Jessica Teets, Ph.D.

Middlebury College

Country: United States (Vermont)

About Me:

Jessica C. Teets is an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at Middlebury College, and Associate Editor of the Journal of Chinese Political Science.  Her research focuses on governance and policy experimentation in authoritarian regimes, especially the role of civil society.  She is the author of Civil Society Under Authoritarianism: The China Model (Cambridge University Press, 2014) and editor (with William Hurst) of Local Governance Innovation in China: Experimentation, Diffusion, and Defiance (Routledge Contemporary China Series, 2014), in addition to articles published in The China Quarterly, World Politics, and the Journal of Contemporary China.  Dr. Teets is a fellow with the Public Intellectuals Program created by the National Committee on United States-China Relations (NCUSCR), and is currently researching policy innovation by local governments in China.

Research Interests

Asian Politics

Comparative Political Institutions


Non-Democratic Regimes


Countries of Interest


My Research:

Jessica C. Teets is an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at Middlebury College, and her research focuses on governance and policy experimentation in authoritarian regimes, especially the role of civil society.  She is currently researching the politics of policy innovation by local governments in China.


Journal Articles:

(2018) Learning under Authoritarianism: Strategic Adaptations within International Foundations and NGOs in China, Voluntas

Within the field of international relations, scholarship supports the notion that international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and foundations, as a part of transnational civil society, influence state policy and behaviors, while the causal effects of state influence on INGOs is less researched. By contrast, the co-constitutive roles of states and INGOs are well established in third-sector research. Seeking to extend these literatures and bring them into conversation more with one another, this article explores the process of state influence on INGOs and foundations in the context of China, a strong, resiliently authoritarian state. We argue that three strategic adaptations by INGOs emerge as a pragmatic response to operating within China’s authoritarian institutions, such as (1) learning to focus mostly on policymakers rather than citizens, (2) collaboration with local governments on policy experimentation as the primary advocacy method, and (3) the adoption of strategies to hedge against potential risks of operating without a protected legal status, such as only collaborating with the grassroots NGOs properly registered with state authorities. In some cases, these adaptations catalyzed larger organizational changes. Our findings indicate that socialization processes can affect both INGOs and states, and thus serve to highlight the difficult trade-offs faced by INGOs engaging strong authoritarian governments such as China. Further, they suggest that, in a world of seemingly resurgent authoritarian governance, restricting legal and policy space for INGOs may be moot, since INGOs working inside these states are influenced to comply with domestic rules, norms, and practices.

(2017) The Incentive to Innovate? The Behavior of Local Policymakers in China, Journal of Chinese Political Science

Despite playing a key contributing role in China’s economic reforms and the Party’s regime durability, there has been a noted reduction in local policy experimentation. Using semi-structured interviews with policymakers in Beijing, Zhejiang and Shenzhen, we find that although recentralization efforts at the central-level are impacting local officials, a great deal of variation in policy experimentation outcomes still exists. Thus, the puzzle motivating this study is how do local officials react to these institutional changes to decide whether or not to engage in local policy innovation? Our study offers three potential explanations for why local officials vary in their willingness to continue policy experimentation: (1) the ineffectiveness of the vertical reward and punishment systems operated by the Party-state; (2) differing base preferences of local officials; and, (3) the presence of a cohort effect. These factors “filter” institutional changes to result in variation at the local level. As such, we find strong support for an evolutionary process predicated on individual preferences interacting with institutional incentives such as the evaluation system and the networked-structure of cadre knowledge. Although some officials are still conducting policy experimentation, the overall reduction in innovation strongly suggests that potential solutions to governance problems remain trapped at the local level, and that the central government might lose this “adaptable” governance mechanism that has contributed to its past economic and political successes.

(2017) The Power of Policy Networks in Authoritarian Regimes: Changing Environmental Policy in China, Governance

In this article, I examine how civil society organizations (CSOs) in China created policy networks among government officials to change environmental policies. I contend that these networks work in similar ways to those in democracies, despite the focus in the literature on how policymaking in authoritarian regimes lacks societal participation. China adopted strict regulations to control CSOs by requiring registration with a supervisory agency. However, CSOs exploit the regulations to use the supervisory agency as an access point to policymakers whom they otherwise could not reach. I use case studies to demonstrate how the strategies used to construct policy networks determined their success in changing policy. This finding represents an initial step in theorizing bottom-up sources of policymaking in authoritarian regimes given that these regimes all create mechanisms for government control over CSOs, have difficulty accessing good information for policymaking from society, and a policy process formally closed to citizen participation.