New Paper on “Addressing Inequality”

9 07 2020

Our new paper entitled “Addressing Inequality: The First Step Beyond COVID-19 and Towards Sustainability” is now available. I will provide the story behind this paper in a subsequent post.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted billions of lives across the world and has revealed and worsened the social and economic inequalities that have emerged over the past several decades. As governments consider public health and economic strategies to respond to the crisis, it is critical they also address the weaknesses of their economic and social systems that inhibited their ability to respond comprehensively to the pandemic. These same weaknesses have also undermined efforts to advance equality and sustainability. This paper explores over 30 interventions across the following nine categories of change that hold the potential to address inequality, provide all citizens with access to essential goods and services, and advance progress towards sustainability: (1) Income and wealth transfers to facilitate an equitable increase in purchasing power/disposable income; (2) broadening worker and citizen ownership of the means of production and supply of services, allowing corporate profit-taking to be more equitably distributed; (3) changes in the supply of essential goods and services for more citizens; (4) changes in the demand for more sustainable goods and services desired by people; (5) stabilizing and securing employment and the workforce; (6) reducing the disproportionate power of corporations and the very wealthy on the market and political system through the expansion and enforcement of antitrust law such that the dominance of a few firms in critical sectors no longer prevails; (7) government provision of essential goods and services such as education, healthcare, housing, food, and mobility; (8) a reallocation of government spending between military operations and domestic social needs; and (9) suspending or restructuring debt from emerging and developing countries. Any interventions that focus on growing the economy must also be accompanied by those that offset the resulting compromises to health, safety, and the environment from increasing unsustainable consumption. This paper compares and identifies the interventions that should be considered as an important foundational first step in moving beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and towards sustainability. In this regard, it provides a comprehensive set of strategies that could advance progress towards a component of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10 to reduce inequality within countries. However, the candidate interventions are also contrasted with all 17 SDGs to reveal potential problem areas/tradeoffs that may need careful attention.




Congratulations Luis Camacho!

8 07 2020

Congratulations to Luis Camacho who successfully defended his PhD in Planning, Governance, and Globalization on Monday. Luis’s PhD dissertation was entitled “Technology, Participatory Management Practices (PMP), and Dignity at Work: Negotiating the Use of Technology in a Plastics Packaging Firm.” The abstract to his dissertation is provided below.

While every student’s PhD pathway is different, Luis’s accomplishment is particularly notable given the unexpected challenges he faced along the way. The most significant of these was the tragic loss of Prof. John Browder, the co-chair of his PhD committee. When I asked Luis to reflect on his journey, he provided the following remarks about Prof. Browder and gave me permission to share them:

“… my heart falls apart when remembering the inexhaustible kindness, love, joy, and passion Dr. John Browder had for his students. He supported me as I worked to overcome a rough first year of my graduate program and helped me progress to my second year and then on to the PhD. I still remember how excited he was to teach his planning theory class in Alexandria for the first time (a course he had taught for 15 years in Blacksburg). His energy and enthusiasm was contagious. When I transitioned to Blacksburg from Alexandria, he and his wife hosted me at their house and shared Blacksburg’s history with me. As a teacher and advisor, he always challenged us to discover our own pathways and calmed any anxieties we had about our research.”

Prof. Joyce Rothschild served as Luis’s second PhD committee chair until her retirement from Virginia Tech, at which point I became the chair. I am extremely grateful that Prof. Rothschild remained an active external committee member after her retirement. Dr. Daniel BreslauDr. John Provo, and Dr. David Bieri also served as key members of Luis’s PhD committee.

I would describe Luis as one of our most resilient students. Not only was he able to navigate multiple changes to his committee, he faced similar changes during his fieldwork as his position in the firm he was studying evolved, requiring time consuming changes to his research protocol. During his time at Virginia Tech, Luis served as a TA for multiple courses in SPIA and the Real Estate program, taught courses for the VT Honors Program, and worked as a graduate researcher for Dr. David Bieri and for the VT Office of Economic Development.

Luis now plans to return to Colombia, where he hopes to continue his research into the relationship between technology and dignity at work.

Abstract

Since the introduction of Toyota’s Production System, the deployment of lean production systems (or lean manufacturing) and more advanced technological developments, Participatory Management Practices (PMP) have been viewed as lying at the heart of successful manufacturing workplaces. Studies on technology and PMP have concluded that the state of technology in a company unequivocally shapes PMP and can open spaces to enhance the wellbeing of workers regardless of the PMP dynamics. However, these claims are contested by studies that question the positive effects from PMP, arguing that workplaces are organized in such a way that workers are viewed as mere resources to be deployed in the production process, without paying attention to their human morale and agency.

