How participant values influence reasons for pursuing voluntary programme membership

Published date01 December 2018
Date01 December 2018
AuthorTanya Heikkila,David P. Carter,Christopher M. Weible
How participant values influence reasons
for pursuing voluntary programme membership
David P. Carter
| Tanya Heikkila
| Christopher M. Weible
Department of Political Science, University of
Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
School of Public Affairs, University of
Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA
David P. Carter, Department of Political
Science, University of Utah, 260 S. Central
Campus Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah
84112-9057, USA.
Funding information
National Science Foundation, Grant/Award
Number: 112454
Among the policy instruments used to pursue social and environ-
mental goals, voluntary programmes are seen as win-winopportu-
nities. Despite a sizeable literature documenting reasonsindividuals
opt into voluntary programmes, little attention has been paid to
why participants are motivated by certain reasons more than others.
This article addresses this gap. Using data from a survey of organic
producers in the United States Department of Agricultures organic
certification programme, we examine how organicproducersvalues
relate to their stated reasons for pursuing organic certification.
Along the way, we test hypotheses inspired by grid-group cultural
theory, as well as a hypothesis regarding the alignment of partici-
pantsvalues and the substantive programme domain. Study find-
ings provide consistent support for the value-alignment hypothesis
and mixed support for grid-group expectations.We conclude by dis-
cussing the findingsimplications for voluntary programme theory
and empirical programme success.
Among the instruments that policy-makers use to promote markets and pursue social and environmental goals, vol-
untary programmes are often seen as win-winopportunities. Voluntary programmes provide incentives for individ-
uals or firms to adopt specified practices, such as reduced environmental impact through avoidance of certain
chemicals or adoption of pollution control technologies (Potoski and Prakash 2009; Bartley 2011). Such programmes
potentially benefit both participants and society. Firms benefit from the competitive advantage and price premium
secured through programme membership, and society benefits from enhanced environmental or social conditions
that result from improved production practices.
Realization of voluntary programme benefits is contingent on attracting sufficient participation (McGinley and
Cubbage 2011). Accordingly, scholars have studied the reasons individuals and firms seek programme membership.
Firms may participate in voluntary programmes to differentiate their products from those of competitors and to
secure price premiums associated with specific consumer markets (Prakash and Potoski 2007; Kotchen and van t
Veld 2009). Furthermore, in the case of government-initiated voluntary programmes, public policies may grant pro-
gramme participants exclusive access to valuable marketing devices (Carter et al. 2017). Other reasons are more
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12527
Public Administration. 2018;96:787802. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd 787
socially or politically driven. For example, participants may join a voluntary programme to institutionalize a social
movement, such as fair trade, and the principles it embodies (Cashore et al. 2004; Bartley 2007).
Despite a sizeable literature documenting reasons for opting into voluntary standards oversight (Arora and Cason
1996; Videras and Alberini 2000; Potoski and Prakash 2009), less attention has been paid to explaining why partici-
pants are motivated by some reasons more than others. For example, why do some individuals join a programme to
differentiate their products or increase profits, while others join to promote the social movement embodied in pro-
gramme standards? To better understand participantsalignment with different reasons for voluntary programme
participation, we look to the underlying values that embody individualsbasic identities, priorities, and normative ori-
entations, which serve as foundational elements of motivation (Ryan and Deci 2000; Schwartz 2007).
To conceptualize participantsvalues, we adapt dimensions proposed by grid-group cultural theory, developed in
the field of anthropology (Douglas 1970, 1982) and later introduced to political science (Wildavsky 1987).The theory
has seen a surge of attention among public policy and administration scholars examining a range of phenomena, from
policy images (Robinson 2016) to managerial values in public sector organizations (Conner et al. 2016). From cultural
theory, we adopt the perspective that distinctive worldviews, characterized by the degree to which individuals are
amenable to externally imposed prescriptions (referred to as grid) and the extent to which they value social collec-
tives (group), influence motivations and behaviour. Seen from this perspective, reasons to participate in a voluntary
programme stem from individualsgrid-group views.
Further, individual values operate at different levels (Sabatier 1988; Ripberger et al. 2014). Some, such as an indi-
viduals grid-group orientation, are more abstract and fundamental in shaping an individuals perception and opinion
on a range of phenomena. Others are more localized and tied to specific contexts and activities. Therefore, alongside
grid-group values, we test a substantive value-alignment explanation of participant motivation. From this perspective,
the different reasons for voluntary programme membersparticipation are explained by the extent to which the pro-
cesses codified in programme standards align with their personal values.
We examine the relationship between values and reasons for voluntary programme participation in the context
of the United States Department of Agricultures (USDA) organic certification programme. The study provides consis-
tent support for the value-alignment explanation and mixed support for grid-group expectations. We conclude with a
discussion of these findings and their implications for voluntary programme administration and success.
Defined as regulatory arrangements in which individuals or firms opt into production standards (Potoski and Prakash
2009), voluntary programmes exhibit considerable variation in form and function. For example, some are initiated by
governments, while others are sponsored by private or nonprofit entities (Darnall et al. 2009). The relative rigour of
voluntary programmes varies in both the stringency of the standards they outline and the strength of the monitoring
and enforcement requirements they require (Prakash and Potoski 2007). As a result, voluntary programme outcomes
span from credible governance instruments that improve an industrys environmental or social performance, to token
symbols with minimal improvements in production externalities (Khanna and Dammon 1999; Potoski and Prakash
2009; Berliner and Prakash 2015).
Regardless of their design, voluntary programmes share the necessity of attracting sufficient participation. Suffi-
cient participation is important for signalling to potential participants that programme standards are feasible and
desirable. Furthermore, from a governance perspective, it is needed to realize any meaningful programme-generated
environmental or social improvements (Carter et al. 2017). Given the importance of adequate participation, scholars
have sought to determine what motivates or deters voluntary programme membership. Some of this research takes
an institutional perspective, focusing on how various stakeholder pressures, often conditioned by organizational attri-
butes (such as firm size and capacity), correlate with voluntary programme uptake (Khanna 2001; Khanna et al. 2007;

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