The politics of services subcontracting to NGOs in China

Lead Research Organisation: London School of Economics & Pol Sci
Department Name: Department of International Development


This research investigates how, why and with what consequences the Chinese government procures welfare services from NGOs through sub-contracting. Governmental sub-contracting of welfare services from NGOs has become commonplace in many Western countries. However, in the case of China this is a new endeavour.
Following the introduction of market-oriented reforms in 1978 the old system and institutions of welfare began to break down. Since the mid-1990s the Chinese government has begun systematically to reform the welfare system in health, pensions, and social security, mainly in urban areas and more recently in rural. The need to expand welfare provider capacity to address a burgeoning range of increasingly complex welfare needs has led the Chinese government to look for non-state alternatives to welfare provision such as the private sector and NGOs.
However, a key obstacle to expanding NGO provision was the restrictive regulatory framework, which required NGOs to identify two government sponsors. After five years of experimentation, in July 2012 the Ministry of Civil Affairs changed the framework to enable certain types of NGOs to register directly with it, waiving the need for a second government sponsor. It thus gave the go-ahead to local governments across the country to roll out service procurement from NGOs.
These developments are significant because relations between the Chinese government and NGOs have often been tense, particularly regarding rights-based and advocacy groups perceived as a risk to social stability. Yet NGO-state relations are clearly pivotal to the effective implementation of this regulatory shift which could not just expand provider capacity but also promote a more relaxed political climate for NGOs in general. Getting NGO-state policies right in these sub-contracting arrangements is thus central to building effective NGO-state relations and balancing expanded welfare provision with stability concerns.
There is little evidence to date on how these new sub-contracting arrangements affect welfare provision or NGO-state relations. So this project aims to fill this gap by investigating how the sub-contracting process unfolds on the ground, why NGOs and local governments co-operate to deliver services through sub-contracting, and how this affects provider capacity and the development of an NGO sector.
The research has several objectives:
a) To collect and analyse the laws, policies and contractual rules governing sub-contracting from NGOs in China nationally and in the selected sites, and gather information about the debates and arguments around this.
b) To generate original empirical data on why local government officials and NGOs co-operate in these service delivery contracts, and how sub-contracting affects NGO operations and relations with the local state.
c) At the policy and practical level, to highlight examples of best practice that can inform policy development in China and other similar contexts.
d) To conceptualise the emerging models of sub-contracting and NGO-state relations and to advance theoretical understanding of welfare-state building and civil society development in China.
This research project has a number of potential benefits. First, it will fill a yawning gap in knowledge about how and with what consequences the sub-contracting of welfare services from NGOs in China is working out on the ground, about which there is currently a lack of evidence. Second, it will cast light on the particular challenges and opportunities of sub-contracting from NGOs in an authoritarian context. Third, it will throw up examples of best practice in terms of sub-contracting rules and NGO-state relations that can be usefully applied in other countries. Finally, it deepens understanding in the West of how the Chinese government is addressing concerns around welfare, NGO sector development and social stability.

Planned Impact

With this project, we aim to:
- Build up connections and contact with key stakeholders in the fields of HIV/AIDS, migrants, children with disabilities, to enhance awareness and maintain their steady commitment to the goals of the project;
- Contribute theoretically and conceptually to emerging debates around welfare and authoritarianism, and understanding of subcontracting of government services from NGOs;
- Influence thinking around key policies related to subcontracting from NGOs in China amongst academics, NGOs and policy-relevant people in government at a time when policies and legislation in this area are being developed, and when international development institutions are seeking to extend lessons from China to other countries;
- Encourage participation among researchers or partner bodies in project events.

For this project we have identified four key users and beneficiaries. These are:
a) Chinese government officials at national and local level, particularly in the ministries of health, civil affairs, finance and labour and social security;
b) International development institutions working in the fields of HIV/AIDs, migration and disabled children's services (these include WHO, UNAIDs, UNICEF, UNDP, foundations working in China, British Council China, China-related think-tanks and centres such as the Great Britain China Centre);
c) NGOs in the three sectors (these include the Preventative Medicine Association, HIV/AIDS and STD Association, China Aids Foundation; the Right to Play, the Disabled Services Research Centre; the Beijing Migrant Women Workers' Club, Facilitators);
d) Chinese and international support institutions for NGOs such as NGO research centres in China engaged in training NGOs, foundations and international development institutions.

As outlined in the Pathways to Impact, the project uses a variety of means and outputs to ensure that key users and beneficiaries benefit from the research. Much of the research involves engaging with potential users through informant interviews, so the project is designed to maximise opportunities for stakeholder engagement and knowledge exchange.
Government officials and international development institutions will benefit from the findings of this research by gaining clarity about effective policies and sustainable models of procurement that can be promoted more widely in China. This will assist with addressing increasingly complex and differentiated welfare needs, expanding the capacity of quality providers, and enhancing understanding of the constraints and risks of different models of procurement and ways to mitigate these. The research will also inform international social policy and practice about China's experiences with procurement of welfare services from NGOs.
NGOs and NGO-support institutions will benefit from the empirical findings of this research which will identify best practice models of procurement. This will help NGOs understand the risks and constraints of different procurement arrangements and help identify ways of mitigating these. It is hoped that the research will contribute to building productive relations and trust between government and NGOs.
As the research helps to identify the most effective, sustainable and appropriate models of procurement of welfare services from NGOs, the expanded capacity of quality service providers addressing diverse and complex needs will contribute to increased effectiveness of public services and policy that will ultimately benefit users.


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