How Does Chinese Local Government Respond to Citizen Satisfaction Surveys? A Case Study of Foshan City (中国地方政府如何响应公民满意度调查?来自广东省佛山市的案例研究)

Authors


Abstract

Three decades of economic liberalisation in China have reshaped relationships between the state, market and community to a remarkable degree. In recent years, a growing body of literature has documented the rise of citizen satisfaction surveys in assessing the performance of Chinese local government. Yet little is known about how Chinese local government responds to such surveys. This article addresses this gap. Based on a case study of Foshan City in Guangdong Province, this article shows that information in citizen satisfaction surveys is used in two major ways in this locality: the city's leadership officials use the information to support pre-existing policies while departmental officials use it to improve service delivery. This study shows that, with the rising power of the community, citizen satisfaction surveys can be an important intermediary between the Chinese state and its citizens and help local government to be more responsive to citizen needs.

中国过去三十年来的经济改革在很大程度上重塑了政府、市场与社会的关系。近年来,越来越多的研究开始关注公民满意度调查在评估中国地方政府绩效中的使用。然而,对于地方政府如何响应这些调查的结果却知之尚少。本文试图解答这个问题。文章通过对广东省佛山市的案例研究发现,公民满意度调查中的信息在该地主要用于两个方面:市领导使用这些信息来支持既有改革和调整政策投入,而主管改革的部门官员则使用这些信息来改善公共服务。本研究表明,随着社会的力量不断增强,公民满意度调查或可成为中国地方政府与公民之间的重要媒介,并使地方政府对公民的需求更具响应性。

A growing body of literature in recent years has documented the rise of citizen satisfaction surveys in assessing the performance of local governments in China (Bao et al. 2010; Fu and Zeng 2010; Xie 2008), reflecting a greater tendency of Chinese reformers in the post-Deng era to seek innovative approaches that enhance local governments’ responsiveness to citizen needs. Just as for their Western counterparts, citizen satisfaction surveys provide an important way for Chinese people to voice opinions on whether government services meet public expectations and preferences (Howard 2010; Shingler et al. 2008; Callahan and Gilbert 2005). Nonetheless, it takes more than having a voice to make local governments responsive to citizen needs: ‘A loud voice falling on deaf ears is not as important as a quieter one spoken to someone who is listening’ (Ulbig 2008:535). Some questions, therefore, demand more attention: When Chinese citizens speak, are local governments listening? If they listen, how do they respond to the needs reflected in these surveys? Do they use the information to improve public services? How do they use it? Has the use of survey information created more responsive government in China?

Our knowledge of performance information use in the public sector has improved in recent years with increasing scholarly interest in this topic (Askim 2007; Van Dooren and Van de Walle 2008). The discussion, however, is biased toward the use of information collected from ‘objective measures’ such as government reports and statistics, whereas much less is devoted to how government responds to citizens’ subjective evaluation of the quality of services. Mainstream literature on citizen surveys centres on the value of subjective evaluation in the measurement of government performance (Stipak 1979; Brown and Coulter 1983; Parks 1984; Percy 1986; Kelly 2003; Van Ryzin et al. 2008; Dalehite 2008; Shingler et al. 2008). In general, there is limited empirical evidence on the way local governments use the information in citizen surveys to improve their services. As Shingler et al. (2008:1110) point out:

…lessons learned from the use of subjective data in agency performance evaluation [are] still not understood very well. There is a need for research on how agency administrators can translate information gained from subjective sources such as citizen surveys into actions directed toward improving agency performance.

This article addresses this gap and the questions mentioned above. It starts with developing an analytical framework with which to evaluate how local governments respond to citizen surveys. It then uses that framework to examine a case study of Foshan City in Guangdong Province of the People's Republic of China. It shows that these local officials primarily use the information to set their policy agenda and implement service improvement programs. The article concludes by discussing the significance of using citizen satisfaction surveys in decision-making and delineating the limitations of this study.

