Improving Policy Design and Building Capacity in Local Experiments: Equalization of Public Service in China's Urban‐rural Integration Pilot

Published date01 February 2017
AuthorJiwei Qian
Date01 February 2017
National University of Singapore, Singapore
Policy design is important, and high policy capacity is necessary for social policy-making. Local experimentation is helpful in
building capacity and therefore supporting policy design. Since 2007, China has initiated an urbanrural integrationreform to
equalize the access to public services between urban and rural residents. This paper uses the Chongqing urbanrural integration
pilot as a case to illustrate how and to what degree a local experiment can be useful in building policy capacity and improving
policy design. Regarding the Chongqing pilot, policy capacity in administration and governance has been improved through
mechanisms including coordinating government departments through a small leading group led by local leaders as well as
incentivizing bureaucrats by linking quantif‌ied policy targets with off‌icialsˈperformance evaluations. Equalizing access to
public services by facilitating the mobility of factors, including labour, credit, and land, is the key rationale in the policy design
of the Chongqing pilot. Under this policy design, f‌iscal capacity has been enhanced signif‌icantly, and policy initiatives have
been f‌inanced with an improved f‌iscal capacity. At the same time, however, unintended consequences in the Chongqing pilot
have been observed, including misallocation of resources and underdevelopment of some dimensions of policy capacity.
Institutional reforms might also have been undermined. Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
key wordspolicy design; policy experimentation; policy capacity; China; Chongqing; public service; inequality;
Policy design refers to a deliberate and conscious attempt to def‌ine policy goals and connect them in an
instrumental fashion to tools expected to realize those objectives(Howlett, Ramesh & Chindarkar, 2015). Policy
design is indispensable in social policy reform. Social policy reform usually needs to be implemented in a complex
and dynamic context. For example, in the process of rapid urbanization, interacting factors such as f‌iscal
conditions, land use, population change and regional distribution of infrastructure are all relevant for reforming
public service delivery. Policy design is necessary in this context to decide what the policy targets are and what
kind of policy instruments are required. This, in turn, requires adequate policy capacities from the government that
designs and subsequently implements those policies.
One of the most important issues in social policy reforms in China is the disparity between the rural and urban
sectors. The income ratio between urban and rural residents increased from 2.1 in 1985 to 3.03 in 2013. More
importantly, this disparity is discernible not only in economic terms but also in the discrepancy of peopleˈs
accessibility to public services. For example, the number of doctors per 1000 residents in urban and rural areas
was 3.39 and 1.48, respectively, in 2013. For rural residents, both the quantity and quality of public service
provision signif‌icantly lag behind that provided to their urban counterparts. In 2013, the infant mortality rate in
rural areas was 11.3 per 1000 compared with 5.2 per 1000 in urban areas (National Health and Family Planning
Commission, 2014).
*Correspondence to: Jiwei Qian, East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore, 469 Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 259756, Singapore.
public administration and development
Public Admin. Dev. 37,5164 (2017)
Published online in Wiley Online Library
( DOI: 10.1002/pad.1785
Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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