Using policy goal ambiguity to manage policy goal conflicts: Sponge-City Program implementation in old neighbourhoods

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Department of Social Sciences


This research empirically examines how implementers take advantage of policy goal ambiguity to manage policy goal conflict and thus influence policy outcomes in a multiple-goal program, exemplified by the Chinese Sponge City Program (SCP) implementation. SCP is a centrally initiated program with two goals of stormwater management and low environmental impact; when implemented in the pilot city of Zhenjiang, a local goal of resident satisfaction is layered. The three goals are conflictual, namely cannot be achieved simultaneously, and have varying degrees of priority, budget, and evaluation ambiguities. Drawing on data from field investigation and in-depth interviews, we find that implementers gave more weight to the stormwater management and resident-satisfaction goals yet downplayed the low environmental impact goal; implementers used goal ambiguity to moderate technical, purview, and land-resource constraints. We conclude that for a policy with multiple conflictual goals: (1) when goals cannot be achieved simultaneously, implementers prioritize goals with clearer evaluation measures and allocate budgets accordingly to manage conflicts; (2) goal ambiguity is beneficial for a program with multiple, conflictual goals to avoid direct policy failure and achieve better outcome sustainability.

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Journal of Asian Public Policy