 weeks or more. Welfare reform has been less far-reaching than in the United States. For example, while receipt of welfare benefits can be tied to workfare requirements, there is no time limit on eligibility for welfare benefits. Canada thus makes an interesting case for comparison.

The data come from a two-wave online survey of 1,692 residents of Ontario, Canada’s most populous and socially diverse province. The survey includes a large over-sample (941) of respondents who have used needs-based social programs. Respondents were asked about 11 different social programs that differ widely in terms of their design and authority structures. Respondents who had used a given program were asked whether they had ever contacted a government office about the program. Those who had were asked to rate the treatment they received in terms of helpfulness, whether it was fast or slow, whether they were treated with respect and how the treatment made them feel about themselves.

First, we can look at the relationship between participation in each program and various forms of political and civic activity. The test is a tough one because multiple programs are analyzed simultaneously. The findings turn out to be strikingly different from those reported in studies of program use in the United States. There is no evidence that welfare recipients are less likely than other respondents to take part in political and civic activities. This is the case whether we look at party membership, contacting elected officials, signing petitions, taking part in a product boycott or a demonstration, working with others in the community to solve a problem or complaining to local authorities about a problem in the neighborhood. The only exceptions relate to volunteering and, not surprisingly, making a donation to charity

At the same time, there is little evidence that contributory insurance programs have positive effects on political and civic engagement. Like Social Security, these programs are characterized by depersonalized financial relationships with government and they are very visible to recipients. The U.S. literature would tell us that these are the sorts of programs that are most likely to be associated with greater involvement in political and civic activities. However, in Canada, the effects are either very small or non-significant.

Why are the findings for the means-tested programs that involve the most intrusion into and control over recipients’ lives so at odds with some of the negative policy feedback effects reported in the United States? One possibility is that Canadian recipients are less likely to have negative experiences with their case managers or with the agencies responsible for administering these programs. Predictably, though, welfare recipients were the most likely to have reported negative experiences when contacting a government office about the program and recipients of other means-tested benefits were also less likely to have had positive experiences than people receiving tax-related benefits and social insurance benefits. But far from dampening political and civic engagement, negative experiences either have no effect or are associated with an increased propensity to participate.

So why don’t negative program experiences have demobilizing effects on recipients of means-tested benefits in Canada? On the one hand, Canada’s social programs are more generous and the new paternalism has not shaped the design of social programs to the same degree as in the United States.  On the other hand, we need to look beyond the nature of the welfare regime to consider institutional differences and especially the presence of a viable social democratic party.

About the Author: Elisabeth Gidengil is the Hiram Mills Professor in the Department of Political Science at McGill University in Montreal and is the founding director of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship. She specializes in elections, public opinion and voting behavior, political communication, and women and politics research. 

 

The Company You Keep: How Voters Infer Party Positions on European Integration from Governing Coalition Arrangements

The following is the first in a series of posts written by 2016 MPSA award recipients highlighting outstanding research presented at previous MPSA annual conferences.

Democratic accountability requires citizens to be reasonably well-informed about political parties’ issue positions. Citizens may employ heuristic “shortcuts” to update their perceptions of parties’ positions, for a number of reasons, for example because collecting detailed political information is costly or because the political landscape is uncertain. However, such heuristics may also lead citizens astray. We identify a heuristic that citizens apply to the European integration dimension, which prompts them to make seemingly problematic inferences about party positions on this issue.

Our article examines how citizens infer parties’ European integration policies based on the set of parties participating in the coalition government. Recent studies document that voters infer that coalition partners’ Left-Right policy positions converge when these parties enter into a joint governing coalition. We report analyses of data from European Election Study surveys showing that citizens apply a similar coalition-based heuristic to infer parties’ positions along the European integration dimension. Specifically, citizens infer that, over time, junior coalition partners change their European integration policies in the same direction as the Prime Ministerial (PM) party’s perceived shift on this issue. Figure 1 depicts these effects. It displays how the PM party’s perceived shift on European integration correlates strongly with the perceived policy shifts of its junior coalition partners, but not with opposition parties’ perceived shifts. (Junior coalition partners are displayed as a dotted line in the figure and opposition parties as a solid line, with shaded confidence intervals). These patterns strongly suggest that voters employ a coalition-based heuristic to update their perceptions of party policy positions on European integration.