Government Responding to Citizen Surveys: An Analytical Framework

Use of performance information is multifaceted and contextual (Moynihan and Pandey 2010; Yang and Callahan 2007; de Lancer Julnes 2008). Different actors value the information differently and use it to different degrees, in different ways and for different purposes. To examine how local government responds to the information in citizen surveys, we need to consider three key questions: First, what is the value of the information in citizen surveys? Second, if the information is valuable, in what ways could government possibly use it? Third, will different actors in the government use the information differently?

What is the value of information in citizen surveys?

Should governments view the information from citizen surveys as a reliable gauge of government performance and use it to improve decision-making? The critical question on the value of citizen surveys triggers a decades-old debate. Some scholars, based on their empirical findings, argue that government should use survey data on citizen satisfaction cautiously because citizens’ subjective evaluations do not accurately reflect objective change in government performance. The discrepancies between subjective and objective evaluations are mainly caused by citizens’ dubious abilities to accurately comprehend and evaluate the services delivered by local governments (Stipak 1979; Brown and Coulter 1983; Kelly 2003). Others, however, have argued that subjective measures provide valuable information for decision-making that cannot be obtained by objective measures, for example, what policies and services voters want. Empirical evidence has also shown that citizens are able to perceive the efforts of service agencies. Their perceptions are thus crucial indicators in assessing the outcomes of government services (Percy 1986; Shingler et al. 2008; Van Ryzin et al. 2008; Dalehite 2008).

These studies propose several important views on the value of citizen surveys. First, it is not appropriate to reject outright citizen surveys as useful indicators of government performance. An important value of citizen surveys is that they provide better information than many alternative sources of citizens’ perspectives, for example, information that is more representative than public hearings (Brudney and England 1982; Parks 1984; Dalehite 2008; Shingler et al. 2008). Second, since citizen evaluation of government performance is highly affected by their direct, routine experiences, citizen surveys can provide meaningful information on the aspects of services that are visible or tangible to citizens, such as response times, resolution of problems, service orientation and the like (Brown and Coulter 1983; Van Ryzin et al. 2008). Citizens are less likely, however, to comprehend government efforts to improve services that are hard to measure or observe, for example, police and fire protection. Third, citizen surveys have substantial political or symbolic value. They can be deliberately used for political ends to convey the image of democratic decision-making (Brudney and England 1982; Feldman and March 1981; Dalehite 2008). In addition, conducting citizen surveys provides visible evidence to the public that agencies are genuinely interested in what their clients think and will use their responses in policy making. This perceived responsiveness might enhance citizen trust in government (Shingler et al. 2008).

To summarise, citizen surveys have important and irreplaceable value in decision-making on resource allocation and performance improvement. A combination of survey results and information from other subjective and objective evaluations generates more comprehensive and accurate information on an agency's performance (Kelly 2003).

What Does ‘Use’ Mean?

How to define the concept of ‘use’ is another critical question in the literature on performance management. As Van Dooren and Van de Walle (2008:3) indicate, ‘When policy makers say they “don't use” performance information, what does this, then, actually mean? Does it mean they generally do not sit down with a 200-page performance report and a cup of coffee? This is quite likely’. However, information may be used in a less formalised way—it may affect the mindset of policy makers without even being noticed. In other words, the contribution of performance information in decision-making can be important even if the information is used unconsciously.

Some scholars have attempted to conceptualise how information is used (Weiss 1998; Askim 2007; de Lancer Julnes 2008). They indicate six different types of information uses. In terms of purposes, information can be used to gain support for pre-existing policies (persuasive use), to help government deal with crisis situations (clean-up use), and to promote the image and legitimacy of the government (symbolic use). In terms of outcomes, there is ‘instrumental use’ of performance information that directly leads to modifying, expanding or terminating a program or allocating resources. There are also ‘conceptual use’ that changes the understanding of the nature and significance of a program, and ‘enlightenment use’ that contributes to shifts in people's thinking and actions. Seen in this light, there is a need to broaden our understanding of the meaning of information ‘use’. Allocating a concrete amount of money to the police according to reported crime clearance rate is a typical way of using performance information. Yet information is also being used when policy makers choose to pay more attention to particular crimes or neighbourhoods after reading a police performance report or survey.

