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12. Fundamental decisions vs disjointed incrementalism ('muddling through')


Lindquist has argued that organisations or policy networks are often in different decision modes routine, incremental, fundamental or emergent.

Fundamental or emergent decisions are usually made when a policy window comes up and new decisions are called for. They may bring about significant changes. Most of the time, however, decisions are routine or incremental. Routine decision-making merely repeats previous decisions. Incremental decision-making deals with selective issues as they arise. These issues may require slightly new thinking, but they are not significant enough to trigger a policy window or fundamental decisions. Thus they are dealt with ad hoc and in a disjointed manner, using whatever analysis is close at hand, without any comprehensive review of all the associated issues. Policy processes that operate through disjointed incrementalism pose both challenges and opportunities for researchers. On the one hand, policy makers in this decision-making mode are looking for analyses that can provide quick support to decisions that are already half-made, and they may be less inclined to consider evidence that would be time-consuming to understand and adapt. On the other hand, the ad hoc nature of decision-making also implies that any new evidence which fits in and is helpful on a case-by-case basis, and which is presented at just the right moment, has a good chance of being picked up and used almost immediately.

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Last Updated: 13 January, 2009
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