Kevin O'Brien, Professor

Closed (1) Sources and Impact of Vague Policy Language in China’s Intergovernmental Communication

Applications for Fall 2017 are now closed for this project.

China’s remarkable economic growth without commensurate political change has been a puzzle for many observers. The predominant explanation highlights the gradual and adaptive nature of the reform process characterized by decentralized policy experimentations. In this process, it is commonly accepted that central policymakers provide vague policy guidelines to give local implementers discretion to develop creative approaches to problem solving. However, vague guidelines do not always mean giving discretion; vagueness can make local implementers unsure about the boundaries of permitted actions, inducing their wait-and-see behavior. Incorporating both perspectives, this project will seek to explain why and under what conditions vague policy language functions one way or the other and how it contrasts with clear directives and their consequences.

The empirical referent of this project is the Regulations on Open Government Information (OGI). Upon promulgating the national regulation in 2007, the State Council of China mandated that governments at all levels and their departments should release their own implementing regulations to disclose government information. Leveraging the variation in the contents of guidelines across provinces, this project will explore the sources of variation and compare how prefectural level implementers respond to varying levels of vagueness.

1. Students will compile and analyze prefectural level governments’ annual work reports on OGI implementation from 2008 to 2017. Specifically, students will code how much effort each government puts into the policy.
2. Students will write weekly memos (1-2 pages) that summarize news articles on OGI implementation at the prefectural level.
3. There will be one-hour weekly group meetings to discuss progress and issues. Students will have the opportunity to interact with Professor Kevin O’Brien as a group in the beginning of the semester and, if desired, individually by appointment.

Learning Outcomes:
1. Students will gain an enhanced understanding of local policy implementation in China and, more broadly, bureaucratic dynamics in authoritarian regimes.
2. Students will gain research skills, such as developing a large dataset and analyzing both primary and secondary sources.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Jieun Kim, Ph.D. candidate

Qualifications: 1. Proficiency in Chinese is required. 2. Experience with Microsoft Word and Excel, Dropbox, and Chinese search engines is desirable but not essential. 3. Strong interests in politics, public policy, law and/or communication are desirable but not essential.

Weekly Hours: 6-9 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: Other than weekly group meetings, students are welcome to work anywhere they want.

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