Who Are the Users?

The characteristics of users make up the third critical factor in examining performance information use. When we address how ‘government’ uses the information, to whom are we referring? Policy makers may perceive the value of performance information and use it differently from front-line service providers. The congress committees that are responsible for scrutinising government spending issues may emphasise instrumental use of performance information whereas a politician facing election may care more about the symbolic and persuasive use of the same type of information. In his study of Norwegian local politicians, Askim (2007) found that performance information use in decision-making varies across policy sectors. Utilisation is high among councillors who focus upon administrative affairs, education and elderly care, but much lower among councillors who focus upon technical services, mainly because decision-makers in these different sectors have different levels of exposure to performance information and, therefore, use the information to different degrees. Related research shows further that in Norwegian local governments, backbenchers (rank-and-file councillors and executive councillors) tend to make more use of citizen input in setting agenda than frontbenchers (mayors), because frontbenchers usually have access to other, richer, types of information, while backbenchers make decisions with fewer alternative sources of information (Askim and Hanssen 2008).

The next section will examine how Chinese local government uses the information in citizen surveys on the basis of the three questions discussed above. One noteworthy point is that, since Chinese bureaucracy is highly politicised, there is no sharp line between politicians and bureaucrats. Hence, based on the case study, this article differentiates two types of information users: leadership officials in charge of general policy agenda setting and departmental officials who are mainly responsible for designing and implementing concrete programs.

Citizen Satisfaction Surveys in Guangdong, China

Despite its long presence in Western democracies, citizen surveys are new to Chinese reformers in the post-Mao era. Three decades of market liberalisation reforms in China have greatly reshaped relationships between the state, market and community. The early 2000s witnessed a major national policy shift from ‘putting GDP growth first’ to ‘putting people first’ (yimin weiben). Under the new policy, in addition to improving traditional state-citizen communication mechanisms such as people's congress meetings and letters of complaint, Chinese local governments increasingly sought new approaches that could be more responsive to community needs. Since the mid-2000s, some Chinese local governments in Gansu, Zhejiang, Shandong and Guangdong provinces have begun to adopt citizen surveys to obtain information on citizen perceptions of their lives and the quality of public services (Bao et al. 2010; Fu and Zeng 2010; Xie 2008).

One of the most well-known and notable citizen surveys in recent years is the large-scale citizen satisfaction survey conducted by the Public Policy Evaluation Centre (PPEC) of the South-China Technology University in Guangdong Province. The survey is a part of an indicator system that the PPEC developed to evaluate the comprehensive performance of local governments in Guangdong, including a total of 21 governments at the city-level and 121 governments at the county-level.1 Since 2007, the PPEC has conducted the assessment and published the results on a yearly basis. Information on the details of how the indicators were established, how the data were collected and how the results were calculated is also published.

The PPEC's citizen satisfaction survey adopts an equal probability sampling method. Samples are selected randomly from each city or county in the province. In 2007, a total of 23,777 valid surveys were returned, and the response rate was 94.65 per cent.2 The respondents came from different social strata, including employees in private enterprises (16.53 per cent), students (12.29 per cent), employees in state-owned enterprises (10.08 per cent), owners of private business (9.76 per cent), employees from foreign companies (8.78 per cent), freelance (7.43 per cent), civil servants (5.95 per cent), the unemployed and laid-off (5.58 per cent), peasants (5.8 per cent) and other occupations (6.99 per cent) (PPEC 2008). The occupational distribution shows that the PPEC's survey is largely representative of public opinion in Guangdong Province.

In 2007 when the survey was conducted for the first time, the respondents were asked to evaluate their satisfaction with two aspects of government performance. The first aspect contains five indicators related to citizens’ quality of life, namely, individual and family income, employment opportunity, social order, health care security and natural living environment. The second aspect comprises another five indicators concerning the image and capacity of the government, including the consistency of government policy, service orientation, service efficiency, integrity of civil servants and fairness of law enforcement. Later in 2008, based on experts’ advice, the PPEC added three indicators – disseminating information of environmental protection, transparency of government affairs and regulation of markets. In 2009, the PPEC further added an indicator on the ‘overall satisfaction of government performance’ (PPEC 2008, 2009, 2010).

