The Innovative Personality? Policymaking and Experimentation in an Authoritarian Bureaucracy
Public Administration and Development 39(3): 154-162
16 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2018 Last revised: 11 Sep 2019
Date Written: 2019
Why do local officials in an authoritarian bureaucracy experiment with policy, even when directed not to do so by central-level officials? This study suggests that policy experimentation in this institutional environment can best be understood as an interaction between the structure in which local officials are embedded, and individual-level personality attributes. Leveraging a new data set from a series of original surveys with local policymakers in mainland China, conducted between 2016 and 2018, we discern three base-line personality types: authoritarian, consultative and entrepreneurial. We thereafter examine the individual-level characteristics of local officials who will innovate irrespective of a centralization of bureaucratic power and interests, as currently experienced under Chinese President Xi Jinping. We find that local policymakers engage in policy innovation when they are more focused on resolving governance problems, and that increased risk reduces but does not eliminate their willingness to innovate. Based on these findings, we contend that future studies of policy innovation should use an evolutionary framework to examine the interaction between preferences and selection pressures.
Keywords: authoritarian institutions, China, governance, local government, policymakers’ personality, policy innovation, risk tolerance
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