- Who Gets What with the Independencia Aqueduct in Sonora, Mexico
Helen Ingram is a democracy advocate. Her academic works have been aimed to enhance democratic participation for a more equal society. For Mexico, this purpose is especially relevant since democracy is still under construction and inequality is rampant. Ingram's model of analysis is critical to address Mexico's structurally biased and paternalistic clientelism, as well as to grasp the issue of corruption and the problem of impunity among Mexican politicians.
Inspired by Helen Ingram's work, this article attempts to apply her approach to analyze the Sonoran government's decision to build and operate the Independence Aqueduct over the years 2010-2015. The aqueduct constitutes a major transfer of water from El Novillo Dam on the Yaqui River and conveys it to the city of Hermosillo for housing and industry, and away from Mexican and Yaqui indigenous farmers in the southern part of the state. The paper is based on close observation of water politics in the northern state of Sonora, Mexico, over the last decade in my roles both as a water policy scholar and as a columnist for the state's major newspaper. The ideas expressed here are not the result of a formal research project but rather are my reflections and observations of who stands to "win" and "lose" in the conflict over the recently completed Independence Aqueduct, taking to heart Ingram's thesis that policies are "social constructions" aimed at specific target populations.
The opinions and roles assigned to the different groups are ideas of the author. However, this is not a detailed account of the evolution of the conflict. The methods employed to collect information are semiparticipant observation, analysis of press notes, and a few interviews with [End Page 227] key observant actors. Therefore, the data are cited and referenced in the bibliography, but ideas and opinions are my own.
The chapter is composed as follows: first, a brief description of Ingram's target population theory and terminology; second, an overview of the decision to build the Independencia Aqueduct; and third, an interpretation of the different roles of the target populations addressed including the capital city of Hermosillo, the farmers and civic movement of Ciudad Obregón, and the Yaqui indigenous people. Finally, I present some closing remarks.
Social Construction of Target Populations
A characteristic of Schneider and Ingram's theory of public policy design (Schneider and Ingram 1997; Ingram and Schneider 2005; Ingram et al. 2007) is that social construction of target populations is paramount. Instead of focusing on abstract goals and rationales, real people are put at the center, providing a framework to analyze who gets what and how the real benefits and burdens are distributed. It goes further than economic cost and benefit analysis to ask who benefits and who pays the costs, assessing the political position and influence of each side. They assert that "policy designs are produced through a dynamic historical process involving the social constructions of knowledge and identities of target populations, power relationships and institutions" (Schneider and Ingram 1997, 5). Moreover, they consider that some contexts reproduce and accentuate anti-democratic tendencies leading to "degenerative designs" that are detrimental to democracy. Target populations play a critical role in policy design because they represent choices for policy designers that can be linked to the solution of a particular problem (Schneider and Ingram 1997, 85). Designs differ in values allocated to target populations. Some groups receive only benefits while others are left with nothing but burdens and some others may receive both benefits and burdens. A key aspect is the amount of social, economic, and political power wielded by the target group. The relatively powerful groups are prone to be framed in a positive mode and receive benefits, while the relatively powerless are more likely to be attached to negative connotations and be burdened. From the interaction of political power and positive or negative construction of targets, Schneider and Ingram (1997) argue that four different types of target populations are derived: [End Page 228]
Advantaged target populations have significant political power resources and enjoy positive social constructions as...