When Stronger Policy Capacities Produce Worse Outcomes: A Historical Case Analysis of Crisis Management of Eight Asian Cases

21 JUN
9:00 AM (HK Time, UTC + 8)
RM 4472 (Lift 25/26), Academic Bldg, HKUST
Division of Public Policy (PPOL)

Division of Public Policy (PPOL)

Mr SHI, Lei

Mr SHI, Lei

SHI Lei_21Jun2023



This thesis explores crisis management and policy capacity through case studies of Hong Kong and other countries' crisis episodes. It argues that the traditional event-centered approach to crisis management literature overlooks connected crises contexts. The study applies a processual approach and proposes a novel "crisis-to-crisis frame" incorporating pre- and post-crisis analyses. The policy capacity framework assesses analytical, operational and political capacities for explaining and evaluating crisis management actors' actions during crises.


The findings show that the Hong Kong government's policy capacity declined across the board between 2014-2019. The changes in policy capacity help the academic community better understand the roles played by the categories of policy capacity in crisis situations compared to the existing literature. Analyzing HKSAR's post-crisis learning and investments after SARS crisis management failure, it is shown that analytical and operational capacities can be invested to strengthen and their enhancement help shape and strengthen crisis management responses. However, once political capacity is seriously damaged, even increased analytical and operational capacities are constrained and unfulfilled for Hong Kong's Covid-19 responses. The changes in policy capacity between OCM and ELAB crisis could be related to the personnel and organizational changes within HKSARG during the time being, with apparent effects that partly contributed to the failure in anticipating and managing ELAB crisis.


In contrast, Singapore managed Covid-19 well with exemplary policy capacity after containing SARS. The maintained political capacity rightly before Covid-19 hit the city was argued to be a hypothetical counter example of Hong Kong, which further highlight the critical roles played by political capacity in successful crisis management performance. The study also examines Thailand's protracted anti-government protests and government crisis management. Its lessons for Hong Kong may be that had Hong Kong requested assistance from the paramilitary sent from mainland China, the damage to political capacity would have been even greater, while the effects may not have been apparently better as the strengthened force by the government would encourage protesters to upscale their violence, too.


In summary, the novel “crisis-to-crisis” framework underpinned by policy capacity analysis generated valid patterns of relationships between areas of policy capacity in crisis contexts that are not dependent on crisis contexts. The thesis ends with theoretical models such as the Stairs Model and Onion Model depicting patterns of relationships between areas of policy capacity in crisis contexts which can be tested with more crisis cases in future research.


By extending crisis management framework and testing policy capacity framework's value for real-world crises, the study refocuses on the connections between crises and crisis management practices. The findings also inspire future research questions, though limited by case selection and data availability. Overall, the thesis provides a promising direction for better understanding of crisis management and promotes more evidence-based lessons from the field.


Division of Public Policy (PPOL)