Contextual changes and environmental policy implementation: A longitudinal study of street-level bureaucrats in Guangzhou, China

Xueyong Zhan, Carlos Wing-Hung Lo, Shui Yan Tang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


This article develops a conceptual framework that connects contextual factors with work situations, enforcement strategies, and self-Assessment of street-level bureaucrats. Based on two rounds of surveys of environmental enforcement officials in the City of Guangzhou in 2000 and 2006 and subsequent interviews with enforcement officials and enterprise executives, the article traces the transformation of China's policy implementation process from one that is premised primarily on vertical support coming from the central government to one that is also premised on horizontal support from local stakeholders. The changing contexts of environmental policy implementation include increased support from the central government and the public, but not the local government and regulated industries. We have also observed heightened perceptions of inadequate administrative authority and resource scarcity among enforcement officials, who had developed a more formalistic and collaborative approach to regulatory enforcement and a feeling of increasing stress. Yet, enforcement effectiveness as perceived by the enforcement officials has remained virtually unchanged. In the 2000 survey, central government support was positively associated with perceived enforcement effectiveness. In the more recent 2006 survey, central government support was no longer a significant factor; instead, local government support and collaboration with other government units were associated positively and significantly with perceived enforcement effectiveness. These empirical results help explain the continuing implementation gap in China and call for more attention to horizontal support mechanisms to ensure effective environmental policy implementation. Our research also suggests the need to contextualize the study of policy implementation in more dynamic and diversified settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1005-1032
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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