Observational Laboratory

Observational Research Project

Project Title: Employment relations and labor conditions in the automotive industry’s rising stars: China and India compared
Investigators: Yiu Por CHEN (PI, CityU), Thomas BARNES, Anita CHAN
Duration: 2015-2017
Funder: General Research Fund, Hong Kong
Abstract: Global value chains (GVC) represent a large, cross-disciplinary area of research. However, employment relations (ER) and labor conditions have been downplayed in the literature. GVCs refer to commodity chains across multiple countries that are dominated by “lead firms,” which are often powerful transnational corporations. Some scholars contend that the global production network (GPN) approach is better suited to the study of ER than GVC because of its focus on the links between these commodity chains and economic development in different countries and regions. We will conduct a comparative case study of the automotive industry in China and India to explore the debates on GVCs, GPNs, and their implications on ER. We focus on the operations and ER practices of three rising stars of global automotive production: German carmaker Volkswagen (VW), Chinese firm Geely Holding Group, and Indian firm Tata Motors. This study is the first international comparative study of automotive industry workers in China and India. The auto industry has been crucial to the development of “modern” industrial and consumer societies in the West and Japan, where workers are historically regarded as benefiting from good wages and employment conditions. Using the GVC/GPN framework, our project will explore whether or not auto industry ER in China and India will follow a similar path. The auto industry represents a specific type of “value chain” and is now shifting to these emerging economic giants, where global carmakers are keen to take advantage of huge domestic markets and relatively low-cost production. VW, one of the world’s leading auto firms, is one such company that has substantial investments in China and India. In each country, VW has had to adapt its distinctively “German” ER practices to local conditions. By documenting and analyzing VW’s practices and comparing them to those of Geely in China and Tata in India, we intend to contribute significantly to the literature on value chains as well as to assess whether the GVC or the GPN approach is more effective in incorporating and explaining the role of ER in industrial development. We will also outline the possible direction of ER practices in Chinese and Indian auto firms as the industry continues to expand. We will survey workers, interview managers and trade union representatives, and generate reports and articles of interest for scholars and practitioners alike.


Project Title: Institutional Development and Budgetary Decision Making - the Case of Hong Kong
Investigators: Xiaohu WANG (PI,CityU), Wilson Wai-ho WONG (CUHK)
Duration: 2015-2017
Funder: General Research Fund, Hong Kong
Abstract: Although Hong Kong budgetary practice has long been regarded as a model of fiscal prudence, surprisingly little research has been conducted on the strains facing the system in the post-1997 period. Yet prima facie evidence suggests that the socio-economic problems of an ageing population, slow economic growth, and demands for more welfare from an increasingly active civil society are placing the traditional model under stress. The government has accordingly begun to modify its long-standing concerns with balanced budgets and low welfare spending and to pay more attention to the problem of selling budget proposals to pressure groups and to the public. This proposal examines a critical dimension of this changing process by analyzing the impact of democratic institutional development on budgeting. The debate on democratic institutional development in Hong Kong has focused on election formats and procedures. Democratization also creates, however, an opportunity to bring budgetary demands to the table and for groups to argue for more spending on community needs. In contrast to the traditional, insulated, top-down budgetary model, democratic institutional development might involve making the process more open and inclusive which in turn might be reflected, quantitatively, in changing patterns of government expenditure. The key research question in this context is: Does institutional development affect spending patterns? More specifically, does it make large-scale budget changes more likely or less likely, and why? We will examine these questions in two related ways. The first will be a quantitative study examining and comparing the spending patterns before and after the democratization, using Punctuated Equilibrium Theory (PET) to develop hypotheses for testing. PET suggests that political dynamics have a significant effect on agenda setting and budgetary changes but such effects have received only limited empirical testing in Western democracies and Hong Kong. The second will involve a qualitative study of the evolution of Hong Kong’s budgetary practices over the period 1990 to the present, examining cases of large spending events in significant details in qualitative reviews of government and public documents to substantiate the spending patterns identified in the quantitative analysis. Employing these methods, the proposal will seek to realise three major objectives: to improve our understanding of Hong Kong’s present budgetary model and the policy process; to provide time series data over the period which will inform analysis of the changing model and should be useful to both scholars and practitioners; and to generate fresh evidence advancing PET budgetary theory.


Project Title: A Comprehensive Test of Policy Innovation Theses: The Taiwanese Bookstart Programme
Investigators: Richard M. WALKER (PI, CityU)
Duration: 2015-2017
Funder: Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation (US$70,000)
Abstract: This project will contribute towards theoretical debates in the field of public administration and policy on the adoption, diffusion and consequences of innovation by examining a comprehensive model of innovation though an empirical exploration of a unique Taiwanese case study. The focus is on innovation because it is a critically important area of investigation that scholars, policy makers and public administrators maintain delivers economic, political and social benefits. Public service organizations have put in place a range of innovative practices that bring societal benefits, but more needs to be known about public service innovation.

