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Adaptive Rationality, Garbage Cans, and the Policy Process

Carnegie goes to California: Advancing and Celebrating the Work of James G. March

ISBN: 978-1-80043-979-5, eISBN: 978-1-80043-978-8

Publication date: 26 October 2021


The inconsistency between the appearance of incoherence and chaos in the US policymaking process bringing about a historic record of legislative achievements in the 1960s and 1970s, on the one hand, and the emergence of hierarchical order bringing about a prolonged period of legislative impotence in the early 2000s, on the other hand, has led legislative scholars to revisit strongly held prior beliefs about legislative organization. Similar reevaluations of the garbage can model that emphasize the potential for conflict-ridden and chaotic organizations to be adaptively rational are ongoing in organizational theory. This paper adapts recent research on organizational design to explore the conditions under which decentralized, chaotic decision making facilitates more desirable legislative outcomes than centralized decision making controlled by a benevolent dictator. The author demonstrates that normative claims about legislative organization – much like normative claims about organizational design – should vary depending on the task environment faced by the legislature. In the face of rugged uncertainty in the mapping from policies to outcomes, decentralized decision making among modestly polarized legislators with fluid participation in decisions facilitates a functional mix of exploitative and exploratory search.



Ganz, S.C. (2021), "Adaptive Rationality, Garbage Cans, and the Policy Process", Beckman, C.M. (Ed.) Carnegie goes to California: Advancing and Celebrating the Work of James G. March (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 76), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 79-96.



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