This research presents a case study of a food plastics packaging firm that contextualizes, describes, and analyzes: 1) PMP from a Socio-technical Systems Theory (SST) perspective to further our understanding of the role of participative dynamics in the wellbeing of workers; and 2) the dynamics of control-resistance in the workplace as a measure of dignity at work in the context of power relations. This research provides a rich exploration of a workplace that is facing and managing the challenge of automation and technological development.

Using an extended case study research method, data are collected by observing workers’ daily interactions with a combination of technologies. These observations reveal the importance of team dynamics in the production process. The observed PMP dynamics show conflictive, competitive, and cooperative behaviors that are negotiated through continuous human-machine, machine-machine, and human-human interactions in the production process. However, management is found to be indifferent to the impact that a combination of technologies and lean production approaches have on participation dynamics. This indifference inhibits managers from embracing and appreciating the value of PMP. All the identified expressions of what technology and PMP mean to workers, and their dynamics, show an ongoing negotiating process. This process comes from all types of participation in which a worker struggles for dignity. The organizational structure of the firm expects workers to display specific types of participation in team efforts, but workers are also provided with opportunities to negotiate their interests or struggle for dignity by changing their type of participation in team activities.

The work processes and findings described in this dissertation generally support the theory of Hodson (2001). Further, this research develops the concept of “combination of technologies,” which can be used to help observe workers’ understanding of technology and participative dynamics. The research also identifies various types of participation based on the interactions of workers in the technology process and how workers manage or safeguard their dignity based on their engagement with different types of participation in team-based situations or events. Finally, this research identified how participative engagement by workers can be used as a power mechanism to retain their dignity.





2020 Beyster Symposium

18 06 2020

On Tuesday, June 23, from 9:00 to 10:30am (EDT), I will be participating in the online (and open access) 2020 Beyster Symposium. The purpose of the symposium is to study broad-based forms of capital ownership and capital income such as employee stock ownership, equity compensation, profit sharing, gain sharing, and worker cooperatives in the corporation.

During my session at the symposium – which focuses on “UBI, Taxation, and the Environment,” a recording of my presentation will be released and the panelists in the session will be available in the chat feature of the conference platform to answer any questions you might have on our presentations or papers.

To join my session, go to https://beystersymposium.org/ and select Room 2 at 9:00am on June 23.

All of the material prepared for the symposium can be accessed via this dropbox site.

I will be presenting a co-authored paper entailed “Universal Basic Income and Inclusive Capitalism: Consequences for Sustainability.” My Prezi presentation can be accessed via this link.





A Message for the 2020 SPIA Undergraduates

15 05 2020

Since I was unable to celebrate with the class of 2020 today, I tasked my children with helping me record a video message for our graduating seniors. I even managed to find enough courage to record myself playing the guitar 🙂

The online VT commencement ceremony will start at 6:30pm (EDT) this evening and can be accessed here: https://commencement.vt.edu

Congratulations to all of our 2020 graduates!





New Paper on the Commercialization of Smallholder Farming in Nepal

4 05 2020

The second paper by Raj GC, SPIA PGG PhD candidate, was recently published in Agriculture. This paper was originally accepted for the World Bank’s Land and Poverty Conference 2020: Institutions for Equity and Resilience that was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The final version of the paper focuses on the policies and initiatives the Government of Nepal and other actors could advance to promote the commercialization of smallholder farming in the rural western middle hills of Nepal.

Abstract

A vast majority of farmers in the rural middle hills of Nepal are smallholders who often use family labor and follow traditional agricultural and water management practices. This study examines a range of perspectives (from rural farmers to development experts) on the limited commercialization of rural agriculture in this region of Nepal and the potential approaches to promoting agricultural growth and commercialization among small landholders. An analysis of household surveys, key informant interviews, and focus group discussions in three wards of Kaski, Syangja, and Palpa districts of Nepal revealed that nearly one-third of farmers left their agricultural lands barren or only partly cultivated, and more than one-third were not motivated to engage in agricultural activities. This lack of motivation was found to be connected with limited or no access to irrigation water, poor production systems, a lack of access to markets, a low return on investment in agriculture, the low social status of farm-work, the incidence of crop infestations, and fear of production risks due to extreme climatic factors (such as low/high rainfall, droughts, etc.). Remittances related to outmigration were also found to be important factors limiting a farmer’s involvement in agriculture, which also creates labor shortages. This research confirms that, for agricultural production to be profitable and commercial, households need to receive qualified technical support to introduce new technologies, engage in markets, access input suppliers and service providers, and adopt high-value production crops and related techniques. Households that receive an income from government jobs, private sources, and remittances reported agriculture being a laborious and difficult task. Addressing these mediating factors along with the provision of effective crop insurance and subsides for the lower-income segments of the population, has the potential to (re)engage rural households in farming activities. Such an approach could provide a way to realize the government’s plans to commercialize smallholder farming.





