Garbage Can Decision Model

Posted on May 15 2009

The Garbage Can Decision Modelwas developed by Michael Cohen, James March, & Johan Olsen to describe organizations run by organized chaos (they have high uncertainty in both problem identification and problem solution.) A good example would be universities and unfortunately government.

The model for organized chaos has three characteristics: they have substantial disagreement on what their goals are, and they poorly understood technology. They find cause & effect relationships difficult, if not impossible to identify. They also have a high turnover of participants. Problems can be repetitive and difficult to solve by anyone, and can include such issues as parking problems, enrollment diversity, intellectual climate, etc.

The garbage can decision model is multi-stream event processing system. Problems and potential solutions are filtered through to the garbage can. Problems are deemed anything that is at a point of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Potential solutions are not particularly qualified, in that they are just an idea thrown out by someone.

Potential participants, employees who come & go are added to the decision making process to review what is in the garbage can, and choice opportunities are identified so that the group can go to work, when time permits, to resolve any problems that match potential solutions and desires of participants.

Problems are filtered out and caterogorize as:

–solutions without problems (i.e. let’s do a survey)

–choices made which do not solve problem (i.e. let’s build this building and use up more potential parking space)

–persisting unsolved problems (i.e. the parking problem)

–some problems are resolved (i.e. a grant magically arrives to pay for some financial shortfall)

As you can see, this is not a highly advantageous model but, in many beauracracies, is highly evident. We have described it here for purposes of information, and definitely not for advocation.

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