Decision making models

Garbage Can Model

Extremely descriptive. This model explores only those alternatives which currently exist in the organization. It’s largely a model of convenience. Organizations often do not have the time or resources to dedicate to a lengthy decision making process. The garbage can model takes a problem and seeks out a preexisting solution (all solutions and problems exist in the “can”). Decisions are often made by flight or oversight rather than any sort of calculation. No organization can fully make all their decisions with the garbage can model but elements of it exist in nearly all organizations at least some of the time.


Recognition-Primed Model 

This model accounts for how people make decisions without undertaking any sort of time reviewing options. It is largely instinctual by nature, infusing mental stimulation and situational assessment. Decision makers observe a problem and compare that observation to what their prior experience tells them about the situational norm. They use a phenomenon known as “feature-matching” to use information about the situation to decide on whether objectives are able to be achieved. Recognition-primed decision makers often refer to their decisions as reactions rather than any calculated decision. RPD is very effective in time sensitive situations, when there is not an opportunity to comb through an array of possible alternatives. Decision makers try to find a satisfactory course of action, not necessarily the best one.


Political Model

These decisions are influenced greatly by people in power. Individuals often use tactics such as withholding information, offline lobbying, and alliances to influence decisions. The power usurps existing objectives and becomes the driving force of the organization. Organizational means are often used to achieve personal ends. Political decisions often occur in systems that are top-heavy, including organizations with powerful CEOs or management teams. Groups of stakeholders often band together to form coalitions and reshape organizational objectives into goals that are best for a powerful individual or coalition. This model is not necessarily beneficial to any organization and organizations should be leery of its destructive nature.  School districts run the risk of succumbing to politics if there are not sound decision making practices in place.



Also known as “muddling through”, incrementalism is another descriptive model. Decision makers consider those alternatives that are not significantly different from the current context. These small, incremental changes are more likely to result in a mutually agreed upon decision that is a slight adjustment from the current state. As long as the decision makers reach an agreement, the solution is considered satisfactory. As such, it doesn’t necessarily require aligned objectives and alternatives. Rather than being a “get what you pay for” model, incrementalism is more a “get what you can see” model. Using incrementalism largely eliminates the possibility of making grand or far reaching decisions and essentially provides a shortcut to placate many subgroups with compounding interests.



This model is a combination of normative and descriptive decision making. The mixed portion of the model combines higher order, fundamental decision making with lower order, incremental decisions that work out and prepare for the higher order ones. Scanning refers to the process of searching and evaluating information. It is a way that organizations can make big changes using small steps. Mixed scanning requires that alternatives align to the mission and vision of the organization. Decisions are made with the understanding they may be changed at short notice. They are monitored to see whether the effects are producing desired results. If they are not, a different alternative is chosen. This short term nature could lead to lack of stakeholder investment or staggered decisions.



Combination of the terms sufficing and satisfying. Decision makers set an aspiration level with clear objectives and search until an alternative is found that is satisfactory by the identified criterion. Decision makers realize that it is not possible to come up with a comprehensive list of alternatives and accept that the ultimate alternative may not be the optimal one, but will meet the agreed upon objectives. Administrators often employ satisficing for this reason. In fact, it is also known as the Administrative model. Because decision makers are often looking for an alternative that is “good enough” the decision quality could suffer. 

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