Dr. Kwan Nok CHAN 陳君諾
Associate Professor: Dr. Chan’s primary research concerns the institutions that shape the consumption and distortion of information in different organizational settings. His current research explores how bureaucrats handle information and the impact of institutions on their choices.
Ongoing projects deal with different aspects of bureaucratic control in authoritarian regimes, such as administrative oversight, juridical intervention, internal reporting, and legislative decision-making.
He holds a PhD Degree in Public Policy from the O’Neill School of Public and Environment Affairs and the Department of Political Science, Indiana University Bloomington.
- Information commons. Research student Qichang Ma leads a project on user collaboration in information commons. We perform additional analysis of content moderation on China's online platforms using the same dataset. Part of this project is supported by a GRF grant from Hong Kong's UGC.
- Policy information. In her doctoral research, research student Mengqi Xie explains how the Chinese authorities organize environmental oversight and how Chinese business responds with expanded ESG disclosure. Research student Jiasheng Xiao investigates the institutional design for intelligence management across regional governments in the Greater Bay Area.[acknowledgments]
These projects draw upon a range of public and proprietary data repositories.
Part of the data we use for the ESG projects come from Alpha Vantage, which offers academic API access. Please find more information about it at https://www.alphavantage.co/.
- Bureaucratic control. Drawing empirical insights from the legal system in both modern and ancient China, research student Li Liao models the way leaders of authoritarian regimes manage the exercise of discretionary power by government bureaucrats.
- Digital governance. Research collaborator Edward Chan Kei Fung is specialized in the regulation and governance of AI and immersive technologies. In partnership with Meta, we study regulatory efforts targeting Extended Reality (XR) applications in Hong Kong and other sites across Asia-Pacific. Research student Yunchen Zhu is developing a research project on the impact of smart city applications on street-level bureaucracy in Mainland China.
- "Using Virtual Simulations of Future Extreme Weather Events to Communicate Climate Change Risk" (with Terry van
Gevelt, Brian G McAdoo, Jie Yang, Linlin Li, Fiona Williamson, Alex Scollay, Aileen Lam, and Adam D Switzer).
PLOS Climate. Forthcoming.
Virtual simulations of future extreme weather events may prove an
effective vehicle for climate change risk communication. To test this, we created a 3D virtual simulation of
a future tropical cyclone amplified by climate change. Using an experimental framework, we isolated the
effect of our simulation on risk perceptions and individual mitigation behaviour for a representative sample
(n = 1507) of the general public in Hong Kong. We find that exposure to our simulation is systematically
associated with a relatively small decrease in risk perceptions and individual mitigation behaviour. We
suggest that this is likely due to climate change scepticism, motivation crowding, geographical and temporal
distance, high-risk thresholds, feelings of hopelessness, and concerns surrounding the immersiveness of the
- "Individual Perceptions of Climate Anomalies and Collective Action: Evidence from an Artefactual Field
Experiment in Malaysian Borneo" (with Terry van Gevelt, T Zaman, and M.M. Bennett). World Development
2022 Best Article Award for offering “an excellent example on an interdisciplinary approach
by borrowing elements from psychology, economics and climate science with robust methodologies and insights
from people living in climate-vulnerable areas.”Abstract
We explore the effect of individual perceptions of climate anomalies on
collective action within a context of environmental complexity and uncertainty. To do so, we construct two
competing propositions that are theoretically robust but with very different real-world implications. Our
first proposition suggests that collective action to adapt to climate change is likely to be more effective
when perceptions of climate anomalies converge within a community. Our second proposition suggests the
opposite: that convergence is likely to hinder adaptation behaviour. We use a community co-designed measure
of perceptions and an artefactual field experiment to test our propositions and explore the effect of
perception convergence on climate change adaptation behaviour in six communities in Malaysian Borneo. We
find a robust positive relationship between convergent perceptions of climate anomalies and the collective
action required to adapt to climate change. Our findings suggest that perception convergence is an
underexplored and potentially crucial factor that can either drive or hinder adaptation efforts at the
- "Social Expectations for Charitable Giving in China" (with Lin Nie and Wai Fung Lam). Nonprofit and
Voluntary Sector Quarterly. Forthcoming.
