Harnessing public opinion for more inclusive governance

policy
Lu Enlan thanks the Binzhou police for helping her to access the services she was rightfully entitled to.

Retirement in the prefecture-level city of Binzhou, Shandong province for Lu Enlan used to be more difficult than it should have been. Born on April 12 1945, she should have been eligible to collect the state pension she needs to support herself in her old age years ago.

However, a simple administrative error made this impossible after a registrar mistakenly put her date of birth as April 12 1954 on the household register, meaning that according to her records she was not yet old enough to receive the services she was entitled to. For reasons unknown to Lu her repeated requests to have the mistake corrected were left unanswered by local officials. With no other way to seek assistance, Lu’s situation seemed bleak.

Hightllights

  • Since 2010 Binzhou’s government has responded to over 5,000 queries from the public and consulted 60,000 people for performance assessment.
  • The public has also been able to interact directly with senior officials including the mayor in online Q&A sessions. These efforts have been a proven success, with a 90% satisfaction rate among service users.

Lu was one of many people who have been let down by their government at a time when China is experiencing unprecedented social change and internal migration. China’s new, dynamic population needs a more responsive, efficient government to meet their needs.

An end to her trouble arrived last summer in the form of Wang Xuewen, an officer from Lu’s local police station in Pengli, Bincheng District. She was part of a public consultation organised by Pengli Police Station on May 9 2012 to talk to the public and allow them to air their grievances and concerns. Lu heard about the consultation and decided to try her luck one last time. Officer Wang received her request and personally started the process to have her claim verified by visiting reliable witnesses and accessing Lu’s personal records. It required only a brief search of the Bincheng District Health Bureau’s archives to turn up Lu’s true date of birth.

Lu was part of more than 150,000 families from Binzhou who have been able to seek help with individual cases since a joint UNDP - Government of China project launched in October 2011 to improve public participation in government performance assessment (GPA) in China. The consultation she had attended was one of many run as part of the project for the police authorities to survey public satisfaction. The information they collected allowed them to respond to people’s issues, and reorganise themselves to prevent similar mistakes from happening again.

More broadly, the project that helped Lu Enlan voice her concerns is aiming to help the government to keep up with the ever-faster changes in society, dealing with people’s needs, views, expectations and desire for participation. Despite reasonably good governance reform plans, many local governments in China are being outpaced by socio-economic issues and demand. Gaps often emerge between public expectations of government and its actual performance. This constitutes a major obstacle to national development and can even lead to public tensions. UNDP is helping the government to find ways to deal with these complaints.

The project has helped Binzhou and other local pilots to improve their GPA, in particular by proposing practicable methods for public participation in GPA, and including public satisfaction as an important GPA indicator. As well as consultations such as the one that brought Lu’s case to Officer Wang’s attention, hotlines have been established for people to report complaints and a Public Opinion Survey Centre now polls random samples of the population to monitor public satisfaction.

Since 2010 Binzhou’s government has responded to over 5,000 queries from the public and consulted 60,000 people for performance assessment. The public has also been able to interact directly with senior officials including the mayor in online Q&A sessions. These efforts have been a proven success, with a 90% satisfaction rate among service users.

Binzhou’s problems are not unique to the city but widespread across China, and the techniques developed and lessons learned here in addressing them can be usefully exported to the rest of the country.

Three weeks later, on May 30, Lu was standing outside Pengli Police Station beaming from ear to ear with a brand new ID card in one hand and Officer Wang’s hand clasped in the other. With the new card Lu could finally access the services she had needed so much.

“You worked so hard to relieve my concerns, I have no idea how to express my gratitude – now I can receive my pension from the government like others do!”

Thanks to the cooperation between UNDP and Binzhou, Lu received the sort of help that would have been unthinkable before. With UNDP’s assistance, the Chinese government is taking steps in the right direction to prevent predicaments such as Lu’s in the future.