The community philanthropic foundation: A new form of independent public service provider for China?

Published date01 April 2019
AuthorTom Christensen,Shihong Weng
Date01 April 2019
Subject MatterArticles
untitled Article
Public Policy and Administration
2019, Vol. 34(2) 210–235
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DOI: 10.1177/0952076718784642
A new form of
independent public
service provider
for China?
Shihong Weng
East China Normal University, Shanghai, China
Tom Christensen
Department of Political Science, University of Oslo, Norway
There have been growing calls for new theories understand public governance with
respect to service provision collaboration involving nonprofit and for-profit actors. In
this article, we develop a framework for analyzing whether and how independent public
service providers change cross-sector collaboration. We examine new forms of collab-
oration in nonprofit organizations in China. Based on a discussion of the effectiveness of
public service delivery by community philanthropic foundations in three Chinese cities,
our analysis reveals that the new type of collaboration entities are attempting to meet
unfulfilled public needs. Outside the government’s hierarchical structure, nonprofit and
for-profit actors jointly form independent organizations to address public issues.
However, because public governance systems are more centralized in China than in
many Western countries, the country faces major challenges in the production and
delivery of public goods and in implementing service reforms. This article extends
the existing research discourse on public governance and cross-sector collaboration.
Chinese public administration, community philanthropic foundation, cross-sector col-
laboration, independent public service providers, new public governance
Corresponding author:
Shihong Weng, East China Normal University, Room 306, School of Public Management Building, 3663 North
Zhongshan Road, Shanghai 200062, China.

Weng and Christensen
All over the world, New Public Management (NPM) reforms have been supple-
mented by and mixed with post-NPM in a kind of hybrid governance (Christensen
and Lægreid, 2007; Pollitt and Bouckaert, 2017). In post-NPM, the focus has been
not only on how to improve collaboration and coordination within the public
apparatus but in particular how collaboration between the private and public sec-
tors works with dif‌ferent organizational forms. The public administrative practices
of governance are hybrid in form and emphasize horizontal, networked associ-
ations and a collaborative approach to service provision (Wachhaus, 2014).
Osborne’s (2010) concept of New Public Governance (NPG) signif‌ies a new type
of collaboration, often network-based, that takes a wide variety of forms and in
which private and public actors play dif‌ferent roles. NPG emphasizes partnership
and collaboration instead of competition (Bryson et al., 2016; Morgan and Cook,
2014; Ospina and Foldy, 2015; Vangen, 2017).
The independent public service provider (IPSP) is an emergent type of
cross-sector collaboration (CSC) designed to meet unfulf‌illed public needs. CSCs
seem to play an important role in both instrumental and symbolic terms in the
production and delivery of public goods or services by joining-up government,
for-prof‌it and nonprof‌it organizations. However, little is known about the
approach IPSPs adopt in collaborating with government and how they respond
to policy change. Among CSC institutions, IPSPs are unique in that they are rather
independent of government and are more ‘‘self-directed entities’’ (Forrer et al.,
2014: 19).
IPSPs are seen as a direct response to the challenges that governments face in
administering the public sector, especially in delivering integrated services and
Khademian, 2008). The latter make government-only solutions dif‌f‌icult for many
countries, including China. Governments are required to provide public goods and
services, while usually lacking the organizations, resources and staf‌f to respond to
the new requirements (Jing and Gong, 2012; Lecy and Slyke, 2013; Salamon, 2012;
Yu and Chen, 2018; Zhang, 2017), especially when the problems straddle several
dif‌ferent levels or sectors.
In Western countries, many scholars have begun to pay closer attention to CSCs
(Bryson et al., 2015; Forrer et al., 2014; Mendel, 2016). We increasingly rely on an
interconnected network of public, private, and nonprof‌it actors working together
across boundaries to deliver public services (Wachhaus, 2014). Over the past
30 years, researchers have been interested in three major trends: quasi-governmen-
tal structures, government contracting, and decentralization. In the early 21st cen-
tury, there have been many studies of three new forms of CSC that have emerged in
the Anglo-Saxon countries: partnerships, networks, and IPSPs (Forrer et al., 2014).
Research on the governance of public service delivery in developing countries has
highlighted the importance of nonprof‌it organizations (NPOs) for assuming greater
responsibility for the ef‌fective provision of public services and good governance
(e.g., Batley et al., 2012).

