Journal of Chinese Political Science

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 625–649 | Cite as

Exploring the Sustainability of E-government Innovation in China: a Comparative Case Study on 22 Prefectural-level Cities’ Websites

  • Jesper Schlæger
  • Matthias Stepan


Chinese central government has embraced the internet as a new channel for public service provision and has encouraged local authorities to innovate in this field. However, when the progress over the last decade is considered — as seen through the scores in annual benchmarking of local government websites — innovation appears very hard to sustain. Most localities experience a decline at some point in time. It is a conundrum why and how some cities can continuously enhance their online presence, while the majority experiences decreasing scores at some point. The purpose of this paper is to identify the factors that influence the sustainability of e-government innovation by Chinese local governments. In this paper, we apply an exploratory case study design. We analyse both qualitative data and quantitative indicators of 22 prefectural-level cities to identify drivers and constraints on sustainable innovation. Among the key findings are that user focus, long-term planning, and an organizational culture based on political control promote sustainability.Provincial-level governments, in contrast, appear to have little impact on the continued performance of the municipalgovernment websites. These findings are summarized in the conclusion along with suggestions for further research.


Policy innovation Local-government websites E-government China Comparative case study 


  1. 1.
    CNNIC. 2016. Statistical report on internet development in China: July 2016. Beijing: China Internet Network Information Center.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Kluver, Randolph. 2005. The architecture of control: a Chinese strategy for e-governance. Journal of Public Policy 25: 75–97. doi: 10.1017/S0143814X05000218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Holliday, Ian, and Ray Yep. 2005. E-government in China. Public Administration and Development 25: 239–249. doi: 10.1002/pad.361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Wu, Bin. 2012. Comprehensive evaluation and performance management: Exploring the practices of Hangzhou [zonghe kaoping yu jixiao guanli: Hangzhou de shijian he tansuo]. Beijing: People’s Press.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Teets, Jessica C. 2015. The politics of innovation in China: Local officials as policy entrepreneurs. Issues and Studies 51: 79–109.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Pollitt, Christopher. 2011. Innovation in the public sector: An introductory overview. In Innovation in the public sector: Linking capacity and leadership, ed. Viktor J.J.M. Bekkers, Jurian Edelenbos, and Bram Steijn, 35–43. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Rogers, Everett M. 2003. Diffusion of Innovations. 5th ed. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Bekkers, Viktor J.J.M., Lars G. Tummers, and William H. Voorberg. 2013. From public innovation to social innovation in the public sector: A literature review of relevant drivers and barriers. Rotterdam: Erasmus University Rotterdam.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Hoff, Jens. 2000. Technology and social change: The path between technological determinism, social constructivism and new institutionalism. In Democratic governance and new technology: Technologically mediated innovations in political practice in Western Europe, ed. Jens Hoff, Ivan Horrocks, and Pieter Tops. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Fountain, Jane E. 2001. Building the virtual state: Information technology and institutional change. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Gil-García, J. Ramón, and Theresa A. Pardo. 2005. E-government success factors: Mapping practical tools to theoretical foundations. Government Information Quarterly 22: 187–216. doi: 10.1016/j.giq.2005.02.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Gil-Garcia, J. Ramon. 2012. Enacting electronic government success. In Integrated Series in Information Systems, vol. 31. Boston, MA: Springer US.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Orlikowski, Wanda J., and Stephen R. Barley. 2001. Technology and Institutions: What can research on information technology and research on organizations learn from each other? MIS Quarterly 25: 145–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Bason, Christian. 2010. Leading public sector innovation: Co-creating for a better society. Bristol: The Policy Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Bloch, Carter, and Markus M. Bugge. 2013. Public sector innovation—from theory to measurement. Structural Change and Economic Dynamics 27: 133–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Osborne, Stephen P., and Louise Brown. 2011. Innovation, public policy and public services delivery in the UK. The word that would be king? Public Administration 89: 1335–1350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Roberts, Nancy C., and Paula J. King. 1996. Transforming public policy: Dynamics of policy entrepreneurship and innovation. New York: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Osborne, Stephen P., and Kerry A. Brown. 2005. Managing change and innovation in public sector Organisations. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Teets, Jessica C. 2016. Policy diffusion in China: Contracting out elder care. China: An International Journal 14: 88–106.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Chen, Xuelian, and Christian Göbel. 2016. Regulations against revolution: Mapping policy innovations in China. Journal of Chinese Governance 1: 78–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Heilmann, Sebastian. 2008. From local experiments to National Policy: The origins of China’s distinctive policy process. The China Journal 59: 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Heberer, Thomas, and Christian Göbel. 