How Street-Level Bureaucrats Collaborate for Policy Entrepreneurship: Insights From Anti-Poverty Policy Implementation in China

Published date01 October 2023
AuthorLu Liu,Yahua Wang
Date01 October 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(9) 1791 –1818
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997231187082
How Street-
Level Bureaucrats
Collaborate for Policy
Insights From Anti-
Poverty Policy
Implementation in China
Lu Liu1 and Yahua Wang1
Despite increasing attention to street-level policy entrepreneurship, it
remains unclear what strategies street-level bureaucrats employ during
implementation or how their strategies impact policy outcomes. Using
China’s Targeted Poverty Alleviation campaign, we argue that street-level
policy entrepreneurs construct collaborative arrangements with various
local networks to devise innovative solutions. They collaborate with
administrative leaders vertically or with citizens horizontally by adopting
three strategies: defining mutual interests, building trust, and leveraging
resources. Vertical collaboration contributes to effective policy outcomes
and formal upward accountability, while horizontal collaboration improves
public responsiveness. This study provides insights into collaborative
behaviors of frontline bureaucrats that alleviate rural poverty.
policy implementation, poverty alleviation, policy entrepreneurship, street-level
bureaucrats, street-level policy entrepreneurship, collaborative governance
1Tsinghua University, Beijing, China
Corresponding Author:
Yahua Wang, School of Public Policy and Management, Tsinghua University, Room 612,
Beijing, 100084, China.
1187082AAS0010.1177/00953997231187082Administration & SocietyLiu and Wang
1792 Administration & Society 55(9)
Countries are confronted with a growing number of tricky problems that
impose significant challenges on policy design as well as street-level imple-
mentation. The success to meet these challenges is contingent on a variety of
policy actors who develop innovative solutions and put them into action
(Gofen & Lotta, 2021). To explain what drives policy innovation, the public
policy and administration literature has focused on the role of policy entre-
preneurs (PEs) who invest substantive time and resources to influence policy
processes and secure policy goals (Kingdon & Stano, 1984; Mintrom &
Norman, 2009). The majority of studies have focused on how high-level
elites, such as legislators, politicians, and administrators, advocate their ideas
in agenda setting, policy formation, and policy adoption (Anderson et al.,
2019; Roberts & King, 1991). A handful of studies have examined entrepre-
neurship during implementation, analyzing how elite entrepreneurs “fix” or
build on what has been accomplished in previous stages (Bardach, 1977;
Levin & Fennan, 1986). However, there is a lack of inquiry into whether
lower-level bureaucrats can bring about innovative outcomes in their imple-
mentation of public policies (Arnold, 2021; Frisch-Aviram et al., 2019).
A vein of emerging scholarship contends that street-level bureaucrats
(SLBs) can also serve as entrepreneurs to shape policy processes, a phenom-
enon that is referred to as street-level policy entrepreneurship (Arnold, 2013;
Durose, 2009; Lavee & Cohen, 2019; Petchey et al., 2007). Scholars have
asserted that street-level policy entrepreneurs (SLPEs) can perceive the need
for change and access policy-makers to improve the status quo (Frisch-
Aviram et al., 2018). They have examined the motivations of SLBs to become
SLPEs, as well as their strategies for bringing about policy changes (Aviv
et al., 2021; Gofen et al., 2021; Lavee et al., 2018). While most academic
attention has been diverted to SLPEs’ capacity to change policy design (Aviv
et al., 2021; N. Cohen & Aviram, 2021), analyses of their creativity and
improvisation in day-to-day implementation remain relatively sparse (Breit
et al., 2016; Lu et al., 2019; Masood & Nisar, 2021).
This study aims to address two questions: how do SLBs realize policy
entrepreneurship in policy implementation? What are the effects of their
entrepreneurial strategies on policy outcomes and accountability relations?
SLBs possess a certain level of autonomy to decide how to interpret policies,
distribute resources, and organize action to deliver policies (Keiser, 2010;
Sabatier, 1986). While there is a large body of literature on the coping strate-
gies of SLBs, most studies concentrate on how SLBs use discretion to bend
and break rules, routinize service delivery, or ration existing resources
(Tummers et al., 2015). Moreover, we argue that SLBs can develop new

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