Public Policy at HKU

Municipal Solid Waste Management in Beijing:

Collaborative Networks and Performance


This project has two main objectives. First, it aims to describe and explain the complexity of policy implementation of municipal solid waste management in China. We conceptualize the complexity involved in waste management as a series of dispersed, co-productive processes. Actors involved in such processes have to make “on-the-ground” decisions and to work with a large array of stakeholders, thus forming intricate webs of interdependencies, resource sharing, and collaboration. We will quantify and analyze the structure and patterns of interaction as policy networks.


Second, this project examines how policy networks (as a bottom-up approach to policy implementation) operate in the Chinese political context where public service delivery is largely managed through hierarchical control. In such a context one would expect to see considerable competition in such networks as stakeholders resist the tendency to regress to hierarchical control. The questions then turn to whether and to what extent government officials would tolerate autonomous decision-making and power sharing necessitated by the physical characteristics of solid waste management such as a high degree of geographical dispersion, and whether and how a more decentralized structure might affect administrative effectiveness.


Research Questions

Solid waste management has become an increasingly importance policy issue in environmental sustainability in China and elsewhere. Like other sustainability issues, solid waste management has been a target of policy reforms (Zhang, Tan, & Gersberg 2010). In China, while better technology and public management practices have transformed waste management in some areas, many other areas continue to process municipal solid waste using conventional methods. Such diverse institutional arrangements and practices provide an excellent opportunity for researchers to examine the relationships between management structure and performance in environmental sustainability. In this study, we will collect and analyze data on waste management in different districts of Beijing, which have different development experiences with varying degrees of economic development.


Prior research suggests that policy networks are developed in federal systems where power and resources are dispersed and policy actors are given the liberty to engage in self-organizing activities (Feiock and Scholz 2010). It is not clear, however, whether the knowledge in the existing literature applies to political systems where power is more centralized and the role of citizen participation in public service delivery is largely not recognized. China makes an excellent “extreme case” (Gerring 2007) in the comparative study of networks, as it offers a radically different context for the deployment of bottom-up, networked policy practices. The legacy of planned economy and authoritarianism in China largely go against the spirit of network management and governance (Agranoff & McGuire 2001; Peters 1994; Rhodes 1997). Whereas governance emphasizes partnership, autonomy, and cooperation, the Chinese state remains the preeminent force in policymaking (Ma 2002) and favors a corporatist approach to managing NGOs (Whiting 1991). At the same time, the dispersed and co-productive nature of waste management necessitates multipartite effort involving government agencies, district and neighborhood associations, for-profit contractors, and nonprofit groups. With the exception of a few interesting empirical studies (e.g. Lee et al. 2013), how collaborative governance might operate in authoritarian regimes has not been given much attention in research. This proposed project can help fill the knowledge gap.