Balancing Barriers to Entry and Administrative Burden in Voluntary Regulation

2018, Perspectives on Public Management & Governance, with Tyler A. Scott & Nadia Mahallati

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Voluntary programs have become a recognized instrument for achieving public and private governance goals. As a governance instrument, these programs face a design challenge: to generate societal benefits, a voluntary program must establish stringent standards that support the program’s environmental or social goals, and at the same time program costs that may deter program participation. We argue that the theoretical framework of administrative burden provides a means to consider how voluntary programs may set and adjust entry barriers to motivate participation while maintaining credibility. The framework’s applicability is illustrated through an examination of National Organic Program initiatives to reduce the administrative burden faced by agricultural producers seeking organic certification. Through a discussion drawing on the case, we identify three questions and a series of theoretical expectations for research contributing to a better understanding of the causes and consequences of voluntary program administrative burden.