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Abstract: Conceptualizing and measuring choice is problematic both in theory and in practice. Measuring by counting the alternatives seems counter-intuitive as a smaller set of better or more diverse alternatives seems to provide more choice than one that is simply larger. However, concentrating upon better alternatives leads to choice being defined by welfare or utility which is also counter-intuitive. The implications of this paradox are considered in relation to examples drawn from the choice agenda in British social policy. Empirical difficulties in measuring the welfare gains through implementing greater choice at a time of other central-led policy initiatives such as targets are discussed, and the extant evidence discussed. Criteria for judging whether or not choice has been welfare-enhancing are suggested. It is argued that ‘soft choice’ where service providers provide information and explain different options is preferable to ‘hard’ choice of simplistic targets to increase choice by ticking target boxes.

Dowding K and John P (2009)  ’The Value of Choice in Public Policy’, Public Administration, Vol 87 (2): 219-233