Advertisement

Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Translating Idea into Reality? A Q-Methodological Investigation of Chinese Local Officials’ Response to the Initiative of a Happiness Index

  • 471 Accesses

  • 1 Citations

Abstract

This research attempts to provide insights into the extent to which the novel idea of happiness indices has been translated into reality, a topic that arguably remains under-explored in happiness studies. In particular, we focus on local reform participants’ response to the idea of using individuals’ happiness to guide the process of policy-making. Using the official effort to establish a happiness index in Guangdong as a unique case (a southern province in China), we investigated two interrelated questions: (1) to what extent do reform participants identify with the arguments legitimating happiness-inspired reforms? (2) How do they understand the values of the new measurement system? Q methodology was used to reveal local officials’ (N = 22) subjectivity towards a series of tenets and assumptions associated with happiness indices and the actual implementation of this particular idea in their departments. The results suggested two particular patterns within the viewpoints held by the informants: a realist perspective and a progressive optimist perspective. In spite of minor differences, the two perspectives shared much common ground: both recognized the normative values of happiness indices in general, but expressed a great deal of suspicion as to the validity of self-reported happiness. Moreover, they were either neutral or suspicious towards the positive statements about the actual implementation of happiness-inspired reform in the province and its substantive impact.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Following the practice of the literature, subjective well-being (SWB), life satisfaction and happiness are used interchangeably in this research, and refer to the degree to which individuals evaluate their lives favorably.

  2. 2.

    R method is the generalized reference to Pearson’s correlation analysis, which is a common statistical tool in behaviorism research.

  3. 3.

    In the literature of organization studies, argumentative analysis has typically been interpreted as a method of analyzing and reconstructing how social agents justify and legitimate a particular organizational phenomenon through skilled use of language (Green 2004; Vaara and Tienari 2002).

  4. 4.

    It is important to note that the invitations were issued in January (around the Chinese New Year of 2014), a period which is the busiest in the year for most public officials. Therefore it was inevitable that some might not have time to take part in the project. Nevertheless, most of the participants were very cooperative. Among the six who failed to return usable Q sorts, three had technical problems, such as their unfamiliarity with the software, or the fact that FlashQ could not operate stably on their Windows XP system.

  5. 5.

    Basically, a crib sheet looks like a security sheet, and each sheet contains a consistent structure in which items ranked at the poles of distribution (e.g. ±4) and distinguishing items are listed. This structure focuses analysts’ attention on those statements that have significant implications for inferring the substance of viewpoints.

References

  1. Aberbach, J. D., & Christensen, T. (2014). Why reforms so often disappoint. The American Review of Public Administration, 44(1), 3–16. doi:10.1177/0275074013504128.

  2. Andrews, M. (2013). The limits of institutional reform in development. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  3. Baker, R., Thompson, C., & Mannion, R. (2006). Q methodology in health economics. Journal of Health Services Research & Policy, 11(1), 38–45. doi:10.1258/135581906775094217.

  4. Barry, J., & Proops, J. (1999). Seeking sustainability discourses with Q methodology. Ecological Economics, 28(3), 337–345. doi:10.1016/S0921-8009(98)00053-6.

  5. Boiral, O. (2007). Corporate greening through ISO 14001: A rational myth? Organization Science, 18(1), 127–146. doi:10.2307/25146087.

  6. Boston, J. (2000). The challenge of evaluating systemic change: The case of public management reform. International Public Management Journal, 3(1), 23–46. doi:10.1016/S1096-7494(00)00033-7.

  7. Brewer, G. A., Selden, S. C., & Facer, R. L., II. (2000). Individual conceptions of public service motivation. Public Administration Review, 60(3), 254–264. doi:10.2307/977467.

  8. Brown, S. R. (1980). Political subjectivity: Applications of Q methodology in political science. New Haven, London: Yale University Press.

  9. Brown, S. R. (1993). A primer on Q methodology. Operant Subjectivity, 16(3/4), 91–138.

  10. Brown, S. P., During, D. W., & Selden, S. (1999). Q Methodology. In G. J. Miller & K. Yang (Eds.), Handbook of research methods in public administration. New York: M. Dekker CRC Press.

