Incremental Model of the Policy-Making

Incremental Model of the Policy-Making

Charle’s Lindblom presented the ‘Incremental Model’ of the policy-making process’ as an alternative to traditional rational model of decision-making. In his article ‘Science of Muddling Through’ which was published in 1959 AD gained vide recognition in the development of policy analysis as concerned with the ‘process’ of making policy. Since then Lindblom’s thought has evolved beyond his original argument.

In criticising the rational model as advocated by Simon and others, Lindblom rejected the the idea that decision-making was essential something which was about defining goals, selecting alternatives and comparing alternatives. Lindblom wanted to show that rational decision-making was simply ‘not workable for complex policy questions’. To Lindblom, constraints of time, intelligence, cost and politics prevent policy-makers to identify societal goals and their consequences. He drew briefly the distinction in terms of comprehensive (or root) rationality advocated by Simon and his own ‘successive limited comparisons’ (or branch decision-making).

Two Models of Decision-Making

The incremental approach (branch method) of decision-making involves a process of ‘continually building out from the current situation, step-by-step and small degrees’.

Simon’s Rational Approach

Lindblom’s Incremental Approach

Identification of societal values or goals is necessary to empirical analysis of alternative policies

Selection of values or goals and empirical analysis of needed action are interlinked.

Policy-making is approached through mean-ends analysis.

Mean-ends analysis is often inappropriate

The test of a ‘good policy’ is that it is a means to an agreed end.

The test of a ‘good policy’ is that various analysts find themselves directly agreeing on a policy.

Analysis is comprehensive involving every relevant factor.

Analysis is limited.

Theory is often heavily relied upon.

A successive limited comparison reduces dependence on theory.

Source: Adapted from Lindblom’s “The Science of Muddling Through”, PAR, Vol. 19, 1959, p. 81.

Also Read: Mary Parker Follett: Philosophy of Administration and Organisation

In contrast, the ‘root’ approach as favoured by the policy analysts was to start from “fundamentals anew each time, building on the past only as experience embodied in a theory, an always prepared to start from the ground up”.

According to Lindblom, constraints of time, intelligence, an cost prevent policy-makers from identifying the full range of policy alternatives and their consequences. He proposes that ” successive limited comparison” is both more relevant and realistic in such a condition of “bounded rationality”. To Simon’s problem, Lindblom’s answer is that we do not need to search out new techniques; we need to be more appreciative of the benefits of ‘non-comprehensive analysis’:

In the method of successive limited comparison, simplification is systematically achieved in two principal ways. First, it is achieved through limitation of policy comparisons to those policies presently in effect. Such a limitation immediately reduces the number of alternatives to be investigated and drastically simplifies the character of the investigation of each… The second method of simplification of analysis is the practice of ignoring important  possible consequences of possible policies, as well as the values attached to the neglected consequences.

Features of Incremental Decision-Making

  • It proceeds through a succession of incremental changes. Policy-makers accept the legitimacy of existing policies because of the uncertainty about the consequences of new or different policies. 
  • It involves mutual adjustment and negotiation. The test of a good decision is agreement rather than goal achievement. Agreement is arrived at easier in policy-making when the items in dispute increases or decreases in budgets, or modifications to existing programmes. Thus incrementalism is significant in reducing political tension and maintaining stability.
  • Incremental approach involves trial and terror method. It is superior to a “futile attempt at superhuman comprehensiveness”. Human beings rarely act to maximise all their values; on the contrary they act to satisfy particular demands. They seldom search for the “one best way” but instead search to find “a way that will work”. This search usually begins with familiar– that is, with policy options close to contemporary policies.

Also Read: Herbert Simon & Administrative thought

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