Local Government's Response: The Case of Foshan City

The PPEC's case deserves serious consideration because it is the first to measure government performance by an independent third-party and because the citizen satisfaction survey is designed to solicit the opinions of the general public instead of citizens ‘handpicked’ by the government as is the practice in some localities (see Ni and Fu 2011). Nanfang Daily, a local party newspaper, called the PPEC's activity an ‘ice-breaking experiment’ (Nanfang Daily 2008). Hence, in January 2008 when the evaluation result was released for the first time, it attracted a great deal of attention from the media and local governments. According to the Vice Director of the PPEC, local governments responded to the evaluation results with different attitudes. Some were apparently aloof. Shanwei City, for example, ranked last among 21 governments at the city-level in terms of overall performance for four consecutive years from 2007 to 2010, did not make any evident effort to improve its performance in areas such as health care and education. Other local governments have responded much more actively. Foshan City is one of the localities that has used the information in the PPEC's survey to improve services.3

Survey Information

The PPEC's citizen satisfaction survey adopted a 10-point grading scale, including five levels: ‘very unsatisfactory’ (1-2), ‘unsatisfactory’ (3-4), ‘acceptable’ (5-6), ‘satisfactory’ (7-8) and ‘very satisfactory’ (9-10). According to the survey result in 2007, the average level of citizen satisfaction in that year was 5.11, which means ‘acceptable’. None of the 21 cities in Guangdong Province received an overall mark at the ‘satisfactory’ or ‘very satisfactory’ levels. Among the 21 cities, 11 received a mark at the level of ‘acceptable’ and the remaining 10 ranked at the ‘unsatisfactory’ level (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Citizen satisfaction on the overall performance of the city-level governments in Guangdong Province in 2007

Source: PPEC (2008).

Although the results were in no way encouraging, the overall performance of Foshan City ranked fifth out of the 21 cities in 2007 (see Table 1). It is particularly noteworthy that citizen satisfaction with the image and capacity of government was ranked most highly (5.6-5.8): citizens were most satisfied with the fairness of law enforcement (5.73), efficiency of public service (5.64) and integrity of civil servants (5.62). Figure 2 shows Foshan ranked third in terms of its performance on service efficiency. By comparison, citizens in Foshan were least satisfied with their incomes (4.90), employment opportunities (4.99) and social order (4.76). Figure 3 shows Foshan's performance on maintaining social order was around the average. Driven by an interest in ascertaining the reliability and rigor of the survey, the city leaders of Foshan sent a group of senior officials to meet the directors of the PPEC after the evaluation result was released.4 One interviewee said that after the PPEC directors explained in detail how the survey was designed and conducted, many of them felt both proud and pressured. On the one hand, the survey certainly showed citizens’ recognition of their previous work in building an efficient and clean government. On the other hand, there was much to be improved.5

Table 1.  Ranking of Foshan City in the PPEC's survey of citizen satisfaction on performance of Guangdong city-level governments
  Overall Image and capacity assessment Quality of life assessment
Consistency of policy Service orientation Service efficiency Integrity civil of servants Fairness of law enforcement Individual family and income Employment opportunity Social order Health care security Natural living environment
  1. Source: PPEC (2008).

Top city's score5.765.885.775.705.745.755.785.645.655.616.69
Bottom city's score4.134.063.923.803.653.734.153.763.574.224.96
Provincial average5.115.335.155.084.934.965.064.954.945.015.59
Fushan's core5.375.575.595.645.625.734.904.994.765.255.61
Fushan's rank553332148969
Figure 2.

Ranking of the 21 cities in Guangdong Province in terms of their service efficiency in 2007

Source: PPEC (2008).

Figure 3.

Ranking of the 21 cities in Guangdong Province in terms of social order in 2007

Source: PPEC (2008).

