An alternative can be defined as a project or a (complex) of policy measures with which the gap between the desired situation and the zero-situation can be (fully or partly) be closed. In other words, it is (a combination of) measures which solve the earlier defined problem sufficiently.
Two sub steps can be identified; generation and pre-selection. In addition, the alternatives are restricted by a set of boundary conditions.
In general, the generation of alternatives is not a controlled process. Possible solutions come already on the surface during the problem analysis. It can even be the case that the proposal of a certain alternative forms the start of a policy analysis.
In most cases, the initiator of the policy analysis will come up with alternatives. In addition, alternatives can be proposed by individuals or groups that are not directly involved in the study (like pressure groups). The initiator can also demand that certain alternatives are not included in the study.
In certain studies, both the number and the content of alternatives can be determined on forehand. In these cases, it is needed to know the background of these decisions (like time limit: a decision is needed in short term). It can also be the case that the study initiator likes to prevent that incorporation of new alternatives will lead to the situation that ‘his’ alternative comes in danger. A further analysis of the alternatives of the study initiator can reveal the implicit boundary conditions of the policy study (like financial restrictions).
In other cases, the analyst has the freedom to determine both number and content of the alternatives within given boundaries himself.
See the list with points of attention for the generation of alternatives.
It is very well possible that in this phase of the project study, there are a large number of alternatives, even a too big number of alternatives. It is impractical and very costly to work out all these alternatives at sufficient detail, to present them and to include them in the final decision making process. A further reason to limit the number of alternatives might be the evaluation method that will be applied, as some methods can handle only a limited number.
In those cases it is necessary to make a pre-selection. The large number of alternatives is reduced to a limited number of promising solutions. A first reduction can already be obtained through clustering: alternatives with a certain similarity are clustered and considered as one alternative. In a later stage, such clusters can be split up into variants, which feasibility can be further analysed.
It might be needed that during pre-selection, a global inventory is made of possible effects.
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