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http://www.jstor.org Mon May 21 10:08:10 2007
Michael D. Cohen, James G. March, and Johan P. Olsen
A Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice
Organized anarchies are organizations characterized b y problematic preferences, unclear technology, and fluid participation. Recent studies of universities, a familiar form of organized anarchy, suggest that such organizatio.ns can be viewed for some purposes as collections of choices looking for problems, issues and feelings looking for decision situations in which they might be aired, solutions looking for issues t o which they might be an answer, and decision makers looking for work. These ideas are translated into an explicit computer simulation model of a garbage can decision process. T h e general implications of such a model are described i n terms of five major measures on the process. Possible applications of the model t o more narrow predictions are illustrated by an examination of the moders predictions with respect t o the e f e c t of adversity on university decision making. Consider organized anarchies. These are " organizations-or decision situations-characterized by three general properties1 The first is problematic preferences. In the organization it is d%cult to i m ~ u t e set of refera ences 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 throuch action more than it acts on the basis I
?he second property is unclear technology. Although the organization manages to survive and even produce, its own processes are not understood bv its members. It oDerates on the basis of simple trial-and-error procedures, the residue of learning from the accidents of past experience, and pragmatic inI
1 We are indebted to Nancy Block, Hilary Cohen, and James Glenn for computational, editorial, and intellectual help; to the Institute of Sociology, University of Bergen, and the Institute of Organization and Industrial Sociology, Copenhagen School of Economics, for institutional hospitality and useful discussions of organizational behavior; and to the Ford Foundation for the financial support that made our collaboration feasible. We also wish to acknowledge the helpful comments and suggestions of S@ren Christensen, James S. Coleman, Harald Enderud, Kire Rommetveit, and William H. Starbuck.
ventions of necessity. The third property is fluid participation. Participants vary in the amount of time and effort they...