Use of Information in Agenda Setting

The meeting with the PPEC, though not the sole decisive factor, did play a role in convincing the city leaders to launch a new round of administration reform in Foshan.6 To city leadership officials, the survey information showed the strengths and weaknesses of Foshan compared to other cities in Guangdong. Such information is useful in mapping the policy agenda of the city. Moreover, as several interviewees indicated, a positive evaluation from the citizens would add ‘political chips’ for the city leadership officials’ career prospects, as a good ranking would demonstrate their capacity to promote development in a scientific and balanced way. Hence, the city leadership officials also had an incentive to be more responsive to citizen needs in order to maintain their relatively high ranking in the survey or achieve a better ranking.7

The central theme of Foshan's administration reform in 2008 was to build a ‘clean, efficient and service-oriented’ (lianzheng, xiaoneng, fuwu) government. The guiding principles were to ‘encourage an honest work style for all party and state organisations, strengthen the integrity consciousness of civil servants, improve administration efficiency and quality of service, build a good image of civil service, and foster a fair, just, open and transparent administrative environment’ (Foshan City Party Committee and Foshan City Government 2008a). Lin Yuanhe, the Party Secretary of Foshan, indicated that compared to other local governments in Guangdong Province, Foshan's image was as the ‘pacesetter’ (paitoubing), ‘vanguard’ (xianfengdui) and ‘main force’ (zhulijun) of the public administration reforms. Foshan had been the experimental site of a series of administration reforms such as performance budgeting, official car reform and the so-called ‘strengthening the power of counties’ reform (qiangxian kuoquan). Its experience was important in the province's exploration of successful approaches for economic transformation and government management. In 2006, the city launched the first round of administration reform with the object of building high-quality and efficient public services. Since the PPEC's survey result showed that Foshan's initial reform measures received positive feedback from the community, the city was persuaded that it should capitalise on the experience to further enhance the honesty, transparency and efficiency of government work (Lin 2008).

Meanwhile, the Foshan government also increased its financial support to improve these areas where its performance attracted only a low level of citizen satisfaction. For example, in 2008, spending on environmental protection increased dramatically – by 77.56 per cent over the previous year. Spending on social order, employment and healthcare also rose substantially over the previous year, by 22.3 per cent, 27.31 per cent and 43.59 per cent, respectively (Finance Bureau of Foshan City 2009). As a result, the amount of energy intensity per unit of GDP decreased 7.97 per cent and the amount of sulphur dioxide emissions fell by around 4 per cent compared to the previous year (Statistic Bureau of Foshan City 2008). In addition, the city provided 210,000 new employment opportunities, and the unemployment rate was held at 1.85 per cent. Urban residents’ disposable income per capita was 22,494 yuan, a 9.2 per cent increase over the previous year. Rural residents’ net income per capita reached 9,656 yuan, a 7.7 per cent increase.8

Yet, as one local official indicated, it is a bit farfetched to say that government work on these aspects was entirely driven by the PPEC's survey evaluation result. Foshan had a rapidly growing economy with many development challenges, such as rising social tensions and an increasing gap between different social strata's incomes. These problems were not new and could not be resolved in the short term. Nonetheless, the survey was useful for indicating citizen concerns and alerting the government to make continuing efforts to resolve these issues. Hence, the same official thought that the key to building a responsive government was to improve those public services most important to citizens' daily lives, thus implicitly recognising the usefulness of citizen surveys.9

Use of Information to Improve Services

While city leaders used the survey information to support pre-existing policy positions and map their future agenda, departmental officials also emphasised the instrumental value of the information. The major approach of Foshan's administration reform in 2008 was to improve service delivery through e-government. In the previous reform in 2006, the city began to experiment with the so-called ‘e-supervision’ system (dianzi jiancha). The Efficiency Office of Supervision Bureau of Foshan city is the principal organisation responsible for implementing this system and monitoring other organisations’ performance in delivering services. The Director of the Efficiency Office said that the PPEC's survey highlighted the areas that mattered most for citizen perceptions of government work, for example, resolution time, information transparency and integrity of service providers. Based on it, they strengthened the e-supervision system to improve services in three areas: (1) handling citizen complaints; (2) improving the transparency and efficiency of administrative examination and approval work; and (3) strengthening supervision of government's responsiveness to citizen complaints and online applications.10

