Models of Decision Making

… a core topic in Policy Analysis and Process

Topic description

This topic teaches students about alternative models or theories about the principal drivers of policy-making in contemporary democracies. Students are introduced to the “rational decision making” model of policymaking and also learn about potential complications to that model, and consider how cognitive, political, and other types of biases can lead to irrational policy outcomes.

Topic learning outcome

Upon completing this topic the student will be familiar with the rational decision making policymaking model and will also be able to describe the concepts listed below.

Core concepts associated with this topic
Rational Decision Making Model

Satisficing Behaviour

Lindblom’s Incrementalism and Muddling Through

Maximizing Behaviour

Bounded Rationality


Behavioural Economics

Libertarian Paternalism

Postmodernist Critiques of Rational Decision Making


Other potential concepts on the Old Atlas

Quality Management; Rational Model; Rational Policy Analysis; Public Choice Model; Rational Choice Theory.

Recommended readings for 7 hours of preparation


Recommended readings in MPP and MPA courses

University of Toronto PPG1001


Concept comprehension questions

CCQ206.08.18. Among the statements a-d pertaining to rational decision making model choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The steps in the rational model are choosing models, identifying needs, aligning objectives with needs, and selecting options.

b. The rational model has embedded within it a strong concern with efficiency.

c. Pure rationality in decisionmaking is not possible and people have to make decisions under various constraints.

d. Making decisions rationally is not the same as making reasonable decisions – a reasonable or good decision is defined less by the process that produced it than by its appropriateness as a solution to the initial problem.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.08.19. Among the statements a-d pertaining to Lindblom’s incrementalism and muddling through choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Charles Lindblom argued that the unforgiving strictures of rational decisionmaking were so unrealistic in terms of the cognitive and political situation faced by most decisionmakers that they made choices by “muddling through.”

b. Lindblom argued that in the real world of politics and administration there are multiple decisionmakers with conflicting perspectives and priorities.

c. Lindblom argued that policymaking is a struggle over the criteria of social classification, the boundaries of problem categories, and the intersubjective interpretation of common experiences.

d. Lindblom argued that decisions get made on the basis of successive limited comparisons.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.08.20. Among the statements a-d pertaining to postmodernist critiques of rational decision making choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Recent research suggests that if you can assemble a diverse group of people who possess varying degrees of knowledge and insight, you’re better off entrusting it with major decisions rather than leaving them in the hands of one or two people.

b. Postmodern analysis entails, among other things, the critical study of the structure of argument and discourse in policy analysis, the role of values, and the deep impact of positivism through its associated logic of technocratic mastery.

c. The rational model presumes that there are such things as “facts,” but postmodernists argue that facts are always constructed through values and perceptions, or more accurately, through deep theories that structure our cognition of reality.

d. Postmodernist scholars suggest that that decisions get made on the basis of “successive limited comparisons.”

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 4 December 2018.

Image: Creative Market, at, accessed 27 March 2016.