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.
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
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