The Longbiao Group’s deliberative conversations were part of a broader series of democratic meetings in Zeguo township. The conversations provided an opportunity for education and training, a first step in developing an improved relationship between management and workers.
Problems and Purpose
Located in Zeguo Township, Wenling city, Zhejiang province, China, and founded in April 1999, the Longbiao Group is a conglomerate that is primarily engaged in the production of coated aluminium coil building materials, with supporting businesses in new construction materials, education, real estate, investment and trade. The Group has 26 coated aluminium coil production lines, with an annual capacity of 120,000 tons.
The Longbiao Group’s deliberative conversations provided an opportunity for education and training, a first step in developing an improved relationship between management and workers. Longbiao workplace deliberation sought to balance the interests of senior Longbiao management and even the township government with the participants from the firm’s overall employee structure. They facilitated a greater exchange of information within the enterprise, providing managers with knowledge of employee preferences towards specific policies (for example, on overtime and work uniforms), and leading to improved enterprise management and stronger employee understanding of enterprise strategy and policies. The conversations also served to promote innovation in the Longbiao Group’s management systems by helping to identify problems in existing management processes, and by providing the knowledge necessary to develop new management policies. It shows that workplace deliberation is best understood as a form of participatory management rather than a direct form of industrial democracy. It examines the achievements and limits of workplace deliberation in China.
Background History and Context
The Longbiao Group’s deliberative conversations were part of a broader series of democratic conversations in Zeguo township. Zeguo township held a deliberative poll in China on the choice of infrastructure projects in 2005 (Fishkin, etc 2010), and on the use of township construction funds in 2006. In 2006, Bianyu village, which is under Zeguo township’s jurisdiction, also held village deliberations on issues concerning the construction of “Homes for New People” (migrant workers), village construction planning, public order and environmental sanitation (He & Wang 2007; He 2014).
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The deliberations were initiated and hosted by the Longbiao Group
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participants were selected for the deliberative conversations by a process of scientific random sampling. This method was used to randomly select 89 candidates from among over 700 company employees. For the sake of fairness and impartiality, balls in three colours were specially produced as sampling tools, and each ball bore ten numbers from 0-9. For the selection of each participant, three balls were drawn separately to form a three-digit number, corresponding to the three-digit employee ID number of a prospective participant. Because twenty of the selected employees were unable to leave their posts during their shifts, 69 of the 89 employees selected participated in the Longbiao conversations – attending democratic deliberation meetings on June 30 and completing the two questionnaires before and after the meetings. The final number of participants accounted for 77.5% of the number of employees initially selected.
Methods and Tools Used
This event used the Deliberative Polling method which involves various tools of engagement including surveys (before and after), information and question and answer periods with experts, small group deliberation (such as thematic dialogue tables or future workshops) and plenary discussion.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The workplace deliberation was structured as a four step process.
1. In the first step, participants completed anonymous questionnaires addressing the six thematic areas of discussion as discussed above. The questionnaire used scale choice questions; each question listed ten scaling options from “0” (most negative) to “10” (most positive) and one “do not know” option, and the participants were to choose the most suitable option. Each thematic area also included open questions requesting a critique of the status quo and suggestions for improvement.
2. In the second step, on the day of workplace deliberation on June 30, one week after the first questionnaire, the participants were divided into five discussion groups that each considered the six thematic areas.
3. In the third step, all participants were divided into two groups, which then respectively engaged in deliberative dialogue with the company’s senior management, including the chairman and chief executive officer, on the afternoon and evening of June 30. Before the dialogues, the participants drew lots to determine speaking order.
4. In the fourth step, after the deliberative conversations, the participants once again completed anonymous questionnaires (identical to the previous questionnaires).
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The Longbiao deliberative meetings achieved the initially planned objectives. It not only provided many suggestions for the improvement and invigoration of the Longbiao Group’s management and culture, but also served to illustrate how participation and deliberative democracy could be beneficial for other enterprises and organizations. Workplace deliberation is beneficial in the following reasons.
- Deliberativeness and Cultivating Deliberative Citizens
- An Opportunity for Education and Training in Local Deliberative Democracy
- Promoting the Exchange of Information in the Enterprise
- Improving Internal Relations
- Promoting Innovation in Enterprise Management
Analysis and Lessons Learned
It should be acknowledged that the Longbiao experiment is a relatively isolated case and does not represent all private factories in China. Moreover, while there are limits to consultative authoritarianism in the Chinese political system (Truex 2014), there are further limits to deliberative processes in an industrial setting including asymmetric power relationships, worker’s representation, implementation issues, and the nature of private ownership and its command and control characteristics. More workplace experiments are needed to find ways to deal with these problems and more studies are needed to find innovative solutions. The DP solution presented in this case study represents a fresh attempt to improve internal corporate governance and management, but more is needed to be done in order to reduce the possibility of deliberative democratic conversations becoming mere “idle talk’.
Baogang, He. "Deliberative culture and politics: The persistence of authoritarian deliberation in China," Political Theory 42, no. 1 (2014): 58-81. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Baogang_He/publication/274987451_De...
Baogang, He and C Wang. "Deliberative democracy in rural China: a case study," Sociological Studies 22, no. 3 (2007): 56-73. http://dro.deakin.edu.au/eserv/DU:30007692/he-deliberativedemocracy-2007...
Truex, Rory. "Consultative Authoritarianism and its Limits," Comparative Political Studies 50, no. 3 (2014): 329-360. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0010414014534196#articleCita...
Interview with He Baogang: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/chinafile/china-democracy-experiment_b_54...
This entry was submitted by Qin Xuan on behlaf of it's authors, He Baogang, Alfred Deakin Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University
Lead image: China Qiao https://goo.gl/B9LTTM