The rapid rise of philanthropy in China has motivated extensive research on
why people make charitable donations as a personal decision, but few studies have explored the social
dimension of these decisions. We propose that the legacy of government welfare provision and the culture of
trust have led Chinese citizens to form different expectations for others in philanthropic situations. Our
survey results point to some interesting asymmetries: Generalized trust and institutional trust toward local
governments inflate people’s expectation for philanthropic contributions from others, whereas particularized
trust and trust toward the central government reduce it. Also, Chinese citizens expect government employees
to make larger contributions, but they don’t expect charities with government backing to receive
correspondingly larger donations. We conclude with some observations on how the unique pattern of social
expectation may shape the future of Chinese philanthropy.
- "Elite Bargains and Policy Priorities in Authoritarian Regimes: Agenda Setting in China under Xi Jinping and Hu
Jintao" (with Shaowei Chen and Wai Fung Lam). Governance. Forthcoming.
Abstract URLWhat explains agenda outcomes in authoritarian regimes? Existing research attributes policy
priorities to either the autocrat’s survival needs or the co-optation of external interests. The
former leaves out policy choices beyond the calculus of regime survival; and the latter elite power play
that bears more immediately on government priorities than activities at the fringe. We hypothesize that
officials working under autocrats who seek co-optative elite bargains are more likely to prioritize
domain-specific concerns and less inclined to disrupt the status quo than those under leaders who rule with
coercion. Our comparison of the Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping administrations of China reveals patterns
consistent with these hypotheses: Hu’s “steward” leadership is associated with increased
agenda inertia and diversity, whereas policy priorities change in greater frequency and converge to a
stronger focus under Xi’s “strongman” rule. These contrasts are also clearer in policy
venues closer to the central leader’s direct control.
- “Friction and Bureaucratic Control in Authoritarian Regimes” (with Shiwei Fan).
Regulation & Governance. Forthcoming.
Abstract URLDemocracies deliberately create “friction” in bureaucratic
processes, using inefficiencies to mitigate the impact of government transitions and asymmetric information
on leaders’ ability to exert control. With far more centralized power, would authoritarians prefer
less friction? We argue that they do not. In fact, excess friction is actively supplied to hinder
bureaucratic coordination independent of or even in opposition to top-down control, leaving the central
leaders the only player powerful enough to organize complex actions. Our analysis of data on the Chinese
government indicates that bureaucrats are systematically sent to unfamiliar work environment, and that
agencies that are more exposed to the resultant inefficiencies are also more likely to come under direct
control by senior Politburo members. The pattern of targeted intervention indicates that bureaucratic
control in authoritarian regimes is predicated not only on centralized power in general but also the
deliberate supply of friction to obstruct independent actions from the bottom up.
- “Legislative Rules in Electoral Authoritarian Regimes” (with William Bianco and Regina Smyth).
The Journal of Politics. 81(2): 892-905. 2019.
Abstract URLThis article focuses on the manipulation of legislative rules in electoral authoritarian
states. Electoral liberalization in authoritarian regimes creates the capacity for opposition forces to win
legislative seats, but it does not ensure voice in the policy process. While the literature on institutional
authoritarianism points to co-optation, dominant parties, and redistribution as mechanisms to control policy
outcomes in authoritarian legislatures, we investigate an additional possibility: that electoral
authoritarian regimes (EARs) select legislative institutions that allow free debate and unconstrained voting
yet decouple electoral success from policy influence. Our analysis centers on the EAR in Hong Kong and its
legislature, the Legislative Council (LegCo). We find that the LegCo’s rules of procedure interact
with electoral institutions to create considerable roadblocks to opposition initiatives, while at the same
time facilitating the enactment of regime policies.
