Evaluation and learning in complex, rapidly changing health systems: China’s management of health sector reform
Xiao, Y, Husain, L and Bloom, G (2018) Evaluation and learning in complex, rapidly changing health systems: China’s management of health sector reform, Globalization and Health, 14:112, DOI: 10.1186/s12992-018-0429-7
Healthcare systems are increasingly recognised as complex, in which a range of non-linear and emergent behaviours occur. China’s healthcare system is no exception. The hugeness of China, and the variation in conditions in different jurisdictions present very substantial challenges to reformers, and militate against adopting one-size-fits-all policy solutions. As a consequence, approaches to change management in China have frequently emphasised the importance of sub-national experimentation, innovation, and learning. Multiple mechanisms exist within the government structure to allow and encourage flexible implementation of policies, and tailoring of reforms to context. These limit the risk of large-scale policy failures and play a role in exploring new reform directions and potentially systemically-useful practices. They have helped in managing the huge transition that China has undergone from the 1970s onwards. China has historically made use of a number of mechanisms to encourage learning from innovative and emergent policy practices. Policy evaluation is increasingly becoming a tool used to probe emergent practices and inform iterative policy making/refining. This paper examines the case of a central policy research institute whose mandate includes evaluating reforms and providing feedback to the health ministry. Evaluation approaches being used are evolving as Chinese research agencies become increasingly professionalised, and in response to the increasing complexity of reforms. The paper argues that learning from widespread innovation and experimentation is challenging, but necessary for stewardship of large, and rapidly-changing systems.