Progress in service improvement in the above mentioned three areas has been noticeable. First, the e-supervision system provides more channels for citizen to express their concerns. Besides sending letters of complaint, citizens could now complain or post their questions on the website of the Centres of Administrative Complaints of Foshan City (hereafter the Centre). If district or county governments receive letters of complaint, they are required to list the cases on the Centre's website. Governments in each district and county of Foshan City share the same database, which is updated simultaneously when a new complaint case is registered. In addition, the city opened a new hotline ‘12345’ for citizens who are not comfortable complaining through the website. Citizens can call the hotline and get connected to the Centre. The Centre's clerks will then help them to register the case in the e-supervision database. One interviewee indicated that the ‘12345’ hotline is an important improvement. In the past, citizens needed to call different organisations’ numbers for handling different complaints. Many citizens did not use the hotline simply because the numbers were hard to remember. The hotline ‘12345’ is so easy to remember that it greatly facilitates citizens to make a call to have their complaints addressed.11 Since July 2008, more than five hundred organisations at the city, district and street levels in Foshan have used the e-supervision system to address citizen complaints. A total of 46,023 complaints were received and 44,664 (97.05 per cent) were settled. Nearly 20,000 complaints were received from the hotline. The total number of citizen complaints from 2008 to 2011 is five times the number in the previous four years (2004-2007) (Efficiency Office of Supervision Bureau of Foshan city 2011).

Second, the e-supervision system strengthens the monitoring of the process and enhances efficiency of handling citizens’ applications for administrative examination and approval. Previously, it could take months or even years for applicants to go through all necessary procedures in order to get approvals from different responsible organisations. Corruption might emerge during the long waiting process. Under the e-supervision system, citizens can now obtain application information on the government website and submit online application forms. Work progress of organisations responsible for examining the applications is reported automatically to both the organisation's supervisory organisation at the next higher level and the supervision centre at the same level. As such, the supervisory organisation and the supervision centre can monitor the resolution time, fee collection and replies on each application. A work summary shows that, since May 2008, the adoption of the e-supervision system removed 720 steps from previous administrative processes relative to 537 types of applications. Among all the received applications, 75 per cent were closed within 10 days and roughly 40 per cent within 5 days. The average resolution time for approval and examination was dramatically reduced from over 200 working days to 45 (Efficiency Office of Supervision Bureau of Foshan city 2010).

Third, the e-supervision system enables enhanced responsiveness to citizen complaints and applications for administrative examination and approval. In the past, one factor that discouraged citizens from sending letters of complaint was the low response rate. Under the e-supervision system, organisations responsible for handling a citizen's complaint must make a decision on whether to accept the case within 3 working days, and give explanations if the case is rejected. Accepted cases must be closed within 15 working days with a formal report to both the Centre and the citizen. Responsible organisations will receive a ‘yellow card warning’ from the e-supervision system automatically if they delay the case for 1 day, and a ‘red card warning’ for 2 days. They will also receive formal warnings if they do not register the complaints received in the Centre's database in time (Foshan City Party Committee and Foshan City Government 2008b). The e-supervision system automatically keeps records of the details, including the time the complaint is sent, the time and content of responsible organisation's replies to citizen's requests, and the time of closing a case, etc. These measures push responsible organisations to work on cases of citizens’ complaints within a fixed period of time and thus to improve the response rate.

In addition, the e-supervision system monitors service organisations’ response time of citizens’ applications for administrative examination and approval. On the deadline day of closing a specific case, the system will send an online alert to the responsible service organisations and a SMS to the responsible officials and their supervisors. If the case is delayed for 1–3 days, the e-supervision system will send a warning SMS to responsible officials at the next higher level. If the case is delayed after 3 days, the system will send a warning SMS to the city leaders in charge of relevant affairs. These measures impose considerable pressure on responsible officials to close the case within the promised timeline.