The innovative public policy programme case study is called Bookstart – an early years education programme. It was voluntarily initiated in Taichung County in 2003, and diffused to other localities before being adopted as a national policy in 2009. This pattern of diffusion (early adopters, later adopters and non-adopters) allows a number of theoretical perspectives on innovation in public organizations to be tested within one ‘innovation diffusion system’, and a first time test in an East Asian context. The theses are on (1) innovation diffusion; (2) the role of organizational task and institutional environments; (3) the attributes of the innovation; (4) the attributes of the adopting organization; and, (5) the innovation bias, that is concerned with the impact of innovation on organizational performance.

An intensive mixed-methods research strategy is proposed because the project objectives are complex and demanding and it is important to ensure that high-quality research data can be collected to test the innovation theses. The project adopts a quasi-experimental design and samples 100 libraries that have adopted the Bookstart programme (out of approximately 180) and a random sample of 100 non-adopters. Surveys and interviews will draw upon established measures adapted to the local context. The analysis will focus on testing theses (1)-(4) using adoption of innovation as the dependent variable. Performance will be the dependent variable for thesis (5). The qualitative interview data will be used to elaborate, explain and give context to the multivariate analysis. The data are also easy to access and there are ample secondary data, as demonstrated in our pilot study in Taichung County.
 


Project Title: Sustainability and Social Mobility in Professional Services: A Case Study of Accounting Profession in Hong Kong (專業服務的可持續發展與社會流動力:以香港會計專業為研究個案)
Investigators: Linda Chelan LI (PI, CityU), Phyllis Lai-lan MO (CityU), Ho Mun CHAN (CityU), Iris Chui Ping KAM (CityU)
Duration: 2015-16
Funder: Public Policy Research Funding Scheme, Central Policy Unit, HK
Abstract: Hong Kong is facing considerable social disquiet, and amongst the younger and the better educated in particular. Moreover, amidst a general background of rising affluence, conspicuous pockets of relative poverty have remained. Cross-border exchanges and economic integration have broadened immensely in recent decades, whilst tension has also accumulated, and acute sparks of conflict have increasingly been witnessed over various livelihood issues.  Debates were hot among professional bodies in particular industries on the puzzles but no conclusion has yet come up. There is a need for deeper understanding into the problems and issues through systematic research. This study aims at a small cut of the challenge; it will find out how early and mid-career accounting professionals see their career and growth prospects, and review their interpretations of challenges and promises in the context of articulations in government documents and policies, analyses in the literature, and the interpretations of industry and government leaders. Through systematically documenting the views of diverse actors and analyses, we seek to identify any gap in institutional capacity which contributes to the accumulation of issues and limit our ability to address the issues more effectively.
 
Simply put, we start with an apparent anomaly:   Hong Kong’s economy has enjoyed substantial growth in recent decades and is expecting new opportunities in the evolving Chinese reform and opening process, but the society has not at all times benefitted from the potential for upward social mobility. What explains the gap between the burgeoning prospect of the bigger picture, which is, by and large, underwritten by GDP statistics and stressed by the governing and business elites, and the more subdue or even unsettling mood amongst the working population? We shall choose the accounting profession for an indepth analysis to leverage their established status in the Hong Kong economy which stand to benefit, and has already benefitted, from the continuous growth of the Mainland economy, being one of the forerunners in cross-border knowledge transfer. We shall use a process-tracking method to capture the full package of structural and agency influences that lead to the emergence of both positive outcomes and constraints for the implementation of development strategies in the sector, with consequences to the social mobility of its professional workforce


Project Title: Assessing the Impact of Socially Desirable Responding on Self-Reports of Public Employee Motivation, Competence, and Behavior
Investigators: Chih-Wei HSIEH (PI, CityU)
Duration: 2015-2017
Funder: City University of Hong Kong (start-up grant)
Abstract: Social desirable responding (SDR) is the tendency for survey respondents to present culturally appropriate answers and therefore threatens the validity of data. Despite wide recognition of the bias toward SDR, the issue is insufficiently investigated by public management scholars. To address the knowledge gap, the proposed study will explore the effects of SDR on observed relationships that involve self-report measures of public employee motivation, competence, and behavior. Self-reports of motivation, competence, and behavior are the focus because they are particularly susceptible to SDR. Empirical testing will be performed using samples collected in the U.S. and Taiwan. While the U.S. has a prevailing individualist culture, the culture of Taiwan shows the strongest collectivist orientation in the Greater China Region. A comparison between U.S. and Taiwanese samples will illustrate whether SDR is more of a concern in one cultural context than the other.