MPSA_Blog_TheCompanyYouKeep
Figure 1. Predicted effects of Perceived PM Party Shifts on the Perceived Shifts of Junior Coalition Partners and Opposition Parties

Notes. The figure charts the predicted effects of the Prime Ministerial (PM) party’s perceived shift on the perceived shifts of junior coalition partners (the solid line) and on opposition parties (the dotted line), based on model estimates presented in the article. The shaded regions are set so that the probability is under .05 that the predicted values overlap.

 

Furthermore, we show that citizens’ coalition-based inferences on European integration may be problematic, in that they conflict with alternative measures of party positions. In particular, neither political experts’ perceptions of party positions nor the codings of parties’ election manifestos support voters’ inference that junior coalition partners adjust their own positions on Europe in response to the PM party’s policy shift. This seeming disconnect suggests that citizens misapply the coalition-based heuristic to the European integration dimension, i.e., that they incorrectly infer that junior partners have changed their positions. However, as we emphasize in the article, an alternative interpretation is that rank-and-file citizens define party positions in terms of their short-run concrete actions, whereas experts privilege party elites’ rhetoric (and long-term positions). Although we have identified an important aggregate level pattern that supports the use of the coalition heuristic, it is difficult to parse out the relative influence of party actions and party rhetoric on citizen perceptions which is ultimately an individual-level process. Accordingly, future research may approach this topic at the individual level, using an experimental setup to enhance our understanding of how citizens formulate perceptions of parties’ issue positions.

Regardless of the specific interpretation, our results also indicate that citizens’ perceptions of party positions on Europe matter, in that citizens react to parties’ perceived shifts by updating their own policy views and/or party support. In other words, perceived party policy shifts drive partisan sorting in the electorate.

Our findings have implications for mass-elite policy linkages and for parties’ election strategies, which are important given the growing salience of Europe as displayed in the bitter public debates over the financial assistance packages offered to distressed economies in Greece, Spain, Ireland, and Portugal; the upcoming national referendum on European integration scheduled to be held in the United Kingdom this June; and the growth of radical right, anti-European integration parties such as Golden Dawn in Greece, the French National Front, the UK Independence party, Italy’s Five Star movement, and the Dutch Party for Freedom. The European issue is especially relevant to such parties’ strategic calculations, because to the extent their images as staunch anti-EU parties are compromised when they govern in coalition with a more moderate Prime Ministerial party, these radical right parties may have electoral incentives to withhold this support from the government. Following such incentives could lengthen the process of coalition formation, increase the frequency of minority governments, and constrain what governments can actually accomplish

This article is an expanded version of a summary first appearing at the AJPS Author Summaries blog.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Authors: James Adams is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at UC Davis, Lawrence Ezrow is a Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Essex, and Christopher Wlezien is a Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. Their research “The Company You Keep: How Voters Infer Party Positions on European Integration from Governing Coalition Arrangements” was awarded the Pi Sigma Alpha Award at the 2016 MPSA Conference.

The article is now available online as an Early View publication prior to inclusion in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. (MPSA members: Log in at www.MPSAnet.org/AJPS to access.)

Trendspotting Through the Gradventurist’s Lens

Now that it has been two weeks since MPSA 2016 ended, there are a few trends I observed during the conference that I feel need revisiting especially from a graduate student perspective. The conference weekend was hectic for everyone and there was a lot going on simultaneously, so it is useful to take a look back and absorb it slowly. The trends I am discussing in this post are positive and can be beneficial in the long run for all of us if we are able to take advantage of them the right way.

Co-Authored Work
Co-authored work is not a new phenomenon, but what I am specifically referring to is the trend of graduate students co-authoring with professors and mentors. This is an amazing trend that more graduate students should consider. The challenge is finding the right kind of mentor/professor to work with on a subject you feel passionately about.

For instance, I co-authored a paper with my professor in a field that is not my specialty purely because I wanted to work with them and the topic we came up with was fascinating to both of us. I am a Comparative/IR person while my co-author is an established public law and judicial politics professor. We started discussing topics that would be cool to study and ended up with a topic that explores how religious conservatives react to federal courts on socio-moral case decisions. We had never run experiments, so we both had a chance to work and learn how to set up experiments. I learned a whole new body of literature and approach to research with its roots in American Politics while my professor saw the potential of taking our study scope international.

