The Science of “Muddling Through”
By Charles E. Lindblom
Public Administration Review, Vol.XIX, No.2 (Spring, 1959), 79-88
This article discusses two different strategies for comparing policies. The first strategy, Lindblom entitles Root, or Rational-Comprehensive Lindblom refers to the second strategy as Branch, or Successive Limited Comparisons. After a brief explanation of the two systems, he goes on to argue the superiority of the Branch system over the more commonly discussed Root system II. Root
The Root approach, or Rational-Comprehensive, is best utilized for more simple problems, according to Lindblom, due to the necessitation of massive intellectual capacities and sources of information. He states that this approach is generally not correct for policy analysis, as time and money are restrictions in these scenarios. He also states that public agencies are effectively instructed not to practice the root method, due to political or legal constraints Ironically, the common literature tends to preach formalization of this method. This leads to many practitioners acting against the philosophy commonly published. Lindblom lists the characteristics of the Root approach as the following: * Clarification of values or objectives distinct from and usually prerequisite to empirical analysis of alternative policies. * Policy-formulation is therefore approached through means-end analysis: First, the ends are isolated, then the means to achieve them are sought. * The test of a “good” policy is that it can be shown to be the most appropriate means to desired ends. * Analysis is comprehensive; every important relevant factor is taken into account. * Theory is often heavily relied upon.
As this theory is often discussed, Lindblom assumes it is familiar to the reader and shifts his focus to explaining and clarifying the alternative. Most of the article revolves around the Branch approach, or Successive Limited Comparisons. III. Branch
The Branch Approach, or Successive Limited Comparisons is the approach Lindblom claims most administrators use for their approach to understanding complex problems. Lindblom assigns the following characteristics to the Branch approach: * Selection of value goals and empirical analysis of the needed action are not distinct from one another but are closely intertwined. * Since means and ends are not distinct, means-end analysis is often inappropriate or limited. * The test of a “good” policy is typically that various analysts find themselves directly agreeing on a policy (without their agreeing that it is the most appropriate means to an agreed objective). * Analysis is drastically limited:
* Important possible outcomes are neglected.
* Important alternative potential policies are neglected. * Important affected values are neglected.
* A succession of comparisons greatly reduces or eliminates reliance on theory. The Branch approach could be illustrated as continually building out from the current situation, slowly, by small degrees, one step at a time. Lindblom then elaborates on the Branch approach throughout the remainder of the article. a. Intertwining Evaluation and Empirical Analysis
In this section, Lindblom explains how the Root method breaks down its handling of objectives and values. He states that clarifying values prior to investigating alternative policies produces several problems. The first problem is that citizens, congressmen, and public administrators frequently disagree on many critical values. Second, even when an administrator opts to choose his own value set for guidance, he often will not know how to rank conflicting criterion. A third problem arises concurrent to the previous two “Social objectives do not always have the same relative values. ”
These common problems often lead...