The PPEC's citizen satisfaction survey in 2008 showed that citizens’ overall satisfaction on Foshan government's performance rose from fifth place to third among the 21 cities. For individual performance items such as the image and capability of government, Foshan received very positive ratings. All indicators on citizen satisfaction with respect to government image and capacity ranked among the top three of the 21 cities. In his speech in December 2008 on increasing government efficiency reform, Lin Yuanhe used the PPEC's survey result as ‘strong and key evidence’ of the city's improved performance and attributed the successes to the efforts of administration reform (Foshan City Party Committee 2008). According to the PPEC's survey reports, the ranking of citizen satisfaction indicators of Foshan in the following three years stayed at the top level. In 2010, the overall satisfaction of citizens in Foshan government further rose from third to second among all the cities (PPEC 2009, 2010, 2011). Encouraged by the survey result, in May 2011, the Director of the Efficiency Office of the Supervision Bureau invited the PPEC experts to design another citizen satisfaction survey to assess the performance of the service organisations it supervised. Clearly, citizen satisfaction surveys will play a more important role in the locality in the future.

Conclusion

This study examines the way a Chinese local government responded to citizen satisfaction surveys developed by an independent third party. It shows that citizen satisfaction surveys can provide crucial information to help local officials make decisions on resource allocation and service improvement. The use of survey information in supporting pre-existing policies (‘persuasive use’), mapping future agendas and developing action plans (‘instrumental use’) helps local officials to deliver more responsive services. The rise of citizen satisfaction surveys in assessing local government's performance reflects the evolving state-community relationship in China. On the one hand, the community is playing an increasingly active role, expressing citizen expectations and demanding local officials to be more responsive and accountable to those expectations. On the other hand, the Chinese government has been seeking participative approaches to improve policy-making related to citizens’ lives. In the foreseeable future, the deepening of the economic liberalisation reform and the rising power of the community will continue to push the authoritarian Chinese state to implement policies and programs that can effectively address citizens’ needs.

The limitations of this study must be acknowledged. First, this study aims to provide a better understanding of the utilisation of citizen survey information in Chinese local government through an in-depth case analysis, rather than to assess practice more widely across China. A broader study may show divergence in how Chinese local governments respond to citizen satisfaction surveys. Second, this study focuses on one type of citizen satisfaction survey – a survey designed and conducted by an independent third party. There are, however, other types of citizen satisfaction surveys, such as those designed by the government to solicit the opinions of a specific group of clients. Different types of citizen satisfaction surveys may have different impacts on policy-making. Third, this study provides limited evidence on whether the use of citizen satisfaction surveys contributes to a shift in local officials’ mindset, or whether it promotes the image of a democratic government and enhances people's trust in government. To address these issues, more empirical studies are needed.

Endnotes

  • 1

    The PPEC's evaluation system combines both objective measures (government's performance in promoting economic development, ensuring social justice, protecting ecology environment and saving administrative costs) and subjective measures (citizen satisfaction survey). Each part contains a group of specific and quantified indicators.

  • 2

    In the 2007 survey, sixty-seven per cent of the questionnaires were administered at locations selected by random sampling. The remaining thirty-three per cent of the questionnaires were done by phone polling where it was not possible to administer questionnaires in person. The PPEC's report indicates that the two methods could complement one another in collecting valid data and ensuring the response rate.

  • 3

    Interview with the Vice Director May 2011.

  • 4

    The first survey was conducted in 2007 and the result was released in 2008, because some objective measures used data from government statistics, which are usually available only in the following year.

  • 5

    Interview with a section-level cadre from the Supervision Bureau of Foshan City May 2011.

  • 6

    Ibid.

  • 7

    Interviews with three section-level cadres from the Foshan City Government May 2011.

  • 8

    Chen Yunxian (the mayor), Government Work Report in the Fourth Plenary Session of the Thirteenth People's Congress of Foshan City on 25 February 2009, see: http://www.foshan.gov.cn/zwgk/zfgzbg/01009/t20100906_1808883.html

  • 9

    Interviews with two section-level cadres from the Foshan City Government May 2011.

  • 10

    Interview with the Director of the Efficiency Office May 2011.

  • 11

    Interview with a section-level cadre from the Foshan City Government May 2011.

Ancillary