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.
- "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 Sustainability. Forthcoming.
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 community-level.
- "Social expectations for charitable giving in China" (with Lin Xie 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): 54-71. 2017.
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. 2016.
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.