In Puxing Subdistrict, Shanghai, in 2015, Deliberative Polling® was embedded into a participatory budgeting initiative. One of the first in urban China, it successfully integrated public participation and deliberation in allocating money from a Neighborhood Self-Governance Fund.
Problems and Purpose
The deliberative participatory budgeting project was conducted in Puxing subdistrict, Pudong New District, Shanghai in 2015. Traditionally, subdistrict governments allocate a fixed amount of municipal funding each year to neighborhood committees—self-governing bodies that connect residents and the government. Each neighborhood committee can autonomously determine the use of these funds; for example, some may use them for renovating a parking lot. However, this top-down approach is problematic as residents who will benefit from the funds are not involved in the decision-making process. As a result, residents are often dissatisfied with how the funds are spent: they complain about the funds being wasted, while their actual needs remained unresolved.
Starting in 2011, Pudong New District government set aside a pool of “Self-governance Funds” (SGF) each year. It operates as follows: instead of receiving an equal amount of funds every year, neighborhood committees have to apply and compete for the SGF. First, each neighborhood committee has to widely consult the people, propose their project(s), and estimate the corresponding budget. Secondly, all proposal statements are submitted to the subdistrict government and reviewed by a panel of government officials and fiscal experts. Proposals that meet the guidelines of SGF are selected. Finally, resident representatives from all neighborhoods review the proposals. They discuss and collectively decide how to allocate the funds, and only projects that the resident representatives perceive as necessary are funded.
Background History and Context
The Chinese Communist Party endorsed deliberative democracy (Xieshang Minzhu in Chinese) as the “socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics.” Since the 18th Party Congress in 2012, several guiding principles were developed to encourage consulting the people and non-ruling parties in decision-making. Corresponding to the national-level promotion of deliberation, some local governments have been exploring innovative governance. Many of these innovations took place in townships and subdistricts, the lowest level of administration in rural and urban areas, respectively, in the Chinese political system.
Pudong New District, Shanghai has been a pioneering zone for China to experiment with new models of development. It was China’s first vice-provincial district, then became one of the National Pilot Zones for Overall Reform in 2004, and China Pilot Free Trade Zone in 2015. Huinan township in Pudong was also among the first Chinese local governments to adopt participatory budgeting.
Public consultations in China take various forms, including public hearings, participatory budgeting, and “heart-to-heart conversations” (minzhu kentan in Chinese). Yet many of them were government-driven, with officials and elites exerting influence in agenda-setting, procedure, and outcomes of consultations. One of the exceptions was the Deliberative Polling that took place in Zeguo Township, Zhejiang Province in 2005. James Fishkin and Baogang He introduced a set of scientific procedures for local consultative practices on budgeting issues. The experiment marked the first deliberative democracy project that employs social scientific methodology in an authoritarian context. However, such practices have never been experimented with in urban settings where there is a large well-educated and politically aware middle class.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Puxing Subdistrict has a population of 180,000 residents who live in 73 neighborhoods under the organization of 40 neighborhood committees. The project received support from Zhu Hongming, head of the Puxing Subdistrict Party Committee. Dai Min, director of the Civic Affairs Branch of Puxing, and Yang Xu, head of the Pudong New District Social Organization and Service Center, played major roles in executing the project. The project was co-financed by Puxing subdistrict and a research fund at the Center for Comparative Urban Governance (CCUG) at Fudan University, China. The Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford partnered with CCUG and co-advised the project.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The project invited ordinary residents to collectively decide how to allocate a million RMB of a “Neighborhood Self-governance Fund” (SGF) that was available for the whole subdistrict. 360 participants were randomly sampled from a total of 180,000 residents.
Sampling for the Puxing Deliberative Poll consisted of two steps. First, 400 households were randomly selected from a total of 69,000 from the Puxing household registration roster. Second, a family member who was 18 years old or above was again randomly selected within each household. In total, three hundred and sixty residents were selected.
Methods and Tools Used
This initiative is an example of participatory budgeting, an increasingly common method of democratic innovation broadly described as "a decision-making process through which citizens deliberate and negotiate over the distribution of public resources." There are many benefits associated with participatory budgeting including increased civic and democratic education; increased government transparency; and an increased opportunity for participation by historically marginalized populations.
The project embedded Deliberative Polling® – a method for public consultation that is comprised of supplying balanced information, random sampling, moderated small group discussions, and pre- and post surveys.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The planning and preparation for the Puxing project spanned several months. It consisted of the following steps.
1. Training local officials and moderators for small group discussions
2. Soliciting proposals and compiling briefing materials
Neighborhood committees were required to submit their project proposal(s) to the subdistrict government in order to compete for SGF. Proposals were generated through widely consulting the residents about their needs through open discussion meetings and door-to-door visits, etc. All proposals were reviewed by government officials and fiscal experts: 24 out of 40 proposals that met the funds’ guidelines were selected for deliberation and were compiled into a handbook. Projects were categorized into four groups: community service, culture, environment, and infrastructure. Each proposal required 2,500 - 50,000 RMB ($390 - 7800). The total requested amount was 427,761 RMB ($66,838).
3. Initial survey
138 residents consented to participate in the deliberative meeting. They filled out an initial survey that evaluated how necessary or unnecessary each project was, before receiving any detailed information about the projects.