Public Policy and Administration 34(2)
However, we still know little about IPSPs in China and other rapidly developing
countries, where numerous public sector reforms are under way. China is a fasci-
nating case study for analyzing IPSPs, because of its unique government system
and because of the priorities that structure the f‌ield of Chinese philanthropy in key
and consequential ways (Lai et al., 2015). Compared with their counterparts in the
West, NPOs in China may face fundamentally dif‌ferent institutional contexts
(Kim and Kim, 2015), the government used to restrict NPOs activities that
might challenge the party-state regime; however, economic reforms have made
Chinese society more pluralistic (Zhan and Tang, 2016). Especially, China does
not have an open, horizontally separated political system like in Western countries,
and only has a state-led civil society (Zhang, 2017). It is an authoritarian state, and
its political system is relatively closed (Hsu and Hasmath, 2014). In China, accord-
ing to the Charity Law issued by the Ministry of Civil Af‌fairs (MOCA), which is in
charge of NPO registration and supervision, there are three kinds of philanthropic
organizations: foundations, associations, and social service organizations.
Community philanthropic foundation (CPF) is a new kind of foundation which
will discuss next. NPOs in China even civic NPO leaders are more likely to utilize
their government ties to grow; CPFs are not exception which is related to the recent
developments of philanthropy (Guo and Brown, 2006; Guo and Lai, 2017; Zhan
and Tang, 2016; Zhang, 2017). Therefore, this article examines, using representa-
tive cases, whether and how IPSPs have changed how CSC works in China and
show how Chinese reforms ref‌lect public sector reforms worldwide. In light of this
reality and the complex situation in China, it formally addresses the following
research questions:
. What is typical for IPSPs and what are the similarities and the dif‌ferences
between them and other cross-sector CSCs?
. Have IPSPs changed the way CSCs work in China through the CPFs? To what
degree have they met public needs or promoted social innovation?
. What comparisons can be drawn between IPSPs in China and in major Western
The remainder of this article is divided into six parts. First, we explain in more
detail the theoretical foundations for and types of CSCs. Second, we analyze IPSPs
and distinguish them from other CSCs. Third, we present our methods of data
collection and measurement. Fourth, we describe the role of CPFs in China using
evidence from f‌ield research. Fifth, we discuss the limits of CPFs in China and the
dif‌ferences between them. This is followed by a comparative discussion. Sixth, we
conclude by drawing implications for the IPSP debate.
The empirical cases we use in this article are based on two rounds of f‌ield
research conducted between 2015 and 2017 in three cities in China: Shanghai,
Shenzhen, and Nanjing. The data also come from participant observation, which
included meetings of CPFs, interviews with key government of‌f‌icials and CPF
leaders, allowed us to address and answer the questions we set out to address.

Weng and Christensen
We triangulate the data (Kelly, 1999: 380) by referring to multiple sources of
CSC arrangements
Given the diverse nature within the collaboration f‌ield, we have added further the
conceptual framework. The concept of CSC and collaboration are closely related in
Anglo-centric public administration. Hence, it is necessary to understand how col-
laboration is def‌ined and discussed in Anglo-centric research. Etymologically, the
word ‘‘collaboration’’ is dif‌ferent from ‘‘cooperation’’ which have more of a trans-
actional character (O’Flynn, 2009). O’Flynn argues that formal def‌initions abound
in the diverse literature, but it is used fairly loosely in the public policy circles. To
counteract this possibility, there is a need to account for the plurality of interests
and voices in public collaborations (Dudau and McAllister, 2018; O’Flynn, 2013).
The word ‘‘collaboration’’ used to refer to ‘‘a process in which organizations
exchange information, alter activities, share resources, and enhance each other’s
capacity for mutual benef‌it and a common purpose by sharing risks, responsibil-
ities, and rewards’’ (Himmelman, 2002: 3). Others have described collaboration...

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