To disaggregate the regional difference in local government efforts in digital governance, our team will conduct in-depth interview with relevant officials, SOEs and private companies that get digital initiative contracts from the government, researchers, as well as citizens to uncover what is really happening at the frontline of digital governance. Zhejiang (Coastal) , Anhui (Central China) and Sichuan (Western China) will be the main locations for field work, which will be conducted whenever the COVID situation allows.
So far we had conducted preliminary interviews in Shenzhen, one of China’s most praised smart cities. In our published case study on Shenzhen, we show that, at the local level, the successful implementation of digital systems faces numerous hurdles in long-standing data management and bureaucratic practices that are at least as challenging as the technical problems. Furthermore, the study finds that the digital systems in Shenzhen entail a creeping centralisation of data that potentially turns lower administrative government units into mere users of the city-level smart platforms rather than being in control of their own data resources. Smart city development and big data ambitions thereby imply shifting stakeholder relations at the local level and also pull non-governmental stakeholders, such as IT companies and research institutions, closer to new data flows and smart governance systems.