Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Are the "Bigger Fish" Caught? China's Experience of Engaging Citizens in Performance Measurement System1

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Are the "Bigger Fish" Caught? China's Experience of Engaging Citizens in Performance Measurement System1

Article excerpt


The central and prefecture governments in China have promoted the diffusion of citizen based performance measurement, and anticipated its effect in enhancing public accountability. This article examines the relevancy of this claim by examining a policy experiment in Shanghai Municipality during 2004-2011. The features of the citizen participation accountability mechanism and its effects on boosting public accountability are examined. It is found that the development of this system is driven by bureaucratic interests, which impede citizenry to exert influence on the process and outcomes of the accountability practices. The findings also show that public organizations evade the accountability pressure, and that the mechanism has yet exerted salient accountability pressure on the organizations prone to performance problems. These issues render the securitization strength of the experiment to be diluted. To remedy, public administrators in China should change the performance culture of the public sectors, empower citizens and enhance their capacity, change the way subjective performance measures are used, and link citizen engagement with comprehensive public management reform.

Key words: citizen engagement; performance measurement; public accountability; China; Shanghai; corruption; citizen satisfaction

Acknowledgement: We are gratitude to the financial support from the General Program of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NFSC, grant number 70873092; 71173167) and the Program for Changjiang Scholars and Innovative Research Team in University (PCSIRT, Grant Number IRT0855).


The recent discussion about public accountability highlights the issue of how to bring the citizenry closer to public administrators(Blair 2000; Frankish, Kwan et al. 2002; 2002; Haque and Mudacumura 2007; Liddle 2007; Eckardt 2008; Khan and Chowdhury 2008; Sarker and Hassan 2010). Among the others, one stream of research is particularly interested in how to engage citizens in performance measurement systems(Ho and Coates 2002; Rowe and Shepherd 2002; Holzer and Yang 2004; Heikkila and Isett 2007; Halachmi and Hölzer 2010; Hildebrand and McDavid 2011). The basic tenets of public accountability apparently support that engaging citizens is beneficial, as it facilitates expressing public needs and concerns(Vries 2007), promoting public trust(Fard and Rostamy 2007), reinforcing institutional learning, enhancing the integrity of public employees, and increasing bureaucratic responsiveness(Haque and Mudacumura 2007).

Although engaging citizens in performance measurement sounds promising, the realization of public accountability however, depends on many factors. On the side of citizens, holding governments accountable not only needs citizens to consume time in accountability practices, but also rests on citizens' capacity to demand answers from agents about their proposed or past behavior, to discern that behavior, and to impose sanctions upon the agents(Eckardt 2008). It is also important for citizens, who occasionally represent their individual interests as service users, to exert "democratic control" on behalf of the whole society (Aucoin and Heintzman 2000; Haque and Mudacumura 2007; Liddle 2007; Heikkila and Isett 2007). But literature shows that when citizens are engaged, their commentary can be highly "framed" to represent their immediate interests, rather the than the interests of the "general public"(Jewell and Bero 2006).

On the side of governments, they have to ensure that the general public as external stakeholders participates in beyond evaluating the outcomes, but in setting goals and informing policy making and implementation(Moynihan and Ingraham 2003). In particular, citizens are anticipated to counter the manipulative behaviors by the bureaucrats in performance measurement, such as exaggerating achievements, building image, and covering up failures(Haque 2007; Halachmi and Hölzer 2010). …

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