Episode Summary

In this week’s episode, we tackle a topic that may or may not change the way you think about solving problems in an organisation. We delve deeper into an interesting paper on organisational decision making called A Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice, written by Michael D. Cohen, James G. March, and Johan P. Olsen.

Episode Notes

While this paper was written over half a century ago, it is still relevant to us today – particularly in the Safety management industry where we are often responsible for offering solutions to problems, and implementing those solutions, requires decisions to be made by top management.

This is another fascinating piece of work that will broaden your understanding of why organisations often struggle with solving problems that involve making decisions.


  • Introduction to the research paper: A Garbage Can Model of Organisational Choice
  • Organised anarchies
  • Phenomena explained by this paper
  • Examples of the garbage can models
    • Standards Committees
    • Enforceable undertakings process
  • How to influence the process
  • Deciding on who makes decisions
  • Conclusion – most problems will get solved
  • Practical takeaways
    • Not to get discouraged when your problem isn’t solved in a particular meeting
    • Being mindful of where your decision-making energy is spent
    • Problems vs Solutions vs Decision-making
    • Have multiple solutions ready for problems that may come up – but don’t force them all the time.


“Decisions aren’t made inside people’s heads, decisions are made in meetings, so we’ve got to understand the interplay between people in looking at how decisions are made.” – Dr. Drew Rae

“Incident investigations are a great example of choice opportunities.” –  Dr. Drew Rae

“It’s probably a good reflection point for people to just think about how many decisions certain roles in the organization are being asked to be involved in.” – Dr. David Provan


Griffith University Safety Science Innovation Lab

The Safety of Work Podcast

The Safety of Work LinkedIn


A Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice (Wikipedia Page)

Administrative Science Quarterly