Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR'sTerms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact thepublisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=cjohn. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use,and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact email@example.com.
Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Administrative ScienceQuarterly.
Michael D. Cohen, James G. March, and Johan P. Olsen
A Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice
Organizedanarchiesare organizations characterized problematicpreferences, by uncleartechnology,and fluid participation.Recent studies of universities,a familiar form of organizedanarchy,suggest that such organizationscan be viewed for some purposesascollections of choices looking for problems,issues and feelings lookingfor decisionsituationsin which they might be aired, solutions looking for issues to which they might be an answer, and decision makerslooking for work. These ideas are translatedinto an explicit computersimulationmodel of a garbage can decisionprocess.The generalimplicationsof such a model are described in terms of five majormeasuresonthe process.Possible applicationsof the model to more narrowpredictionsare illustratedby an examinationof the model's predictions with respect to the effect of adversityon university decision making.
Consider organized anarchies. These are organizations-or decision situations-characterized by three general properties.' The first is problematic preferences. In the organization it is difficult toimpute a set of preferences to the decision situation that satisfies the standard consistency requirements for a theory of choice. The organization operates on the basis of a variety of inconsistent and ill-defined preferences. It can be described better as a loose collection of ideas than as a coherent structure; it discovers preferences through action more than it acts on the basis ofpreferences. The second property is unclear technology. Although the organization manages to survive and even produce, its own processes are not understood by its members. It operates on the basis of simple trial-and-error procedures, the residue of learning from the accidents of past experience, and pragmatic in1 We are indebted to Nancy Block, Hilary Cohen, and James Glenn for computational, editorial, andintellectual help; to the Institute of Sociology, University of Bergen, and the Institute of Organization and IndustrialSociology, Copenhagen School of Economics, for institutional hospitality and useful discussions of organizationalbehavior; and to the Ford Foundation for the financial support that made our collaborationfeasible. We also wish to acknowledge the helpful comments and suggestions...