2017. The policy innovation imperative: Changing techniques for governing. In To govern china: evolving practices of power ed. Vivienne Shue and Patricia M. Thornton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Wu, Jiannan, Ma Liang, and Yuquan Yang. 2013. Innovation in the Chinese public sector: Typology and distribution. Public Administration 91: 347–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Tsai, Wen-Hsuan, and Nicola Dean. 2014. Experimentation under hierarchy in local conditions: Cases of political reform in Guangdong and Sichuan, China. The China Quarterly 218: 339–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Zhu, Xufeng. 2013. Mandate versus championship: Vertical government intervention and diffusion of innovation in public Services in Authoritarian China. Public Management Review 16: 117–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Zhu, Xufeng, and Youlang Zhang. 2016. Political mobility and dynamic diffusion of innovation: The spread of municipal pro-business administrative reform in China. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 26: 535–551.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Ma, Liang. 2013. Dianzi zhengwu fazhan de yingxiang yinsu: Zhongguo dijishi de shizheng yanjiu. Dianzi Zhengwu 2013: 50–63.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Heilmann, Sebastian. 2008. Policy experimentation in China’s economic rise. Studies in Comparative International Development 43: 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Mei, Ciqi, and Zhilin Liu. 2014. Experiment-based policy making or conscious policy design? The case of urban housing reform in China. Policy Sciences 47: 321–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Zhu, Yapeng. 2013. Policy entrepreneurship, institutional constraints, and local policy innovation in China. The China Review 13: 97–122.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Light, Paul C. 1998. Sustaining innovation: Creating nonprofit and government organizations that innovate naturally. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Brown, L. 2007. The adoption and implementation of a service innovation in a social work setting – A case study of family group conferencing in the UK. Social Policy and Society 6: 321–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Kim, Seok Eun, and Jung Wook Lee. 2009. The impact of management capacity on government innovation in Korea: An empirical study. International Public Management Journal 12: 345–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Frees, Wout, Geert Bouckaert, and Wouter van Acker. 2014. The sustainability of public sector innovations: The role of feedback, accountability and learning. In Paper presented at the EGPA annual conference, 10–12 September. Germany: Speyer.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Lan, G., and J. Galaskiewicz. 2012. Innovations in public and non-profit sector organizations in China. Management and Organization Review 8: 491–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Ingraham, P.W., and A.K. Donahue. 2000. Dissecting the black box revisited: Characterizing government management capacity. In Governance and performance: New perspectives, ed. C.J. Heinrich and L.E. Lynn Jr., 292–318. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Dunleavy, Patrick, Helen Margetts, Simon Bastow, and Jane Tinkler. 2006. Digital era governance: IT corporations, the state, and e-government. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Hood, Christopher. 1998. The art of the state: Culture, rhetoric, and public management. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Zhu, Xufeng, and Qiyuan Jiao. 2012. “New public management” in China at the local level: Competition-driven local public service reform in Tianjin. Lex Localis 10: 153.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Christensen, Tom, Lisheng Dong, Martin Painter, and Richard M. Walker. 2012. Imitating the west? Evidence on administrative reform from the upper echelons of Chinese provincial government. Public Administration Review 72: 798–806.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Wang, Liping, and Fenglin Guo. 2016. Two faces of social governance in China: From the perspective of basic public service. Nankai Xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 2016: 93–107.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Orlikowski, Wanda J. 2000. Using technology and constituting structures: A practice lens for studying Technology in Organizations. Organization Science 11: 404–428.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Quinn, J.B. 1985. Managing innovation: Controlled chaos. Harvard Business Review 63: 73–84.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    George, Alexander L., and A. Bennett. 2004. Case studies and theory development in social sciences. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Marshall, C., and G.B. Rossman. 2006. Designing qualitative research. 4th ed. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Yang, Kaifeng, and Xiaolin Xu. 2010. E-government in mainland China. In Public Administration in East Asia, ed. Evan Berman, M. Moon, and Heungsuk Choi, 156:165–192. Boca Raton: CRC Press.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Xingzheng Quhua Wang. 2016. China administrative divisions in 2016 (zhongguo 2016 nian xingzheng quhua). Available online: (Accessed 09 June 2017).
  48. 48.
    Yin, Robert K. 2013. Case study research: Design and methods. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Hood, Christopher, and Ruth Dixon. 2015. A government that worked better and cost less? Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Journal of Chinese Political Science/Association of Chinese Political Studies 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public AdministrationSichuan UniversityChengduChina
  2. 2.Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS)BerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations