Tomorrow, for the first time in several years, I’m taking off for a full two weeks of vacation. I’m looking forward to a recharge and the perspective that comes with it.
There’s a lot to reflect on; it’s been a remarkable year so far, and I’ve been posting a lot about it here and elsewhere.
- In December, I visited Cuba for the first time in 13 years.
- In January, we put together a 150-participant conference on Colombia’s peace process.
- In February, I spent 12 days at the Mexico-Guatemala border.
- In March, I spent 10 days in Chocó and Bogotá, Colombia.
- In April, I published a big report on peace in Colombia.
- In May, I did border security research in San Diego and spoke at the Latin American Studies Association congress in Chicago.
- In June, we published a big report on Mexico’s southern border region.
- In July, I went to Bogotá to research Colombia’s post-conflict challenges.
- And I’m just back from a quick trip to the U.S.-Mexico border with a member of Congress.
This fall we’ve got a big report on Chocó, Colombia coming out. We’ll re-visit the Texas-Mexico border and report on that. And we’re putting on a closed-door conference in Europe to discuss donor priorities for a possible post-conflict Colombia.
This is a good year, and there’ll be a lot to reflect on while walking in the woods of Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks with my family over the next two weeks.
One important reflection, though, is how much improvement I still need to make, in my own work. Constantly. Simply, to be better at it than I am now.
As I write out my e-mail autoreply and clean my office, these are the things I think I need to ask:
How doggedly am I investigating, trying to dig up and put new information into the public domain? Analysis and recommendations based on information that’s already out there are useful, especially if they makes connections that nobody else is making. But they’re easy compared to shedding light on things that the public should know, but doesn’t. This means finding documents from governments. It means omnivorously reading trusted journalistic and NGO reports from all over Latin America, especially those that don’t make it into English. It means meeting with government and legislative officials to hear what they’re excited or concerned about. And it means going into the field and seeing things firsthand. I do a lot of this, but there’s always another level to dig to, and huge unexplored areas. (Defense Department assistance, drone proliferation in the Americas, and the impact of current U.S. military/police aid to Central America spring immediately to mind.) Investigation is the very core of this kind of work, and it deserves more time than I’ve been giving it.
On the other end is communications, which are a perennial challenge. This blog, which I use to work out a lot of ideas, is a good example. It’s uneven. One day there’ll be three posts, and then as much as three weeks of nothing. Fixing this means going back to the original purpose of a weblog: to journal what I’ve been doing, to place markers of things I’ve found interesting and want to come back to, to respond rapidly to what’s happening in the region and in my field, and to put in words the first drafts of complicated ideas. Not a day should go by without me posting something that makes this blog a worthwhile place to come back to—or at least posting a reflection on why that wasn’t possible that day.
Those posts should include regular features, like a weekly links post. I enjoy doing those, and they force me to read and digest even during the most intense weeks.
So does the WOLA Podcast, which has been the very definition of “uneven” (if not “moribund”) this year. I think my other work suffers when I don’t go through the weekly exercise of recording these. It’s such a plainly great idea to record conversations with people who have new things to say, and to zoom in for a close look at a topic. It’s the best way to understand them, and learn to talk about them. And the audio of a conversation takes less time to produce and distribute than a memo of half as many words. The “Week Ahead” updates I was doing last year, though, were too scripted: it took at least five hours to put together a 20-minute show. Most weeks, I don’t have five hours to spare. I still haven’t figured out how to make this format work, but it’s one of the main things I’ll be thinking about how to do over the next two weeks, in order to reboot the WOLA Podcast this fall.
So that’s what I’ve come up with. Dig harder in my investigative work, and be more regular in my short-form and audio communications. (Notice I’m not saying “more meetings and events” or “more emails to answer.” But those are subjects for another post.)
Now, I’ve got 2 weeks of tranquility in the wilderness to think about what all that might look like. I look forward to making it happen when I get back.
Have a great two weeks.