Project Title: Change Making Rhetoric for the Public Benefit: How For-Profit Social Enterprises Pursue Multiple Goals and Redefine Success
Investigators: Yanto CHANDRA (PI, CityU)
Duration: Mar 2015 - Feb 2017
Funder: City University of Hong Kong (start-up grant)
Abstract: The rise of social enterprises (SE) reflects a rethinking on the purpose of organizations and what organizations mean for the society (Hollensbe et al., 2014). Although SE is a fast growing field of research, there is a dearth of research that investigates the rise of for-profit social enterprises called benefit-corporations (B-Corps) and the impact of certification on social and financial performance. Drawing on extant organizational communication and rhetoric research, this study seeks to be the first empirical study of B-Corps to develop a process theory of the voluntary adoption of B-Corp model among organizations, and use ‘text analytics’ approaches and a survey to explore and test 3 key hypotheses pertaining to the change making statements offered by B-Corps and relationships with outcome variables. This research will offer important theoretical contribution on the organizational rhetoric of for-profit social enterprises and methodological innovations in applying textual analytics to study large corpora of texts.


Project Title: Institutional Development and Budgetary Decision Making: The Case of Hong Kong
Investigators: XiaoHu WANG (PI, CityU)
Duration: October 2015- September 2017
Funder: General Research Fund, Hong Kong (HKD $360,000+)
Abstract: Although Hong Kong budgetary practice has long been regarded as a model of fiscal prudence, surprisingly little research has been conducted on the strains facing the system in the post-1997 period. Yet prima facie evidence suggests that the socio-economic problems of an ageing population, slow economic growth, and demands for more welfare from an increasingly active civil society are placing the traditional model under stress. The government has accordingly begun to modify its long-standing concerns with balanced budgets and low welfare spending and to pay more attention to the problem of selling budget proposals to pressure groups and to the public. This proposal examines a critical dimension of this changing process by analyzing the impact of democratic institutional development on budgeting.
 
The debate on democratic institutional development in Hong Kong has focused on election formats and procedures. Democratization also creates, however, an opportunity to bring budgetary demands to the table and for groups to argue for more spending on community needs. In contrast to the traditional, insulated, top-down budgetary model, democratic institutional development might involve making the process more open and inclusive which in turn might be reflected, quantitatively, in changing patterns of government expenditure. The key research question in this context is: Does institutional development affect spending patterns? More specifically, does it make large-scale budget changes more likely or less likely, and why?
 
We will examine these questions in two related ways. The first will be a quantitative study examining and comparing the spending patterns before and after the democratization, using Punctuated Equilibrium Theory (PET) to develop hypotheses for testing. PET suggests that political dynamics have a significant effect on agenda setting and budgetary changes but such effects have received only limited empirical testing in Western democracies and Hong Kong. The second will involve a qualitative study of the evolution of Hong Kong’s budgetary practices over the period 1990 to the present, examining cases of large spending events in significant details in qualitative reviews of government and public documents to substantiate the spending patterns identified in the quantitative analysis. 
 
Employing these methods, the proposal will seek to realise three major objectives: to improve our understanding of Hong Kong’s present budgetary model and the policy process; to provide time series data over the period which will inform analysis of the changing model and should be useful to both scholars and practitioners; and to generate fresh evidence advancing PET budgetary theory.


Project Title: Publicness: A Comprehensive Survey of Managerial and Organizational Antecedents in Hong Kong
Investigators: Richard M. WALKER (PI, CityU)
Duration: 2013-15
Funder: General Research Fund, Research Grants Council Hong Kong (HK$684,454)
Abstract: Differences between public and private organizations have often been portrayed as starkly distinct—typically based on ownership. However, the global economic crisis that has swept the world over recent years has challenged understanding of organizations along the ‘publicness’ or ‘privateness’ continuum as private banks have been brought into public ownership (notably UK and USA), government’s use public resources to spend their way out of difficulty (China), and political control over private companies has increased (hedge funds in the EU). These examples illustrate the multidimensional nature of ‘publicness’; organizations vary by ownership (private, public, nonprofit), funding (government grants versus consumer payments) and control (by political or economic forces).
 
This project:

1. Undertakes a large-scale stratified random probability sample from all ‘registered organizations’ in Hong Kong to contribute towards theoretical debates on the relationship between publicness and managerial and organizational characteristics,
 
2. Examines intraorganizational variations based upon respondents’ position in the hierarchy.
 
It does this to place longstanding assumptions about publicness in the academic literature under the most rigorous empirical microscope to date. The project will ascertain if some of the most widely cited publicness differences are maintained. For example, research reports that managers in organizations with higher levels of publicness (public ownership, public funding and high political control) perceive greater administrative constraints on incentives such as pay, promotion and disciplinary action than do those with low publicness. Answers to questions on this topic and others, including organizational environments, structures and process have been to date been undertaken in ad hoc studies with small samples, focused on limited functional categories (e.g. hospitals, airlines), undertaken by means of elite surveys, and with evidence mainly from the USA, raising external validity concerns.
 
