What is the garbage can model approach?

Written by jon ireland
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What is the garbage can model approach?
The garbage can model is designed to help organizational decision-making. (business colleagues preparing for business meeting image by Vladimir Melnik from Fotolia.com)

The garbage can model is an organizational behaviour model developed by Michael Cohen, that describes the behaviour of institutions as organised anarchies.


The model was developed to explain the way decision-making takes place in organisations that experience high levels of uncertainty, what is described as organised anarchy. This is caused by three things: problematic preferences, unclear and poorly understood technology and a high turnover of organizational positions.

Stream of Events

The garbage can model doesn't see the decision-making process as a sequence of steps that begins with a problem and ends with a solution. Instead, decisions are the outcome of independent streams of events within an organisation. These are problem points, potential solutions, participants and choice opportunities. The organisation is a 'garbage can' where these streams are stirred.


It suggests four consequences that arise from the decision-making process: solutions may be proposed even when problems do not exist; choices are made without solving problems; problems may persist without being solved; some problems are solved.

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