Chinese Local Governments' Behavioral Logic of Early-Warning Information Release Regarding Major Epidemic Outbreaks from the Organizational Analysis Perspective.

AuthorDai, Xinling
  1. Introduction

    In China, the governance of major epidemics falls under the responsibility of local governments. The effect of local governments' 'meta-governance' on major epidemics has a direct impact on the outcome of the overall anti-epidemic efforts (Gao and Yu, 2020). The reactive early warning measures of China's local governments put them in a passive position in the fight against epidemics. However, this situation was later reversed by the proactive warning, prevention and control measures taken by local governments after the intervention of the central government. The drastic contrast of the 'reactive--proactive' behaviors of local governments in disclosing warning information epitomizes the governance logic of Chinese local governments regarding major epidemics. This phenomenon has also aroused the strong interest of scholars around the world in exploring the key variables that caused the sudden change in the behavioral pattern of Chinese local governments. On this basis, this research proposes a three-dimensional organizational analysis framework of 'organizational goals--organizational field--organizational incentives' based on the disclosure of warning information by local governments. This research attempts to extract the key variables that affect the behaviors of Chinese local governments and observe the functioning mechanism of these three factors in order to help researchers around the world understand the administrative management system of China and its governance logic. Additionally, it provides a reference for the governance practices of local governments in other developing countries.

    The 'behavioral logic' in this research refers to tracing behavior that happens stably and regularly in the process of local governments' early-warning information release regarding major epidemic outbreaks. Referencing organizational theory, Zhou and Lian (2012) proposed a three-dimensional 'control rights' theory that included the goal-setting right, inspection right, and incentive right. This theoretical model has been recognized as a unified theoretical framework for analyzing the governance structure, authority relationship, and behavioral types of the Chinese government and their changing process. It also describes the top-down rational governance logic that unfolds with the will of the superior governments. However, in real practice, the distribution of various control rights is often not that clear-cut; rather, such rights overlap and are interwoven. In particular, during the governance process of Chinese local governments, the commissioning party (in the commission-agency relationship) has the power to 'interfere with the governance at will' (for example, in 'mobilized governance'), in which the power types and their mutual relations are disrupted. Therefore, the three-dimensional 'control rights' theory faces challenges in interpreting local governments' behavioral logic of early-warning information release regarding major epidemics, and thus, there is an urgent need to search for a new framework of interpretation.

    The behaviors of local governments, which are micro-organizations, are restricted by the allocation of organizational elements. Therefore, on the basis of micro-organizational elements, the allocation of organizational elements offers a new perspective for exploring local governments' behavioral logic of early-warning information release regarding major epidemic outbreaks.

  2. Three-dimensional organizational analysis and theoretical hypotheses on the behavioral logic of early-warning information release

    2.1 Three-dimensional organizational analysis of the behavioral logic

    2.1.1 Starting point of the behavioral logic: Organizational goal

    Organizational goals are the ultimate value of organizational existence and the starting point of all organizational behavior. In China, the central government has extensive intervention power. The organizational goal is the management responsibility assigned to local governments through the jurisdictional subcontract in the vertical administrative subcontract based on the central government's top-level design, and the aim is to clarify the management responsibilities of the local governments. In the jurisdictional management system, local governments are fully in charge of local affairs, and the central government evaluates and motivates them according to the authority-responsibility relationship. This is the so called 'block management pattern', under which medical and health affairs, including epidemic prevention/control and social stability maintenance, are the organizational goals managed by the government of the jurisdictional area.

    The administrative subcontract that contains jurisdictional management allows local governments to have administrative discretion, but it often has associated problems such as excessive administrative power and limited restraints on power; thus, if competitive incentives for promotion lose efficacy, administrative discretion might evolve to the 'right of legitimate harm'. In addition, the functional departments of the central government manage their respective subordinate departments under a vertical compartmentalization management approach. Therefore, a governance network featuring a combination of 'block' and 'vertical compartmentalization management has emerged in China, with the 'block' being the dominant pattern (Ma, 1998).

    2.1.2 Turning point of the behavioral logic: Organizational field

    The organizational field refers to the inspection, supervision and appraisal environment across the horizontal and vertical levels of administration. The organizational field is a key turning point for adjusting organizational behaviors. Due to its susceptibility to the influence of various sources, uncertainty has become an essential feature of the organizational field. With the widespread use of the Internet in China in recent years, the level of information transparency on local government websites and online public sentiment on social media platforms have become two important factors that influence the organizational field. When the degree of information asymmetry is high, it works against inspection, supervision, and appraisal by the higher-level government and the public. In such a situation, local governments are in an appropriate field, and in the opposite situation, they are in an inappropriate field. Usually, a principal-agent relationship forms between higher and lower levels, and the major feature of the principal-agent relationship is information asymmetry. That is, lower-level government entities have informational advantages, while higher-level entities have informational disadvantages.

    To seek profits while avoiding harm, the lower-level government is motivated to aggravate the information asymmetry through a series of unconventional operations. If the higher-level supervisory mechanism fails, owing to the problem of asymmetry in the organizational capability between grassroots and governmental agencies, the supervision of local governments will be extremely limited at both the vertical and horizontal levels.

    2.1.3 End point of the behavioral logic: Organizational incentive

    The organizational incentive refers to the incentive mechanism in the horizontal political tournaments. It is also the ultimate means for mobilizing organizational behaviors. Organizational incentives are essentially a reward-and-punishment mechanism devised by the central government to assess the governance performance of local governments in their efforts to achieve its organizational goals at the grassroots level. As a result, organizational incentives clearly convey the will of the central government to the local governments. The new research method in organizational theory pioneered by Simon and his followers emphasizes the limitations of human cognition (Rabin, 2006). Based on the bounded rationality of human beings, local officials often make a trade-off in terms of order when facing multiple goals, rather than collectively solving all goals simultaneously.

    Developing the economy is the main task of the Chinese target-oriented responsibility system, and appraisal results matter for officials' opportunities for promotion; as a result, medical and health goals are often neglected by local governments because they do not promote rapid economic growth.

    A strong negative incentive is a significant management method in jurisdictional management, and the strongest negative incentive is the 'veto right' system. That is, once a goal with the 'veto right' characteristic is not achieved, the responsible officials' achievements will all be erased, and their promotions will also be affected. The original intention of the 'veto right' system is to strongly motivate and urge lower-level government officials to accomplish their objectives, and the system aims to enhance the effectiveness of policy implementation by increasing the costs of violations. However, for certain goals that are difficult to achieve, the strong pressure of negative incentives under the 'veto right' system can easily cause goal displacement (Ai, 2011), i.e., departing from the original goal to pursue a different or even opposite goal. In addition, the incentive mechanism should be designed according to the principle of incentive intensity and effective information because when the appraisal result does not reflect actual performance, a stronger incentive design will cause goal displacement (Ai, 2011).

    When the appraisal and incentive mechanisms lose efficacy and seriously impact social governance due to goal displacement, special governance actions such as 'campaign-style governance' will be taken as remedial measures to transform daily multiple governance tasks into a temporary single...

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