AJPS Author Summary: “Non‐Governmental Monitoring of Local Governments Increases Compliance with Central Mandates: A National‐Scale Field Experiment in China”

The following AJPS Author Summary of “Non‐Governmental Monitoring of Local Governments Increases Compliance with Central Mandates: A National‐Scale Field Experiment in China” has been provided by Mark Buntaine:

Non‐Governmental Monitoring of Local Governments Increases Compliance with Central Mandates: A National‐Scale Field Experiment in China


One of the most challenging aspects of governance in China is that policy is made centrally, but implementation is the responsibility of local governments. For the management of pollution — a national priority in recent years — the “implementation gap” that arises when local governments fail to oversee industry and other high-polluting activities has caused a public health crisis of global proportions.

Non-governmental organizations might usefully monitor and reveal the performance of local governments, thereby extending the ability of the center to oversee local governments. Although NGOs face many restrictions about what activities they can pursue, particularly those are critical of the state, more recently NGOs have been encouraged by the central government to engage in monitoring local governments to improve environmental performance.

In a national-scale field experiment that involved monitoring fifty municipal governments for their compliance with rules to make information about the management of pollution available to the public, we show that NGOs can play an important role in increasing the compliance of local governments with national mandates. When the Institute of Public and Environmental affairs publicly disclosed a rating about the compliance of 25 treated municipalities with rules to be transparent, these local governments increased mandated disclosures over two years, as compared to a group of 25 municipalities not assigned to the publication of their rating. However, the same rating did not increase public discussions of pollution in treated municipalities, as compared to control municipalities.

This result highlights that NGOs can play an important role in improving authoritarian governance by disclosing the non-compliance of local governments in ways that helps the center with oversight. They can play this role as long as they do not increase public discontent. We explain how this is an emerging mode of governance in several authoritarian political systems, where NGOs are helping to improve governance by addressing the information needs of the central state for oversight of local governments.

About the Authors of the Research: Sarah E. Anderson is Associate Professor of Environmental Politics at the University of California, Santa Barbara; Mark T. Buntaine is Assistant Professor of Environmental Institutions and Governance at the University of California, Santa Barbara; Mengdi Liu is a PhD Candidate at Nanjing University; Bing Zhang is Associate Professor at Nanjing University. Their research, “Non‐Governmental Monitoring of Local Governments Increases Compliance with Central Mandates: A National‐Scale Field Experiment in China” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12428), is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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