Pragmatism or Politicism: Local Officials’ Decision Making in Social Policy Experimentation

29 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2022 Last revised: 30 Sep 2022

See all articles by Yan Wang

Yan Wang

Lancaster University; London School of Economics

Date Written: September 16, 2022


It has been widely recognized that local bureaucrats are crucial actors in policy process. In policy experimentation—a popular policy instrument in social welfare areas—which heavily relies on negotiation and interaction between different sectors, local bureaucrats are the main actors that initiate the experiment plan, propose policy innovation, and implement the pilot schemes. Then what do they value when deciding on local social policies, and why would they prefer some policy-experiment schemes over others? In this research, we use two unique studies with survey experiments on municipal- and county-level government officials in China and investigate their rationale and attention allocation on social policy preferences, as well as their decision making on policy experiments. Our results show that although the instruction and support from the upper-level governments are as vital as the local initiatives, local officials are more practical than political in many scenarios of local social policy making, where under similar conditions they react more strongly to societal demands. This pragmatism is especially true in deciding the preferred pilot scheme—they place more value on financial support, local conditions, and risk environment, while the political load of the pilot schemes have relatively less leverage in changing their preference. More importantly, such a pattern is consistent across different administrative types and regional subgroups of local officials.

Keywords: Bureaucrats agency; Attention allocation; Social policy; Policy experimentation; Conjoint experiment; China

Suggested Citation

Wang, Yan, Pragmatism or Politicism: Local Officials’ Decision Making in Social Policy Experimentation (September 16, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Yan Wang (Contact Author)

Lancaster University ( email )

Lancaster LA1 4YX
United Kingdom

London School of Economics ( email )

5.22 Centre Building
Houghton Street
United Kingdom

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