Toward a native public policy science: establishing theoretical framework first

BY By Zhou Wang | 08-01-2013
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)
Western Public Management textbooks are still dominat in China. This needs to be changed.
The foremost objective for Chinese public policy research is to ground itself in examining the real world process of public policy as it unfolds in China. Currently, public policy in China should focus on strengthening its academic ties and calibrating academic resources for research into practical issues facing policy—this, after all, is the academic study of public policy’s purpose. At the fundamental level, the success of any discipline in the social sciences relies on continuous accumulation of information and knowledge. In European and American institutions, policy sciences are particularly well developed because of their foundation in empirical research on policy and policy implementation. Through amassing a bedrock of empirical data, policy research can illuminate the broader picture of policy as it is written and executed, and further systematize its data collection to better inform theoretical development. Those committed to enhancing the theory and research practices of Chinese policy must strive for advancement of policy research as an academic agenda.
Accumulation of local public policy knowledge
In order to build a native public policy science from the ground up, researchers must first begin by expanding our base of local knowledge through conducting experimental research and empirical surveys in China. In so doing, we should strive to identify patterns, recurrent characteristics and rules undergirding the Chinese policy process, thereby enabling us to better construct a theoretical model of the whole Chinese policy process. Therefore, research should stem from concrete demands on all aspects of policy, from individual locales to national issues. Researchers should focus on understanding truths of the policy process from collecting original material. Only through a rich and ongoing accumulation of data will we sufficiently build a foundation from which to generate solid theoretical innovation. In turn, theoretical innovation enables the development of a broader analytical system that is specifically tailored to the needs of Chinese policy makers.
The Chinese government has initiated its own progressive reforms, both in formulation and implementation of policy. Indeed, it has its own set of policy mechanisms that have their own inherent logic, and these need to be further brought forward. From long term practice, especially in reform, the government has accumulated valuable practical experience in all areas of policy. This wealth of materials can fortify the development of public policy science as an academic discipline, and provide resources for theoretical study. Regardless of the particular aspect of policy in question, from problem identification and agenda setting to policy-making and implementation, Chinese public policy during the transitional period has many unique examples from which to draw. For instance, policies such as “Taking experience at one unit and applying it to the whole” and “From the masses, to the masses,” and a variety of leadership group’s experiences provides substantial information that should be summarized, and then can be meaningfully analyzed and interpreted. Specific policies should be treated as individual objects for analysis to which we should apply modern social science research methods, collecting a variety of relevant data. In total, we will be able to enhance our overall paradigm for public policy research and improve our working model of policy implementation in China.
Construction of local public policy theory
Chinese public policy science should embark upon its own academic path, consciously articulating normative theories of policy in China; it should disengage itself from the western theoretical framework as soon as possible. Since reform and opening-up, Chinese public policy science has largely been driven by the goal of “making up for lost time,” and has tried to catch up with western policy science by importing western policy theory. As such, there is still a lack of basic academic resources with which to construct a native policy science, and plenty of room for the development of uniquely Chinese policy theory. Moreover, there is hardly an iota of universally agreed upon Chinese public policy process. The dearth of policy theory in Chinese policy research prevents Chinese researchers from having effective dialogue with foreign scholars and inhibits Chinese public policy science’s ability to make an impact on the world stage.
Improving Chinese public policy science from all dimensions is dependent on establishing a native theory of public policy and working to export this theory abroad. It is impossible to apply social science without a theoretical underpinning. Whether to adapt to changing times or keep abreast of the evolution of the discipline, both require policy science to move to a new stage of its historic leap. A Chinese theory of public policy will use indigenous concepts, its own normative model, and its own analytical framework. In turn, the purview of this theoretical system should include not only China, but the west and other non-western countries as well.
 Zhou Wang is from Zhou Enlai School of Government of Nankai University
The Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 362, Sept. 28, 2012
                       Translated by Zhang Mengying
Revised by Charles Horne