I learned a lot more from this experience that I would have in a class with the same professor. The co-author relationship benefits the graduate students if your faculty co-author legitimately believes in dividing work. In my case, I wrote one half of the paper while my professor co-author wrote the other. We discussed it and then outlined the presentation together. This process gave me a whole new outlook that I would not have had any other way.

Point is, as a graduate student, go out there and find a professor or a mentor who will work with you to actually guide you through the process. Do not pigeonhole yourself to working within your own field, with the kind of job market we are all facing, it always helps to have expertise across fields.

Cross-Disciplinary Work
As I mentioned in my last point, it helps to work across the fields and specialties. We are all political scientists even though we study very different things. My colleagues in public law struggle with International Relations the exact way I struggle with public law. But together, we actually work really well in tandem. Also working together opens up our research options significantly.

For instance, one of my colleagues is a public law and American politics specialist who focuses on judicial politics. We have had multiple conversations where I tried to make the comparatist’s argument that whatever is studied in American politics is basically an extensive case study and can be easily applied to other countries. After multiple back and forth arguments, we ended up working on a paper together that essentially chalks out the trajectories and processes through which judiciaries across the world define and maintain judicial independence. Most of the literature that we utilized for theory building came from American politics, but most of our case analysis came from comparative and IR. We ended up with a decent paper at the end that raised some interesting arguments which are nowhere to be found in purely American or public law literature.

In simple terms, all I am saying is – mixing and matching your topics and expertise is a good thing. If you are a comparativist who studies East Asia, it might be worthwhile to work with a public opinion person as that can change the dynamics of your work. You both learn in the process, you expand your abilities and knowledge base while ending up with a paper that can potentially be published in regional studies journals as it is new and exciting.

There were other interesting trends like using a lot more data in studies of IR and a slow but steady uptick in good quality qualitative work in American politics. Based on what I witnessed at the MPSA 2016 conference, I am consciously expanding my work areas to include different fields that I find interesting. Remember when the adage that you should work on something that you find interesting? Turns out they really mean it and it does not have to be within your own field. We are academics and we do not need to pigeonhole our work to fit a specific box.

 

About the author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate, a Graduate Research Assistant and Student Innovation Fellow 2016 – 2017 at Georgia State University. He is also a blogger for the 2016 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on the Role of Bureaucracies in Democratization and Authoritarian Rule, Money in US Politics as well as how social issue cases impact trust of social interest groups in Federal Judiciary.  You can also find Rasool on Twitter and blogging at The Gradventures

A Grad Life Recap of the 2016 MPSA Conference

As the MPSA 2016 conference wraps up, I wanted to share a few thoughts as a first time attendee. This has been a phenomenal experience for me and my colleagues (most of whom are also first time attendees) and has made me fall in love with this profession all over again.

Creative Research and Sophisticated Methods

In principle an academic conference is a place for academics to come together and present their ideas. MPSA in that regard has been a great platform for all kinds of research to get center stage and be evaluated by our peers. A lot of research takes up traditional issues and uses out of the box approaches to answer the larger questions. Take for instance the work presented by Wedeking and Lippert on Supreme Court Legitimacy; they are using a network analysis tool called Pathfinder to help create visual networks of legitimacy. That work could be easily applied to comparative politics when studying authoritarian regimes to understand their power base. This approach could also help with designing an improved network analysis. Then there is the work using student research pools to run experiments. While not all institutions have that, it is a growing trend and the work presented based on this model of inquiry is growing.

Point is, what MPSA does for us as scholars is to give access to cutting edge research but importantly the opportunity to discuss it with authors so we can learn from them and apply those strategies to our research questions.

Networking and Building Research Clusters

As a first time attendee, the chance to meet fellow first time attendees and listen to their research was great. More importantly finding people who have similar ideas and wish to expand their research questions was extremely helpful too. I sat through a number of presentations that were in my field of study and I got to witness the different approaches I had never even heard of before this conference. The fact that I got the chance to discuss them at length and learn from these people was amazing.

These interactions may or may not lead to future work together but what I now know is there are research clusters out there that I can tap in to and work with even if they are not directly in my field. For instance, my friends in judicial politics and Congressional politics do some really sophisticated methods work that can be applied to other disciplines with a few updates. What also surprised me was the growing trend of cross-disciplinary work that is being done at this stage. The fact that as political scientists we are tapping in sociology, economics and anthropology to give more nuance to our work is something that can make our work more relevant to the existing issues the world faces.

