garbage can decision process

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See March, 1994, pp 198 - 296. The ""garbage cans"" in the garbage can model are choice opportunities such as meetings, committees, and any decision forum. Choice opportunities collect three elements: decision makers, problems, and solutions. From this basis, the characteristics of the three elements and process of decision making is described.

Synopsis from Weick (Weick, 1979, 21-22) --
Organizations are characterized as garbage cans into which are dumped problems, people, choice situations, and solutions (See organizations for the resulting definition of organization. A crucial variable in this model is timing. It is assumed that there is a continual stream of people, solutions, choices and problems that flow in an organization. Every now and then some clusters of these elements coincide, and a decision is produced. In other words, problems may attach themselves first to one choice situation then to another, and the same holds true for people and solutions.

Two major decision strategies in a garbage can organization are the strategies of oversight and flight. The strategy of oversight involves making quick choices. You make a choice whenever important problems are attached to some other choice and before they can drift to the choice you're making. Having made the choice you solve nothing, since the problems are still attached to other choices. Likewise, the decision style of flight involves delaying a choice until the problems wander away and attach themselves to other choices. Once the problems have left, then you make the choice. Again the choice solves no problems, since none are attached to it.

In the computer simulation of this process, most decisions involve flight and oversight. This suggests why organizations can keep making decisions yet never solve any of their problems.

Decision styles (From Cohen, March, and Olsen, 1972, pp 8) --
Within the kind of organization postulated, decisions are made in three different ways.

    By resolution. Some choices resolve problems after some period of working on them. The length of time may vary, depending on the number of problems. This is the familiar case that is implicit in most discussions of choice within organizations.

    By oversight. If a choice is activated when problems are attached to other choices and if there is energy available to make the new choice quickly, it will be made without any attention to existing problems and with a minimum of time and energy.

    By flight. In some cases choices are associated with problems (unsuccessfully) for some time until a choice more attractive to the problems comes along. The problems leave the choice, and thus it is now possible to make the decision. The decision resolves no problems; they having now attached themselves to a new choice.

    Some choices involve both flight and resolution-some problems leave, the remainder are solved. These have been defined as resolution, thus slightly exaggerating the importance of that style. As a result of that convention, the three styles are mutually exclusive and exhaustive with respect to any one choice. The same organization, however, may use any one of them in different choices. Thus, the decision style of any particular variation of the model can be described by specifying the proportion of completed choices which are made in each of these three ways.