Panel Paper: Beyond bureaucracy: The Effects of Environmental Policy Experimentation on Citizens’ Environmental Awareness in Urban China

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Addams (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Yue Guo1, Jie Wang2 and Zhilin Liu2, (1)Harvard University, (2)Tsinghua University

Beyond bureaucracy: The Effects of Environmental Policy Experimentation on Citizens’ Environmental Awareness in Urban China


A large volume of literature has studied the role of policy experimentation in China’s policy change and governance transformation. Typically, from the perspective of the central-local relationship, previous studies mainly focused on the intended effects of policy experimentation, such as on policy formulation at central level (Heilmann, 2008; Mei and Liu, 2014) and policy diffusion among local governments (Zhu and Zhang, 2015). To our best knowledge, however, little research has been conducted on the “unintended” effects of policy experimentation beyond bureaucracy, such as the effects of policy experimentation on how the public perceive a policy issue and even change their behavior toward the issue. This policy feedback mechanism has drawn increasing attention among public policy scholars in the past decade, who are intrigued by the “unintended effect” of policies on governance. This concept of policy feedback has been also gradually adopted as a new approach to study policy process and explain how existing policies shape public opinion--treating policies as causes rather than merely effects.

In this study, we conduct a multi-level analysis to empirically investigate the extent to which different policy experimentation models may have different impacts on public opinion. We use environmental governance as a case and identify 13 sustainability-related experimental programs initiated by various central government ministries. After extensive review of policy documents, we further classify all experimental programs into pilot-city programs (shidian chengshi) and model-city programs (mofan chengshi), each representing different models for policy experimentation in China. The model-city program typically is initiated by the central government to award and promote local performance in sustainability whereas the pilot-city program typically aims at advocating certain policy goals or testing specific policy measures championed by the central government. We build a database that combines the 2010 China General Social Survey (CGSS) with a city-level database capturing how many titles one city was been honored to conduct pilot-city programs or model-city programs related to environmental sustainability by central government ministries during 2006-2010. Included control variables would be personal attributes– e.g. age, gender, education, household income and environmental knowledge, and city-level contextual factors including economic development and environmental quality.

Our empirical results suggest that two distinct environmental experimentation models – model-city programs and pilot-city programs - affect public environmental opinion in different ways. Urban residents tend to show higher level of environmental awareness to environmental issues in cities that have been pioneers as central government designated model cities in environmental policy. Our findings show that the policy feedback effect brought by model-city approach is more effective and positive on public opinion due to a mobilization mechanism. Public participation is more encouraged if they live in a city with more model titles, which could promote environmental awareness to environmental issues. When public participate environmental governance, they are shaped by government policies as well.