The Big Picture

The Empire Series lectures were the hidden gem for this year’s MPSA. The lecture by Dr. Gary Segura was an honest critique and reality check for our profession. He focused on how the discipline needs to move to basics and start answering the real world problems. Political Science, according to him, is suffering from “methdological fetishism” whereby we are obsessed with sophistication of our methods and are heavily quantative in our approach. According to him we need to be focusing on the “politics that matter”. He believes that the focus on methods is killing the focus on substance. His views echo what a lot of the general public has been saying about academia for a while i.e. we do not talk to them, we often talk at them. And while this may hold true in a lot of cases, what I witnessed at the MPSA conference this year has been a shift to answering the real world questions in a straightforward manner. Yes, methods are critical to providing scientific evidence to our claims and our hypothesis, but at the same time our questions have also gotten more realistic. For instance MPSA this year held a number of roundtables that focused on dealing with real issues we face as academics from classroom teaching to making our research more accessible to the public.

Zoltan
Zoltan Hajnal presents “Dangerously Divided: How Race and Class Influence Who Wins and Loses in American Politics” as part of MPSA’s 2016 Empire Lecture Series. (Photo: Adnan Rasool)

Dr. Segura’s words echoed Dr. Zoltan Hajnal who presented a thorough study on how certain political parties have a significant impact on the living conditions of the minorities in this country. With erudite mix methods, he presented a realistic picture that explains the current election cycle well and even explains why Hillary Clinton locks up the minority vote like no one else. His explanations and evidence is the direction our profession is moving towards slowly.

The 2016 MPSA conference has done what it was meant to do – it has put forward the state of our profession and that state is excellent. We are on the right path and the fact that so many academics are willing to work with their graduate students and teach them with a hands on approach is something our field can be proud of. As a first time attendee, I realized how lucky I was to have amazing faculty who actively wishes to work with students as co – authors to train them better and help build on our ideas.

 

About the author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate, a Graduate Research Assistant and Student Innovation Fellow 2016 – 2017 at Georgia State University. He is also a blogger for the 2016 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on the Role of Bureaucracies in Democratization and Authoritarian Rule, Money in US Politics as well as how social issue cases impact trust of social interest groups in Federal Judiciary.  You can also find Rasool on Twitter and blogging at The Gradventures

Your To Do List: One Week until MPSA 2016

MPSA2016_OneWeekWe are one week away from the MPSA 2016 conference and a lot of us are still scrambling to get everything in order. Those of us making it to the MPSA for the very first time are especially equal parts excited and nervous to be presenting at such a big forum. So to help out my fellow first timers, I thought I would document my preparation experience and those of my colleagues who also are attending MPSA for the first time.

Based on the countless conversations I have had with faculty, my colleagues and friends who are also going to MPSA, I have come up with three helpful ideas that can help you prepare for the big event.

  • Test Your Research and Presentation on a Real Audience
    I have mentioned this in one of my earlier posts but it needs to be regurgitated. The best way to prepare for a presentation at a forum like MPSA is to test it out on live audiences multiple times. In my department we have an internal conference a week before MPSA every year, where all students presenting at MPSA get to present their research in front of a decent sized audience. The point of doing so is to get the presenters at ease with the idea of presenting in front of a crowd but also get them used to the flow of their presentation. The critique helps, but what helps more than that is the advice provided to them about how to take that critique.

    A conference like MPSA is equal parts about presenting your research and you putting your name out there. How you manage critique helps build an image that you can curate over years before you even hit the job market. In short, present in front of an audience, have your research on your fingertips and intentionally go out of your way to smile and be positive about critique.

  • Get Business Cards Made and Keep Your Name Tag On
    As an attendee and especially as a graduate student, when you attend a conference like MPSA you will be meeting a lot of people and trying to socialize as much as possible. You will be passing on your information and that cannot be on a piece of paper with a hand written email address. Up your game and get some business cards made in advance. Most departments would be happy to assist their students with this and even if they cannot get them made for you, they can at least give you the design that you can use to print your own cards. (Online options exist for fast business card printing: NextDayFlyers, VistaPrint, etc.)