- “Bureaucratic Control and Information Processing: An Institutional Comparison” (with Wai Fung Lam).
Governance, 31(3): 575-592. 2018.
Abstract URLStandard models of bureaucratic control argue that politicians vulnerable to asymmetric
information rely on third‐party monitoring to expand information supply. This solution to information
asymmetry assumes that politicians can process all information that comes their way. However, advocates
strategically oversupply information to crowd out rivals, making such a solution counterproductive. Using
data on administrative reorganization in Hong Kong, we examine the alternative proposition that bureaucratic
control is contingent not only on how information is obtained but also on how it is processed under two
different institutional arrangements: one that splits attention across domain‐specific streams and one that
concentrates attention in a single sequence. In both cases, bureaucrats refrain from major changes when
politicians break from these arrangements. Moreover, bureaucratic action is significantly more likely to
respond to changes in attention allocation when politicians process information in multiple streams.
- “Policy Advocacy in Transitioning Regimes: Comparative Lessons from the Case of Harbour Protection in Hong
Kong” (with Wai Fung Lam). Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice, 19(1):
Abstract URLCurrent research on policy advocacy relies exclusively on established regimes where
instability is largely contained. Using the harbour protection advocacy in Hong Kong as an exploratory case,
the article documents how conservationists exploited the unique opportunities arising from the transfer of
sovereignty to advance heritage protection policy. Three new strategic choices in policy advocacy are
identified. First, policy advocates strategically switched between issue frames instead of becoming strongly
identified with any issue frame. Second, they avoided prolonged involvement by pursuing modest,
programme-level adjustments. Third, they circumvented the restrictions on scope and focus by creating new
venues outside of the policy subsystem.
- “Punctuated Equilibrium and the Information Disadvantage of Authoritarianism: Evidence from the
People’s Republic of China” (with Shuang Zhao). Policy Studies Journal, 44 (2): 134-155.
Selected as one of Editor’s Choice
articles for offering “an innovative extension of Punctuated Equilibrium Theory to explain policy
making processes in an authoritarian regime, providing new insights into a regime type understudied in the
public policy field.” Abstract URLAccording to the punctuated equilibrium thesis, government attention allocation alternates
between long periods of stasis and dramatic spurts of disequilibrium because democratic institutions enable
minority groups to obstruct change. This article presents a critical discrepancy in contemporary China,
where punctuated instability is significantly more intense despite a lack of democratic institutions to
empower minority obstructionism. Our empirical analysis further reveals that punctuated intensity goes even
higher for Chinese regions facing fewer signs of social discontent. We attribute the intensification of
punctuated dynamics to an information disadvantage arising from the lack of diverse, independent sources of
information under authoritarianism. Our finding contributes to punctuated equilibrium theory by underlining
the function of opposition groups not only as obstructionists but also as challengers to policy priorities.
By marginalizing these challengers, authoritarian institutions confine attention to known problems, leading
to serious delays in the discovery of and adjustment to emerging issues.
- “How Authoritarianism Intensifies Punctuated Equilibrium: The Dynamics of Policy Attention in Hong
Kong” (with Wai Fung Lam). Governance, 28: 549–570. 2015.
Abstract URLThe punctuated equilibrium theory contends that government attention allocation is
universally leptokurtic in that long periods of stability are punctuated by bursts of rapid and radical
change; the empirical evidence in support of this claim is however exclusively drawn from democratic
systems. The absence of electoral politics and institutional decentralization in authoritarian regimes could
presumably affect institutional friction; whether and how this might pose as a qualification to the thesis
is of major interest. By analyzing four streams of government actions in Hong Kong from 1946 to 2007
straddling the colonial and postcolonial regimes, we have found that government processes are generally
leptokurtic even under authoritarian regime institutions, with the degree of the dispersion of
decision‐making power across the streams of actions affecting the magnitude of punctuation. We have also
found that punctuation was greater when the political system was more centralized but declined as the
political system democratized.