Hong Kong represents an ideal location for this study because there is a sampling frame of ‘registered organizations’: 287,000 companies (with ≥ 10 employees) registered in Hong Kong, plus public and subverted agencies. Stratified sampling by industry type and organizational will be implemented. To ensure a reliable survey we will work with the University of Hong Kong’s Social Science Research Centre.
 
The outcome of the project will allow for inferences about the implied effects of publicness by cross-walking organizational attributes with levels and types of publicness. It will thereby contribute towards a more comprehensive understanding of organziations in the new global political and economic landscape that is resulting in organizational forms and behaviours and change publicness boundaries.
 


Project Title: Effective Nuclear Safety Governance for Hong Kong and Guangdong China: A Stakeholder Trust-based Model
Investigators: Richard M. WALKER (Co-I, CityU)
Duration: 2012-16
Funder: Research Grants Council Hong Kong, Strategic Public Policy Research (HK$3.25M)
Abstract: This project develops a stakeholder trust-based model of nuclear safety (NS) governance in Hong Kong (HK) and Guangdong, China. Nuclear energy development and social harmony have been accorded key priorities in the Twelfth Five Year Plan. However, the nuclear crisis in Fukushima reminds the world of the detrimental consequences of nuclear incidents. In response, several countries are reviewing their nuclear programs. Due to HK’s proximity to Guangdong, any nuclear accidents in Guangdong could potentially bring catastrophic impacts on HK and Guangdong. Nuclear crises are fear-provoking and require quick contingency response. To coordinate across various social sectors, NS governance must be built on significant stakeholder trust and engagement to avoid social chaos, promote effective rescue, and facilitate social harmony in the aftermath of crises.
 
This project proposes a departure from top-down NS management, and advocates the development of NS governance through stakeholder trust-based mechanisms on two levels. First, NS governance must ensure close cross-border collaboration between the HK Government and the Chinese authorities such as reliable radiation monitoring and information sharing. Second, greater trust must be built up between HK stakeholders and the governments in HK and Guangdong. Though the stakeholder trust-based model is developed primarily for HK, it would not only be beneficial to strengthening local governance, but also provide a model for China’s effective NS management and governance.
 
This project’s engagement framework is established based on the relationship between risk, trust, stakeholder engagement, and safety governance in the context of nuclear power safety. Three studies will be carried out using a stakeholder engagement (SE) methodology. First, it explores community stakeholders’ view on the determinants of effective NS governance. Second, Delphi surveys with international experts will be conducted to tap into their expertise on international best practices of NS governance. Third, SE exercises will be undertaken to collect views from international, Chinese and local stakeholders on the key priorities and procedures of effective NS management, and contingency response management strategies in the event of nuclear accidents in Guangdong. Three policy areas, namely, public health, food/water safety and crossborder collaboration are targeted. Finally, two sets of deliverables will be offered and recommended to the government of HK and China. First, the stakeholder trust-based NS framework will be recommended as a new direction for contingency governance. Second, Delphi surveys with international experts will be conducted to tap into their expertise on international best practices of NS governance. Third, SE exercises will be undertaken to collect views from international, Chinese and local stakeholders on the key priorities and procedures of effective NS management, and contingency response management strategies in the event of nuclear accidents in Guangdong. Three policy areas, namely, public health, food/water safety and crossborder collaboration are targeted. Finally, two sets of deliverables will be offered and recommended to the government of HK and China. First, the stakeholder trust-based NS framework will be recommended as a new direction for contingency governance.


Project Title: Impact Assessment of Eco-compensation in China: A Network Governance Approach
Investigators: XiaoHu WANG (PI, CityU)
Duration: 2013-2014
Funder: Strategic Research Grant, City University of Hong Kong
Abstract: Effective network management should produce better policy outcomes. But few studies elaborate how this happens. The relationship between network management and outcomes is underspecified. Adopting a pathway case study method, this study explores this relationship by introducing an implementation capacity variable. We argue that effective network management improves network implementation capacity needed for better policy outcomes. We specify that network implementation capacity consists of financial, technical, and managerial components. Using data from two environmental financing programs (i.e., eco-compensation) in China, we find evidence to support the formulation of the hypothesis. The results demonstrate the complex process in which network management influences network implementation capacity and policy outcomes.