The What, Why, and How of Becoming a Smart City

30 04 2020

The second paper from Dr. Khushboo Gupta’s dissertation has been published in Smart Cities. The full paper can be accessed by clicking on the image below.

Abstract

Rapid urbanization can result in challenges, such as overcrowding, congestion, and a lack of urban services. To address these challenges, an increasing number of communities are exploring the concept of a smart city (SC). Although rapid urbanization is a problem for cities around the world, its consequences can be severe for those located in developing nations. While previous studies have focused on SCs that were built from the ground up, there is a critical need for studies that focus on how to advance SC initiatives in developing regions faced with limited land and resources. This study identified two proposed SCs in India—Kakinada and Kanpur—which are currently implementing SC projects to explore their SC transformation. This case study aims to explore how “smartness” is understood in these cities and examines the local conditions shaping SC objectives by studying the existing issues in the cities, the proposed projects, and the perception of SC experts on a) what they understand by “smartness”; b) why cities want to become smart; and c) how they will become smart. The study findings indicate that although the high-level goals of the proposed SCs in India are similar to those of existing SCs in developed nations, the underlying objectives and strategies vary and are shaped by the urbanization challenges facing the Indian cities. This research also highlights the key questions a SC planning effort should address, especially in a developing nation context.




Faculty Fellow Five

25 04 2020

I was recently asked the five questions below for the “Faculty Fellow Five” section of the Leadership and Social Change Residential College (LSCRC) newsletter. Over the past year I have had the pleasure of serving as faculty fellow for the LSCRC, which is one of the newest living learning communities on campus and a community that has close connections with the SPIA undergraduate program.

1) How did you get to where you are now?

Someday I hope to write this story for my children so they know why I moved my life from the UK to the US. At this point, I have spent half of my life in each country, with my formative years in the UK and most of my higher education and professional life here. Both of my parents were teachers at a comprehensive school (a high school) in the county of Wiltshire and I grew up in a small village surrounded by farmland. One of the oldest houses in the village was built in the fifteenth century, and my family house was built around a hundred years later. When I arrived in Boston as a graduate student in 2000, I often found myself reflecting on the fact that the oldest parts of the city were probably built after my family house. I believe this intergenerational perspective has played a significant role in shaping my research and professional activities that center around sustainability. My education and training as a young civil engineer also provided me with a global perspective – by taking me to Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and Ecuador – revealing our ability to shape (for good and bad) the environment that surrounds us. During my graduate studies in the US, my focus shifted to technology, management, and policy. While my civil engineering roots provided me with knowledge on how to build things, my graduate studies allowed me to explore the policy, law, and economic frameworks that shape why we build things. The legacy of this interdisciplinary education continues today through my research on sustainable water supply/sanitation and transportation systems and macro policies/strategies focused on how we can transform industrial states towards sustainability. I also think it is important to recognize that none of this would have been possible without the support I received over the years from university scholarship programs, professional organizations such as the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the US Transportation Research Board, and mentors who continue to inspire my work.

2) What are your favorite things to do outside of work? 

We live in a beautiful area and I love riding my ElliptiGO around the town and rural roads. Yes, I am that person on the black standup/elliptical bike wearing the luminous yellow bib that you see around town!

3) If you could pick one person who you admire the most, who would it be and why?

I’m going to be a little cheeky here and change this question to … “If you could pick one type of person who you admire the most, who would it be and why?” The people I most admire at this moment in time are those who are using their voices/platforms to advocate for transformative change. People who fall into this group include Andrew YangScott StantensMarjorie KellyMariana MazzucatoJason HickelGiorgos Kallis, Steve Keen, and Grace Blakely to name a few. What they have in common are a set of ideas that challenge the status quo and advance visions that could benefit all members of society. While these ideas/visions vary, they are starting to shape narratives and agendas around the world that could form a new era of change.

4) If you could give one piece of advice to any student, what would it be?

When making any decision about your future, pay attention to what makes you the most excited/energized, and lean into this. When you do lean in, work collaboratively and strategically, and focus on what is truly important. I would also add the need to take risks and be adaptable when things don’t quite work as planned.

5) How does your work intersect with leadership and social change? 