    Secondly, once you are at the conference please keep your name tag on. Ideally on the right side. This makes life easy for the person shaking your hand or trying to engage you in a conversation. This is especially helpful for people like me who have difficulties remembering names. Keeping the name tag on also helps people memorize your name faster because they can use it during conversations. Think about it, if you just met someone and even if they told you their names, you will probably keep referring to them with pronouns throughout the conversation. But if you could see their name tag, you are more inclined to use their name more often as it makes you appear more attentive. As simplistic as it sounds, these little things make a difference in daily interactions.

  • Be a Tourist
    Chicago is one of the most tourist friendly cities in the US. We are all in that city for 3 to 4 days. Not one of us is presenting all those 4 days. I know it is hard to imagine having fun right now but the moment that presentation is done, you will want to go check out the city.

    So, plan in advance. To start, with the city has amazing food. There are multiple lists online for must eat foods, so start with those. Chicago is a big sports town and the White Sox are playing home games. (There is even a deal on tickets for MPSA members.) Chicago Blackhawks are also playing at home. With regards to art and culture, there is the Art Institute as well as multiple festivals and shows around the city. Do step outside downtown. The city has a lot to offer and while most of it is downtown, there are hidden gems all over town with easy transport access. On their site, MPSA has compiled local family-friendly resources to help make your experience in Chicago more enjoyable.

A week from now, we will all be presenting our hard work at MPSA and getting a chance to socialize. I will be live blogging from MPSA 2016 and would love to hear your opinion and experiences. Drop by and say “Hi,” tweet or email me while you are there about your research, your interactions and whatever else you notice at MPSA.

About the author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate, a Graduate Research Assistant and Student Innovation Fellow 2016 – 2017 at Georgia State University. He is also a blogger for the 2016 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on the Role of Bureaucracies in Democratization and Authoritarian Rule, Money in US Politics as well as how social issue cases impact trust of social interest groups in Federal Judiciary.   You can also find Rasool on Twitter and blogging at The Gradventures.

 

Incorporating Family in Your MPSA Conference Experience

MPSA2016_FamilyinChicagoSo having done it recently myself, I understand how challenging it can be to have family join you during a conference. Out of necessity, I recently had my two little ones (both under the age of five) accompany me to an out-of-state conference. Crazy, yes, I know. I worried constantly about how I was going to make everyone feel at home when we weren’t at home. How would I occupy everyone’s time when I was busy with conference activities? Would I be able to find places to eat and things to do that were suitable for everyone? What if someone gets sick?, etc. The usual head spinning challenges.

For attendees with family members joining them during the upcoming MPSA conference in Chicago, we’ve compiled a series of association, conference hotel and local Chicago resources to help make your family’s experience a more comfortable and entertaining one. Instead of having our attendees research ideas on their own, we’ve compiled a list of family-centered Home Away From Home resources to make it easier to plan for this year’s conference experience.

Looking for a kid-friendly restaurant? Done. Need to find a park nearby? Done. Need to locate a drugstore for aspirin and clear your head on the walk? Done. This amazing compilation of great family resources will also be available on the conference mobile app during the conference for easy access. Making bringing your family to the MPSA conference easier? Done!

About the Author: Juliene Heaney received a MA in Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management from University of South Carolina-Columbia and has been a member of MPSA staff since late 2014. She is responsible for exhibits, sponsorships, meeting and receptions, as well as the new MPSA Grad Lab and Tech DemoStation events. At the upcoming conference, you will find her in the registration area and working with vendors in the Exhibit Hall.

 

Presenting At Conferences – A Grad Student’s Guide

Presenting at a conference is a daunting task for any academic. Be it a big name academic who has spent a career presenting at MPSA_Rasool_GradStudentPrepconferences around the world or a graduate student who is just starting out; conference anxiety still kicks in. To help presenters, especially grad students, I came up with a list of things to keep in mind while you prepare for your conference presentations. The list is compiled based on my personal experiences as well as those of professors and other graduate students within the field of Political Science.

  1. Practice
    As they say, practice makes perfect. For a conference presentation, especially for a graduate student, practicing what you are presenting is key. While it seems like a cliché, “practice makes perfect” is a popular saying for a reason. The trick here is to try different scenarios for practicing. Most departments offer colloquiums internally that allow students to test out their research ideas among their peers first before going to a conference. This gives the grad student a chance to try their presentation in its entirety in front of a room full of people. Additionally this allows for significant and honest feedback from your peers that does not break your confidence at this early stage. Every grad student’s conference presentation is a representation of the department, i.e., the quality of the department is heavily represented by the kind of graduate students and research they are putting out. So, it is better to have in-house practice before you head out.

