Policymaking is the central theme of public administration. It is the essential feature of an organizational structure (Pettigrew, 2014). Political scientists have focused on the issue of policy making in public administration since the birth of public administration as a discipline. Charles .E. Lindblom in 1959 came up with his theory of policymaking in this discipline. In his "The Science of Muddling through", he discusses the efficiency of a bureaucrat in making the policy decision. He takes up the example of a bureaucrat trying to make a policy on the issue of inflation and other related topics where he introduces the idea of “Muddling through” as an essential part of the policy making process. This paper tries to analyze and discuss the issue of “muddling through” and its significance in policy process in the discipline of public administration.
In Lindblom’s idea of “Muddling through”, he suggests that while taking policy decisions the decision maker tends to compare between limited alternatives and less analysis. He proposes two models of policy-making namely the “Rational Comprehensive Approach” and the “successive Limited Comparison Approach. The author discusses that in public administration policy decisions are to be made by analysing the alternatives and proper evaluation to have the best policy decision. However, the bureaucrat tends to make limited analysis and evaluation to arrive at a policy decision in real situations, which Lindblom calls the “muddling through” in policymaking. This article on "the science of muddling through" came as a response to the rational-comprehensive theory that dominated the field of public administration for long (Tandfonline.com, 2018). ". He discusses the limited comparison approach by referring it as "branch" while the rational comprehensive approach as "root" (Lindblom, 2018). Lindblom argues that in the real world of policymaking, it is not the root method instead; it is the branch method that is followed by the administrators. However, this approach is also marked by different limitations that will be discussed in the later part of the paper.
In public administration, there are two methods of policymaking, one that has dominated the field for long, the branch method, which acknowledges the limited cognitive capacity of the administrator in making policy decisions. However, this method is difficult to use in diverse context due to its costly process of collecting resources (Auburn.edu, 2018). In this method, the means-end analysis is inappropriate because the means and end are not distinct. The policy maker fails to identify the distinction between facts and values while formulating policy. This is what Lindblom argues that the fact-value dichotomy of the rational comprehensive approach is an illusion. In real-world policy analysis, this dichotomy is blurred. However, in the root method, means and an end is distinct in case of policymaking. Hence, ends for a policy decision are isolated and distinct, therefore means to achieve those policies are sought separately. Therefore, the rational comprehensive approach has better analysis capacity than limited comparison method, which the administrator tends to ignore (Lindblom, 2018). For the administrator, the objectives and values before policymaking have chances of disagreement. Moreover, not all the objectives will have equal values that they could be ranked in order of preferences. For example, locating public housing facilities can be challenging for the administration as it might include multiple disagreements. Hence, in the case of complicated policy situation, the "root" method may not be successful and the policymaker is forced to use the “limited comparison method”.
To cite an example, if the administrator has to make a policy decision whereby he has to take multiple alternatives, it might include multiple conflicts. According to Simon (2018), for a good policy maker, acceptance and acknowledgement of alternatives are crucial. Moreover, there are other complexities like the majority preference and feeling of people involved in each alternative. However, Lindblom argues that a decision cannot be discarded merely because the majority preference is different. There is a need to look into the issue of some people involved in each alternative. The chances of one policy failing or being successful is also a difficult thing to assume as it involves risk of its own (Dror, 2017). Hence, to comply with multiple alternatives in policymaking makes the process difficult and unviable. This is the reason why policymakers opt for a limited comparison approach where less alternative and analysis is required.
Decision-making is an important part of public administration (Simon, 2018).Decision making has diverse understanding across the field. However, decision-making according to Lindblom is nothing but a “means-end” relationship. The limited comparison approach has a primary difference with the earlier method of rational comprehensive according to the author. When "means" are adopted based on individually independent “ends”, it becomes evident that the values are agreeable and there is a level of consent. However, in the branch method, the “end-means” relationship is absent. In the root method, due to the agreeable objectives, any policy taken seems to be "good" or "best" because it has taken into consideration all the possible objectives. However, in the branch method, the policy decisions that are taken need not be necessarily bad because it is not based on specific predetermined objectives, as gathering information and facts is also a difficult task with the limited period (Weimer & Vining, 2017).
The administrator suffers from the problem of "muddling through" because in a rational comprehensive model, every piece if the information is taken to be "important"(Hayes, 2018). However, the author argues that this is a narrow understanding of "important" and it actually restricts the intellectual faculty of the administrator from making sound policies (Hayes, 2018). Hence, in situations of complexity, the policymaker tend to adopt drastically different methods than the root method. In the method suggested by the author, the policymaker looks for lesser alternatives, which not only simplify their decision-making, it also offers them less alternative, which is prerequisite for a "good” policy. It is considered essential to stick to limited resources to become relevant. The examples that are taken by the author are of U.S congress where both the parties adopt policies where the difference of opinion matter incrementally, meaning the same problem is being discussed, however their definition of the problem would only be slightly different. Even the changes in the policies would also be small and incremental. Moreover, due to the lack of information available, it is wise to concrete on smaller variation to have a simplified analysis than considering large number of options.
In 1979, Lindblom approached the theory once again with certain modifications (Tandfonline.com, 2018). He included some of the considerations from his critics, and he mentions that decision-making is not a central hierarchical process instead there is a need for "partial mutual adjustment"(Hayes, 2018). This idea refers that for policymaking, there is a need of disjointed instrumentalism meaning there is a need of adjustment within the decision making process.
However, this approach has also faced criticism over the years. It is argued by scholars that it has limited source investigation and narrow alternatives (Texaspolitics.utexas.edu, 2018). Successive limited comparison or muddling through causes irritation and frustration among people that their government is unresponsive and sluggish towards people’s growth. (Texaspolitics.utexas.edu, 2018). Moreover, there are examples of failure in decision making who have followed the muddling through the approach in policymaking (Zafarullah & Banik, 2016).
“Muddling through” is a policy process developed by Charles Lindblom that views rational comprehensive decision approach to be impossible, as it is difficult to maintain in a complex decision making situation. Policy decisions are to be taken in a realistic environment where alternative policy proposals in small numbers are to be considered that differ incrementally (Hayes, 2018). Nonetheless, muddling through is the process which could be adopted as a method of the policy process, and it is realistic because there is lack of time, knowledge and resources available at the hands of the administrators (Angelo.edu, 2018).
Moreover, people are realistic and pragmatic because they do not always seek to consult one best possible way to policymaking instead prefer to compare limited proposals with incremental changes to formulate complex policy decisions. Hence, muddling through as a part of the policy process has been the dominant approach in the discussion of public administration and policymaking.
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