Generating Alternatives
Sources of Alternatives


Before alternatives can be generated,
1) the problem must be correctly identified, and
2) relevant criteria for judging alternatives must be specified
At first, the policy analyst can generate a large number of alternatives, but later reduce them to a manageable size (between four and seven). Consider alternatives like the status quo, but also radically different. Consider what may be possible under different circumstances.
Some criteria that are often used in judging the suitability of alternatives include:
1) cost--can we afford it; will it be cost-effective?
2) reliability--does it have proven success, or is it subject to failures?
3) stability--will it still work if conditions change?
4) invulnerability--will it work if one of its component parts fails?
5) flexibility--can it accomplish more than one thing?
6) riskiness--is there a high chance of all or nothing?
7) communicability--is it easy to understand?
8) merit--does it address the problem?
9) simplicity--is it easy to implement?
10) compatibility--is it congruent with existing norms and procedures?
11) reversibility--can we return to our prior state if it fails?
12) robustness--can it succeed in different future states?


1) the status quo or no action alternative
This means that current efforts will continue at the same level. It is important to consider how effective any different alternative will be at changing the status quo.
A baseline analysis: identifies clear trade-offs with the present; clarifies project objectives; underlines whether there is a need for action or not; provides linkages to existing efforts; identifies problems likely to emerge; and confirms that no optimum solution exists.
2) experiences of others with similar problems, from reported research findings, experts, laws, public opinion polls, new technology, etc.

3) re-define the problem from others' points of view, including opponents of any change

4) consider the ideal, then apply political, economic, and other constraints

5) start from generic, to modified, to custom-made alternatives

6) Quick Surveys by telephone, fax, or e-mail, of peers, old MPA classmates, people in the policy issue network, public meetings or hearings, content analysis of editorials, letters to the editor, etc.

7) Literature review of professional and academic journals, government reports, collected proceedings from conferences, on-line services (lexis-nexus, first search, article first etc.).

8) Case studies of real world experiences: why was the alternative adopted, what were the circumstances, what other alternatives were considered and discarded, how did it eventually work out, what modifications were made after implementation.

9) Passive collection and classification: keep a folder for collecting interesting policy solutions on a regular basis, even if no problem exists at the moment, from clients, superiors, advocates, media, interest groups, etc. Then refer to the folder in emergencies.

10) Develop Typologies: identify all the types of persons likely to be affected by any policy alternative, and what the probable reaction of each group would be to each type of alternative suggested; then develop alternatives that can overcome the objections of most of the groups.

11) Use analogies: 'new' problems are really just like other 'old' problems.
Personal Analogy: pretend to be someone affected by this problem, identify with the problem to see what types of policy alternatives suggest themselves;
Direct Analogy--look at solutions to other problems to see if they can be applied to this one;
Symbolic Analogy--imagine the most aesthetically satisfying solutions rather than merely technologically sound ones;
Fantasy Analogy--image the ideal solution, and try to preserve as much of it as possible when working backwards through real world constraints.
12) Brainstorming--can be oral, written, or electronic. Brainstorming has two phases, first a pure idea-generation phase, where no judgements are made about any ideas; and second, an evaluation and ranking phase, to help arrive at concrete solutions.

13) Feasible Manipulation--takes existing policy activities and develops alternatives based on limited, moderate, or wide manipulation of the range of possible activities.

14) Modify existing solutions:
Magnify--do more, more often, larger, longer, exaggerate, add new components, new resources
Minify--do less, less often, smaller, shorter, omit, remove, split apart, under use, fewer resources
Substitute--switch components, apply in different order, use different materials, try a different location or different sponsor
Combine--blend approaches, combine units, combine purposes, combine sponsors
Re-arrange--reverse, invert, change sequence, speed up, slow down, randomize
Location--use single or multiple locations, node versus scattered, temporary versus permanent
Timing--accelerate, lag, stagger, run concurrently, shorter span, longer span, time sharing
Finance--provide, purchase, tax, user fee, subsidy, co-pay, deductible, voucher, contract out
Organization--centralized versus decentralized, mandated versus voluntary, regulated, prohibited, enforced, inform, implore
Decision Sites--individual, unit, organization, elected, appointed, advisory, binding
Influence Points--users, providers, intermediaries, beneficiaries, payers
Risk Management--guarantees, insurance, remedial correction


1) Too much reliance on past experience
2) Failure to capture ideas and insights (listen, write them down, record them)
3) Too early closure on problem definition
4) Sets a policy preference too soon before all the alternatives are known
5) Criticizing new ideas as they are offered
6) Some alternatives are ruled out too early on
7) Failure to re-consider discarded alternatives if conditions change