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Experimental zones

Experimental zones are geographic areas which are used as a test bed for new ideas that can then be introduced nationwide. The main challenge with experimental zones is to balance experimentation and freedom with enough clarity about what is being experimented to ensure that the zones work well. Four experimental zones were set up in China in the 1970s, to test out Deng Xiaoping’s ‘open door’ policies. These zones provided a range of tax incentives to attract foreign investment and paved the way for the sweeping reforms and the unprecedented economic growth of the past three decades. More recently there have been experiments in health insurance in Chongqing, and democratic deliberative polling in the Wenling Municipality of Zhejiang Province. In the UK experimental zones have been used with varying success. In the 1990s, Employment Zones allowed contractors to innovate new methods for getting unemployed people into work, with payment linked to outcomes rather than inputs and outputs.