  11. Cross, R. M. (2005). Exploring attitudes: The case for Q methodology. Health Education Research, 20(2), 206–213. doi:10.1093/her/cyg121.

  12. Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95(3), 542–575.

  13. Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5(1), 1–31. doi:10.1111/j.0963-7214.2004.00501001.x.

  14. Dryzek, J. S., & Berejikian, J. (1993). Reconstructive democratic theory. The American Political Science Review, 87(1), 48–60. doi:10.2307/2938955.

  15. Easterlin, R., McVey, L. A., Switek, M., Sawangfa, O., & Zweig, J. S. (2010). The happiness–income paradox revisited. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(52), 22463–22468. doi:10.1073/pnas.1015962107.

  16. Floris, M., Grant, D., & Cutcher, L. (2013). Mining the discourse: Strategizing during BHP Billiton’s attempted acquisition of Rio Tinto. Journal of Management Studies, 50(7), 1185–1215. doi:10.1111/joms.12035.

  17. Frantzi, S., Carter, N. T., & Lovett, J. C. (2009). Exploring discourses on international environmental regime effectiveness with Q methodology: A case study of the Mediterranean Action Plan. Journal of Environmental Management, 90(1), 177–186. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2007.08.013.

  18. Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2002). Happiness and economics : How the economy and institutions affect human well-being. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  19. Green, S. E. (2004). A rhetorical theory of diffusion. Academy of Management Review, 29(4), 653–669. doi:10.5465/amr.2004.14497653.

  20. Helliwell, J. (2017). What’s special about happiness as a social indicator? Social Indicators Research. doi:10.1007/s11205-017-1549-9.

  21. Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2013). World Happiness report. New York: Earth Institute.

  22. Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2015). World Happiness Report. New York: Earth Institute.

  23. Jeffares, S., & Skelcher, C. (2011). Democratic subjectivities in network governance: A Q-methodology study of English and Dutch public managers. Public Administration, 89(4), 1253–1273. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9299.2010.01888.x.

  24. Kostova, T., & Roth, K. (2002). Adoption of an organizational practice by subsidiaries of multinational corporations: Institutional and relational effects. Academy of Management Journal, 45(1), 215–233. doi:10.2307/3069293.

  25. Kung, J. K.-S., & Chen, S. (2011). The tragedy of the nomenklatura: Career incentives and political radicalism during China’s Great Leap famine. American Political Science Review, 105(01), 27–45. doi:10.1017/S0003055410000626.

  26. Land, K. C., & Michalos, A. C. (2017). Fifty years after the social indicators movement: Has the promise been fulfilled? Social Indicators Research. doi:10.1007/s11205-017-1571-y.

  27. Lane, R. (2001). The loss of happiness in market democracies. New Haven, London: Yale University Press.

  28. Layard, R. (2005). Happiness: Lessons from a new science. New York: Penguin Books.

  29. Lee, T. W. (1999). Using qualitative methods in organizational research. London: SAGE.

  30. Lipsky, M. (1980). Street-level bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the individual in public service. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

  31. Liu, J., & Diamond, J. (2005). China’s environment in a globalizing world. Nature, 435(7046), 1179–1186. doi:10.1038/4351179a. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v435/n7046/suppinfo/4351179a_S1.html.

  32. Lü, X., & Landry, P. F. (2014). Show me the money: Interjurisdiction political competition and fiscal extraction in China. American Political Science Review, 108(03), 706–722. doi:10.1017/S0003055414000252.

  33. Marx, K., & Engels, F. (2009 [1844]). The economic and philosophic manuscripts of 1844 and the Communist manifesto. Prometheus Books.

  34. McKeown, B., & Thomas, D. (1988). Q methodology. London: Sage Publications.

  35. Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  36. Misangyi, V. F., Weaver, G. R., & Elms, H. (2008). Ending corruption: The interplay among institutional logics, resources, and institutional entrepreneurs. Academy of Management Review, 33(3), 750–770. doi:10.5465/amr.2008.32465769.

