Certification programs embody the complex interplay between public organizations and nongovernmental entities in contemporary public administration. In an article published in the journal Public Administration, I draw attention to ‘regulatee choice’ in certification programs, in which program participants choose from among certifier alternatives. The study draws on a nation-wide survey of certified organic farmers to examine the factors that farmers weigh when selecting from among public, nonprofit, and private organic certifier options. The findings indicate that farmer choice between public, nonprofit, and private certifiers is differentiated by the importance that regulatees ascribe to certifier reputations and service offerings, as well as regulatee desires to support the organic movement through certification. Farmer choice between public and nonprofit certifiers is further differentiated by the importance regulatees place on certifiers’ perceived regulatory expertise.
For those interested in organic certification matters, the findings indicate that the factors that matter in farmers selection from certifiers are not uniform across certifier type - different factors influence the selection of public, nonprofit, and private certifiers distinctly. For scholars, the findings highlight how regulatee choice decisions in voluntary program settings differ from seemingly analogous cases such as citizen choice decisions in healthcare and education. Among the regulatee choice factors that matter is certifier reputation, which may be associated with signals of voluntary program integrity and credibility, and regulatees’ desire to communicate particular values to external stakeholders through their choice of certifier.