Published date01 September 2016
Date01 September 2016
doi : 10. 1111/p adm .12258
Market-based public management reform has introduced customer choice among competing
providers of public services. Choice entails exit, an option which Albert Hirschman famously
reserved for the market, while voice is the key mode of communication in political life. Based
on elite and mass surveys, the article studies how exit is perceived by citizens and local political
and administrative leaders in Norway and Sweden, and how the two strategic options relate to
each other. Citizens are more positive towards customer choice and exit than are leaders, albeit
with some variation across different public service sectors. Political and administrative leaders are
positive towards customer choice models as a strategy to empower clients but more critical in terms
of the potential loss of accountability and control that contracting out services may entail.
The strategies available to citizens and clients of public services to inuence political and
administrative choice have proliferated over the past couple of decades. Most importantly,
clients – or customers – of public services are increasingly often offered a choice among
competing service providers. Thus, in service sectors like primary education, care of the
elderly,daycare for preschool children and even the annual safety control of automobiles,
clients in many European countries are now provided with choice in a competitive market
with a wide range of public, private and cooperative service producers (Blomqvist 2004;
see also Klitgaard 2007).
This reform has altered not just public service delivery but also the strategies available
to citizens to inuence local service and, indeed, the democratic discourse and practice of
the local state. Previously, applying ‘exit’ in Hirschman’s classic framework to local politics
essentially meant moving to another municipality (Friedman 1955; Hirschman 1970). The
steep costs associated with that type of exit behaviour were probably an effective deterrent
even to the most disenchanted clients. However, with customer choice now in place in a
large number of service areas in many countries, the exit option has become a much more
realistic and less costly strategic alternative for clients.
This article investigates the conceptual and theoretical relationship between ‘exit’ and
‘voice’ in public service delivery. Drawing on a unique survey among local senior politi-
cians, managers and citizens in Norway and Sweden we nd that there is a positive rela-
tionship among citizens between ‘exit’ and ‘voice’ as means of inuencing public service.
Politicians and public managers are less positive towards the introduction of ‘exit’ than
are the citizens.
The next section of the article explores the conceptual and theoretical aspects of these
issues. We then introduce our research design and discuss our key results. A concluding
section closes the article.
Interestingly, Hirschman saw exit rst and foremost as associated with the market
whereas voice as a strategy of articulating a complaint was typical of the political sphere
Jon Pierre is at the Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden and the Melbourne School of
Government, University of Melbourne, Australia. Asbjørn Røiseland is at the Department of Social Sciences, University
of Nordland, Norway.
Public Administration Vol.94, No. 3, 2016 (738–753)
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
of society. With public management reform, that distinction has lost some of its signi-
cance. The market is now an integral resource allocation mechanism in the public sector;
hence exit has emerged as an important alternative, or supplement, to voice also in the
political sphere.
This ‘choice revolution’, as Blomqvist (2004) describes this reform, has thus empowered
clients of public services by enabling them to select those services, and service providers,
that they believe will provide the best service or those services that correspond most
closely with their particular demands. While we know a great deal about the extent to
which choice is exercised and which social constituencies are most or least likely to use
voice and exit (Orbell and Uno 1972; Sharp 1984; Van Vugt et al. 2003; Salucci and Bickers
2011; Dowding and John 2012), we know less about the empirical relationship between
the exit and voice strategies in the context of the suggested ‘choice revolution’ mentioned
above. Threatening to move to another municipality or exercising choice are two strategies
strongly resembling Hirschman’s idea of ‘exit’. Such strategies are distinctly different
from voice-based strategies such as voting, requesting meetings with elected ofcials or
bureaucrats, participating in demonstrations or using social media or personal contacts.
Despite the relative prominence of the exit, voice and loyalty framework in theoretical
research on citizens’ strategies of inuencing collective decisions, only a limited number of
empirical studies have been undertaken to test the hypotheses formulated by Hirschman
in the context of the ‘choice revolution’ (but see e.g. Dowding et al. 2000; Dowding and John
2008, 2011, 2012). Hirschman emphasized that exit and voice are endogenous to different
societal spheres; the market and the political domain, respectively. Therefore he saw little
reason to explore in any greater depth how the strategies of communicating dissatisfaction
relate to one another. If that was a reasonable decision at the time that Hirschman wrote
his seminal book, it is astounding to note that very few of the scholars empirically testing
his hypotheses acknowledge the signicant changes entailed by public sector reform in
these respects. Instead, most work so far on the role of exit in democratic governance has
been conceptual and theoretical (Sørensen 1997; Warren 2011).
As soon as we place exit and voice in the same institutional context we nd that the two
options are conceptually speaking communicating vessels; altering the costs and benets
associated with using one option will inuence actors’ perception of the other strategy.The
analytical challenge which this article addresses is the empirical nature of that communi-
cation. If public management reform has made exit a more viable and realistic strategic
option for the dissatised public service client, it has at the same time redened the pre-
conditions for the exercise of voice. In the previous context, exit was essentially equal to
relocating to another municipality, entailing costs which rendered that option de facto
moot for many clients. Today, exit could still mean changing residence but it could also
simply refer to changing service providers without crossing jurisdictional borders. Again,
since exit and voice could be assumed to be related, changes in the feasibility and/or per-
ceived effectiveness of using one of those strategies presumably will have an effect on the
other strategy.
Against that backdrop, this article explores the theoretical and empirical relationships
between the exit and voice strategies in the context of local service delivery post-public
management reform. Conceptual analyses of how Hirschman’s classic framework plays
out in contemporary local society can only take us so far in terms of understanding the
signicance of exit and voice as clients’ strategies to inuence public service delivery. We
also need empirical studies on how citizens assess the value of exit and voice as means of
communicating their preferences to the local political and administrative leadership.
Public Administration Vol.94, No. 3, 2016 (738–753)
© 2016 John Wiley& Sons Ltd.

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