  37. OECD. (2013). OECD guidelines on measuring subjective well-being. OECD Publishing.

  38. Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (2nd ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

  39. Phillips, N., Lawrence, T. B., & Hardy, C. (2004). Discourse and institutions. The Academy of Management Review, 29(4), 635–652. doi:10.2307/20159075.

  40. Pollitt, C. (2013). 40 Years of public management reform in UK central government & #8211; promises, promises. Policy & Politics, 41(4), 465–480. doi:10.1332/030557312x655710.

  41. Pressman, J. L., & Wildavsky, A. (1984). Implementation: How great expectations in Washington are dashed in Oakland. London: University of California Press.

  42. Schmolck, P. (2012). PQMethod Manual. Retrieved from http://schmolck.org/qmethod/pqmanual.htm.

  43. Seeman, M. (1959). On the meaning of alienation. American Sociological Review, 24(6), 783–791. doi:10.2307/2088565.

  44. SONBSG. (2013). The happiness of guangdong residents improved steadily in 2012: Survey report on the happiness in Guangdong in 2012. Guangzhou: Survey Office of the National Bureau of Statistics.

  45. Spillane, J. P., Reiser, B. J., & Reimer, T. (2002). Policy implementation and cognition: Reframing and refocusing implementation research. Review of Educational Research, 72(3), 387–431.

  46. Stenner, P. H. D., Cooper, D., & Skevington, S. M. (2003). Putting the Q into quality of life; the identification of subjective constructions of health-related quality of life using Q methodology. Social Science and Medicine, 57(11), 2161–2172. doi:10.1016/S0277-9536(03)00070-4.

  47. Stiglitz, J. E., Sen, A., & Fitoussi, J.-P. (Eds.). (2009). Report by the commission on the measurement of economic performance and social progress. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/118025/118123/Fitoussi+Commission+report.

  48. Tummers, L. (2012). Policy alienation of public professionals: The construct and its measurement. Public Administration Review, 72(4), 516–525. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6210.2011.02550.x.

  49. Tummers, L., Bekkers, V., & Steijn, B. (2009). Policy alienation of public professionals. Public Management Review, 11(5), 685–706. doi:10.1080/14719030902798230.

  50. Tummers, L., Bekkers, V., & Steijn, B. (2012). Policy alienation of public professionals: A comparative case study of insurance physicians and secondary school teachers. International Journal of Public Administration, 35(4), 259–271. doi:10.1080/01900692.2012.651413.

  51. Ura, K., Alkire, S., & Zangmo, T. (2012a). Gross National Happiness and the GNH Index. In J. Helliwell, R. Layard, & J. Sachs (Eds.), World happiness report (pp. 108–147). New York: Earth Institute.

  52. Ura, K., Alkire, S., Zangmo, T., & Karma, W. (2012b). A short guide to gross national happiness index. Thimphu: The Centre for Bhutan Studies.

  53. Vaara, E., & Tienari, J. (2002). Justification, legitimization and naturalization of mergers and acquisitions: A critical discourse analysis of media texts. Organization, 9(2), 275–304. doi:10.1177/1350508402009002912.

  54. Veenhoven, R. (1984). Conditions of happiness. Lancaster: Reidel.

  55. Watts, S., & Stenner, P. (2005). The subjective experience of partnership love: A Q-methodological study. British Journal of Social Psychology, 44(1), 85–107. doi:10.1348/014466604X23473.

  56. Watts, S., & Stenner, P. (2012). Doing Q methodological research: Theory, method and interpretation. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

  57. Zhou, L. (2008). Local governments in transition: The governance and incentive of officials. Shanghai: Truth & Wisdom Press.

  58. Zilber, T. B. (2002). Institutionalization as an interplay between actions, meanings, and actors: The case of a Rape Crisis Center in Israel. Academy of Management Journal, 45(1), 234–254. doi:10.2307/3069294.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Jiayuan Li.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 528 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Li, J. Translating Idea into Reality? A Q-Methodological Investigation of Chinese Local Officials’ Response to the Initiative of a Happiness Index. Soc Indic Res 139, 433–452 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-017-1738-6

Download citation

Keywords

  • Chinese local government
  • Happiness
  • Happiness indices
  • Implementation
  • Q methodology