The selection and the making of civil servants: Evidence from China’s College Graduate Civil Services programme

Project Active from to Cities

The quality, incentives, and ideologies of local civil servants greatly affect policy implementation and governance efficacy, especially in the developing world with weak formal institutions. This project aims to understand what shapes the background, preferences, attitudes, and behaviours of civil servants in rural China. Specifically, we focus on the College Graduate Civil Services (CGCS) programme, where thousands of college graduates are hired every year to work as entry-level civil servants in rural townships on two-year contracts. Using a field experiment, we will separately identify:

  • The selection margin – who apply to become local civil servants and which applicants the government selects.
  • The treatment margin – to what extent civil service experience changes the recruited individuals over time.

This project will provide the first empirical evidence on the treatment effect of civil service experience. Given that local civil service often marks the beginning of a long career path that may eventually lead to high level politicians, how the civil career experience changes individuals over time could be as important and relevant as the initial selection margins and could become increasingly more important as their seniority rises.

Moreover, one cannot evaluate the effectiveness of selection mechanisms without taking into account the treatment margin, especially when there are trade-offs between characteristics that the government deems desirable. While our project focuses on the important but specific context of local civil servants in rural China, we believe it can serve as a proof of concept as it provides conceptual insights and an empirical framework that is portable to many other contexts. Lessons from our project could help local government bodies and organizations evaluate and potentially improve their selection mechanisms.