A Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice Author(s): Michael D. Cohen, James G. March, Johan P. Olsen Source: Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Mar., 1972), pp. 1-25 Published by: Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2392088 Accessed: 09/02/2010 10:45
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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...
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