    Pro Tip – Ask your peers to play out roles, i.e., ask some of them to be supportive while others to be extremely harsh about your research presentation. This way you will not be rattled if you run in to a harsh critique at the conference.

  2. Your Research Is NOT Perfect
    You are a graduate student, there is no way your research is the picture of perfection or even close. Understand that and you will have a much easier time dealing with criticism and ideas about your research from not just your peers but by conference audiences. Most of the time, we as graduate students worry too much about the perfection of our research before presenting it. This is also why a number of people hold off from presenting their research work because they feel it is not “perfect” enough. The thing is, it will never be perfect enough. It will be good and one of the best ways to make it better is to put it out for discussion and feedback within your field by presenting at a conference. Once it is out there, you can get feedback on it and then realize the potential it has.
  3. Be Crystal Clear
    One of the key issues all graduate students face while presenting at conferences is the assumption that the audience completely understands what they are talking about. That is not the case. In most instances, people listening to research presentation would have an understanding of the field but might not know the specifics of the topic you are focusing on. As a good presenter, you can address this by simplifying your research using an easy to follow sequence.

    Start with your THEORY. Be clear about exactly what you are saying, i.e., your research question and what the theory you are working with is. Secondly, present your HYPOTHESES clearly. Everyone in the room should know what you are testing through your work. Be clear on the independent variables and your dependent variable. Make separate slides if you need to do that. This helps people follow what you are saying and keep in mind the causal mechanism as you explain what you’re testing and the analytical data. Thirdly, explain in sequence your METHODOLOGY and the reason your methodology works well for your project. Your methodology is where a lot of feedback will be directed, so make sure it is clear and easy to understand. Lastly, present your CONCLUSION by summing up everything you have said. Before you jump to your conclusion, have a summary slide that sums up everything you have said, i.e., research question, theory, methodology, analytics. Present a conclusion in simplest of terms. Most graduate students have a tendency to use big words and complicated jargon to prove they know what they are talking about. Be different and use simple language to explain your conclusion. This way it will actually stick with people instead of being just another presentation by a graduate student trying to show off his or her vocabulary.

  4. Be Gracious, Do not Get Defensive
    As discussed earlier, your research is not perfect. The worst thing a graduate student, or for that matter any presenter, can do is to get defensive about their research work. Be gracious instead. Take the critique in stride and listen to what is being said. Ask people to be exact about their critique in a gracious manner so you can actually improve your research. The whole point of presenting at a conference is to fine tune your research work so that it may eventually go out for publishing. Plus if you are gracious about your acceptance of critique, your audience is more likely to get invested in the work you are doing and be happy to share their insights with you about it.

    Forums like MPSA are great for getting feedback on your research from your peers who are either involved in something similar or have been working on something that might be of help to you. Your attitude while taking criticism might also help you find likeminded researchers who could potentially work with you on a co-authored project. In short, be gracious, smile and acknowledge the feedback.

  5. A Certain Amount of Stress is Good
    A lot of articles will tell you not to stress. They will talk about tricks to manage your stress by imagining the room full of people as something else, etc. Reality is far from it. As a graduate student presenting at a forum like MPSA, there is a certain amount of pressure and stress. It is okay to have that stress. The key is to realize that everyone else who is there presenting alongside you for the next four days also is going through the same thing. We are all in this together. Acknowledge that and things become easier. Stress about getting your research in within the allotted time is good but freaking out about the critique is not. Worrying about the technology working out is good, but preparing a backup plan for that is even better. At the end of the day you need to know that you are not alone. All of us are academics and have been in the same situation at one time or another. So be stressed about the quality of your work but do not worry to the point it hurts the presentation of your work.

As the 2016 MPSA conference draws closer, I hope this list is helpful to all of you. See you all at MPSA 2016!

About the author:  Adnan Rasool is a PhD student, a Graduate Research Assistant at Georgia State University, and a blogger for the 2016 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on the Role of Bureaucracies in Democratization and Authoritarian Rule, Money in US Politics as well as how social issue cases impact trust of social interest groups in Federal Judiciary.  In his previous life he has been a Political Campaign Strategist, an award winning blogger on current affairs and a development sector expert.  You can also find Rasool on Twitter and blogging at The Gradventures.