4. Distributing briefing materials
Approximately two weeks before the deliberation day, handbooks that introduced proposals and budgets were distributed to all confirmed participants.
5. Deliberation day
The deliberation day took place in Puxing Community Center on May 31 (Sunday), 2015. An auditorium and multiple meeting rooms were prepared for the plenary session and discussion groups respectively. The timetable and rules of deliberation were posted on the auditorium’s wall. Display boards that introduced the 24 projects were exhibited in the hallway.
109 residents attended the deliberation day; about sixty percent of them were female. The average age of all participants was 56, and a majority had a monthly income of 2,000-4,000 RMB. Their levels of education range from primary school to graduate degree.
Upon arrival, participants were randomly assigned to one of nine discussion groups. After a brief opening session, people joined in groups and discussed projects with 10-15 fellow residents. The discussion was moderated by a trained professional, who announced the deliberation norms in the beginning and ensured discussion proceeded in a respectful manner throughout the session. Participants shared their perspectives, opinions, and personal experiences about the proposals. The small group discussion session lasted 1.75 hours, and each group came up with up to two questions to raise in the following hour of plenary Q & A session. A panel of fiscal experts, government officials, and heads of neighborhood committees responded to questions that were raised by residents. The plenary session solicited warm discussions; many participants reported gaining a deeper understanding of projects. Lunch was provided for all participants in the dining hall of a nearby middle school. The afternoon session proceeded in the same manner, with a plenary session following small group discussions.
6. Exit survey
After two rounds of alternating small group discussions and Q & A sessions, participants filled out another questionnaire. The survey asked them about their opinions toward the twenty-four projects after deliberation. Participants received umbrellas (roughly 50RMB) as a gift in return.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Overall, participants evaluated the deliberative convention positively. On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 indicates “generally a waste of time” and 10 indicates “extremely effective”, on average, ratings for the entire day was 7.7, 8.64 for small group discussion sessions, and 8.25 for the plenary Q & A sessions.
Both internal and external political efficacies increased after residents participated in the convention. On average, their attitudes toward the statement “government officials care a lot about what people like me think” increased 24% to 2.96 on a scale of 1 to 5 ranging from “completely disagree” to “completely agree.” Participants also reported significantly stronger agreement on the statement “I have opinions about public policy that are worth listening to.”
Participating in the deliberative meeting also resulted in growth of political knowledge. Participants knew their community affairs better following deliberation – two of three knowledge questions incurred significant increases. More than half of the participants were able to identify the population and neighborhood committees correctly after deliberation.
The Puxing subdistrict government announced the results of the Polling shortly after the convention. They precisely implemented the funding decisions that were made by the deliberative convention.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Compared to their initial opinions, participants’ post-deliberation opinions demonstrated changes. Observations from the convention suggest that these changes reflected deliberative opinions that were derived from thoughtful consideration of different proposals’ merits. The project showed that ordinary residents in authoritarian regimes were capable of making fiscal decisions on behalf of themselves, when they were provided balanced information and participated in democratic discussions.
The issue of turnout rate deserves the attention of future practitioners. Although participants were invited on the basis of scientific sampling, the project found that elderly people were more likely to show up than the younger generation. The phenomenon is unsurprising given the fact that senior citizens might have more free time to invest in public affairs. The self-selection in turnout may undermine the representativeness of participants and the legitimacy of their decisions. Another potentially underrepresented group was tenants and migrant workers because many of them moved during the process. Future practitioners should try to mobilize and engage the younger generation and underrepresented minority groups.
Furthermore, many of the current public consultations in China are formalities that void the substantial influence of the people. Government officials and local elites retain large control over whether, and how to, consult the people on selected issues. Many of the innovations in local governance became short-lived when major leaders departed. This project, on the other hand, exemplifies putting theories of deliberative democracy into practice in China. It was carried out in a social scientific manner from the beginning and showcased a way to reduce influence from the authority through systematic procedures. It also expanded previous experimentations in rural China into urban governance. Citizen participation may offer new instruments for intricate social problems that accompany rapid urbanization and economic development. Looking forward, the design of scientific procedures of deliberative public participation and its institutionalization at various levels and domains in China deserves ongoing exploration.
 Reports to the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party http://cpc.people.com.cn/n/2012/1118/c64094-19612151.html
 Guidelines for Enhancing the Socialist Deliberative Democracy, http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2015-02/09/c_1114310670.htm
Guidelines for Enhancing Deliberative Democracy in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/2015-06/25/content_2884439.htm
Guidelines for Enhancing Deliberative Democracy in Urban and Rural Communities http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2015-07/22/c_1116010168.htm
 Fishkin, J. S., He, B., Luskin, R. C., and Siu, A. (2010). Deliberative Democracy in an Unlikely Place: Deliberative Polling in China. British Journal of Political Science, 40(2):435-448. http://cdd.stanford.edu/2010/deliberative-democracy-in-an-unlikely-place...
Author: Kaiping Zhang, Department of Communication, Stanford University, Palo Alto, USA
Principal Investigator: Fuguo Han, School of International Relations and Public Affairs, Fudan University, Shanghai, China
Case Submitted by: Qin Xuan