I would say the core of my work is connected with the need for visionary leadership to advance sustainability. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic we were facing two crises – one environmental and one social. The pandemic has temporarily eased the environmental crisis, but has dramatically worsened the social inequality crisis. Millions of people will struggle to recover from the economic shutdown and some may never recover. My work is focused on how do we change the structure of the systems we create so they directly address environmental and social crises, and could help minimize the impact of global shocks such as pandemics.





SuperStudio Session with Grace Blakeley

16 04 2020

On Thursday, April 15, we had the pleasure of speaking with Grace Blakeley – author of Stolen: How to Save the World from Financialisation – during the VT Honors College SuperStudio. Rather than posting an hour-long/unedited video, I thought it would be more helpful to break our conversation into parts. The first video below captures Grace’s introductory remarks. After this, students were able to ask questions ranging from how to “hack” financialization to advice on where to study heterodox economics.

For some context, the SuperStudio combines five advanced undergraduate courses – focused on Environmental Policy and Social Change, Data Analysis for Health Reform, “Drone-Age” Innovation for the Public Good, the Future of Higher Education, and the Future of Employment – that collaborate to examine the potentials and challenges of the Green New Deal. The SuperStudio is designed to engage students in transdisciplinary and collaborative work and provide a space where they can develop critical skills and knowledge that are applied to group or individual capstone projects.

Student Questions

Payton Green to Grace Blakeley – How to build a “populist narrative”?

Lonnie Hamilton III to Grace Blakeley – Thoughts on democratic socialism in Nordic countries?

Lorena Beltran to Grace Blakeley – Impacts of COVID-19 on efforts to advance the Green New Deal?

McKenna Magoffin to Grace Blakeley – Is there a way to “hack” financialization?

Caitlín Adams to Grace Blakeley – Where to study heterodox economics?

Natalie Serio to Grace Blakeley – How to create an influential social media platform?

My Question

Ralph Hall to Grace Blakeley – Will automation/AI undermine efforts to strengthen unions/labor?





New Paper in Environment and Planning B

3 03 2020

The first paper from Dr. Khushboo Gupta’s dissertation has been published in Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science. The full paper can be accessed by clicking on the image below.

Abstract

With an increasing number of smart cities initiatives in developed as well as developing nations, smart cities are seen as a catalyst for improving the quality of life for city residents. However, current understanding of the risks that may hamper successful implementation of smart city projects remains limited due to inadequate data, especially in developing nations. The recent Smart Cities Mission launched in India provides a unique opportunity to examine the type of risks, their likelihood, and impacts on smart city project implementation by providing risk description data for area-based (small-scale) development and pan-city (large-scale) development projects in the submitted smart city proposals. We used topic modeling and semantic analysis for risk classification, followed by risk likelihood–impact analysis for priority evaluation, and the keyword co-occurrence network method for risk association analysis. The risk classification results identify eight risk categories for both the area-based and pan-city projects, including (a) Financial, (b) Partnership and Resources, (c) Social, (d) Technology, (e) Scheduling and Execution, (f) Institutional, (g) Environmental, and (h) Political. Further, results show risks identified for area-based and pan-city projects differ in terms of risk priority distribution and co-occurrence associations. As a result, different risk mitigation measures need to be adopted to manage smart city projects across scales. Finally, the paper discusses the similarities and differences in risks found in developed and developing nations, resulting in potential mitigation measures for smart city projects in developing nations.





TRB 2020 + a Conversation with Congressmen Garcia and Takano

2 01 2020

For more than a decade, I have served as a member of the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB’s) Transportation and Sustainability Committee (ADD40). During the TRB 2020 Annual Meeting, ADD40 will be holding its final series of conference meetings, workshops, and lectern sessions (see below for more information on these activities). The success of the ADD40 committee has meant the subject of sustainability will now be elevated to the Sustainability and Resilience Group (AM000), which will have a special Section on Transportation and Sustainability (AMS00). The new TRB structure can be accessed here.

During this conference, I will have the pleasure of hosting a conversation with Representatives Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (Fourth Congressional District of Illinois) and Mark Takano (41st Congressional District of California), who along with Representative Ayanna Pressley (Massachusetts 7th Congressional District) launched the Future of Transportation Caucus in 2019. During our session – entitled A Century of Progress? Reflecting on How Transportation Has or Has Not Promoted Sustainability Outcomes in Equity, the Economy, and the Environment – we will discuss the role of the new caucus and explore what can be done to advance environmental, social, and economic sustainability through transportation system development. We plan to dedicate over one half of our session to an open Q&A with conference participants.

https://annualmeeting.mytrb.org/interactiveprogram

Monday (Jan 13)

Tuesday (Jan 14)

Wednesday (Jan 15)

Thursday (Jan 16)