International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 2

By Jay M. Shafritz | Go to book overview

of a problem. Furthermore, all decisions are influenced by the future, which cannot be known ahead. Simon called this condition "bounded rationality" and proposed that decisionmakers should make the decisionmaking process as efficient as possible by choosing any alternative which satisfies the decisionmaker's goals sufficiently, even if not perfectly. This process is called "satisficing."

Charles Lindblom ( 1959) argued that organizations, particularly public organizations, are basically conservative decisionmakers and generally "muddle through" a problem rather than adopt a purely rational solution that might create organizational instability. Lindblom called the decision process "disjointed incrementalism" by which problems are solved in piecemeal fashion over time. Rationality may ultimately be achieved, but the slow process allows the organization to adjust to change and avoid making big mistakes which could be costly, both financially and politically. Lindblom and others have defended disjointed incrementalism as a decision model that works well with the principles of U.S. democracy.

Amitai Etzioni ( 1967) called his decision model "mixed scanning," which is a hybrid of rational choice and incrementalism. He pointed out that not all problems are equally significant and not all require the full analysis of the rational choice model. Rather, he argued, decisionmakers should reserve rational analysis for major or fundamental decisions, which require a full consideration of alternatives and result in significant policy decisions. Another level of decisions, bit decisions, can be made incrementally in relation to fundamental decisions. Once the major policy decisions have been established, smaller decisions aimed at achieving policy goals can be made through incremental analysis.

James G. March ( 1994) has outlined what he calls the "garbage can process" of decisionmaking in organizations. Based on the principle that timing is everything, the garbage can process assumes that decisions are dependent on the chance interactions of choice opportunities, decisionmakers, and resource availability. Thus, a decision will vary according to the presence of these factors at any given time. Because bigger or more significant problems tend to have a greater number of choice opportunities, a natural system of prioritization can develop in the garbage can process. The process can be seen as either detrimental to organizations because of its lack of systematic rationality, or as an opportunistic method for ensuring that the most important problems get addressed.


Use of Decision Theory in Public Administration

All these decision models are used extensively by public administrators at all levels of government. The rational choice model, incorporating operations research, was used significantly by NASA in implementing the space program. Incrementalism is used by budgeteers, especially for essential programs that change little from year to year. Mixed scanning is used by political leaders and high level administrators in determining which policies will be enacted and how quickly their goals will be achieved. All organizations, to some extent, use the garbage can process simply because of the interaction of people within organizations.

Decision theory, in the final analysis, provides a means of analyzing problem situations and identifying different ways to solve them. It is a tool for decisionmakers, not a method of finding the "right" answer. The problems of public policy and public administration are complex and defy simple solutions. Having a variety of tools for decisionmaking can help decision makers identify the weaknesses in each one and better choose the appropriate process or method for individual problem situations.

MARY M. TIMNEY


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Allison, Graham T., 1971. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman & Co.

Etzioni, Amitai, 1967. "Mixed Scanning: A 'Third' Approach to Decisionmaking". Public Administration Review, vol. 27: 385-92.

Gulick, Luther, 1937. Notes on the Theory of Organization. Papers on the Science of Administration, eds. Luther Gulick and Lyndall Urwick. New York: Institute of Public Administration: 3-13.

Huber, George P., 1980. Managerial Decisionmaking. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman & Co.

Hutt, Karen M. and Charles Walcott, 1990. Governing Public Organizations: Politics, Structures and Institutional Design. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Lindblom, Charles E., 1959. "The Science of Muddling Through". Public Administration Review, vol. 19: 79-88.

March, James G., 1994. A Primer on Decisionmaking: How Decisions Happen. New York: The Free Press.

Miller, David W. and Martin K. Starr, 1967. The Structure of Human Decisions. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Simon, Herbert A., 1946. "The Proverbs of Administration". Public Administration Review, vol. 6: 53-67.

-----, 1957a. Administrative Behavior. New York: The Free Press.

-----, 1957b. Models of Man. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

White, Michael J., Ross Clayton, Robert Myrtle, Gilbert Siegel, and Aaron Rose, 1985. Managing Public Systems: Analytic Techniques for Public Administration. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

White, Leonard D., 1926. Introduction to the Study of Public Administration. New York, Macmillan.

Wilson, Woodrow, 1887. "The Study of Administration". Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 2 (June).

Wright, George, 1984. Behavioral Decision Theory. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Zagare, Frank C., 1984. Game Theory: Concepts and Applications. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Zey, Mary, ed., 1992. Decisionmaking: Alternatives to Rational Choice Models. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

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International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 2
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