Passing the Buck in the Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice

32 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2009

See all articles by Alessandro Lomi

Alessandro Lomi

University of Lugano

Guido Fioretti

University of Bologna

Date Written: July 31, 2009


We reconstruct Cohen, March and Olsen's Garbage Can model of organizational choice as an agent-based model. In the original model, the members of an organization can postpone decision-making. We add another means for avoiding making decisions, that of buck-passing difficult problems to colleagues. We find that selfish individual behavior, such as postponing decision-making and buck-passing, does not necessarily imply dysfunctional consequences for the organizational level.

The simulation experiments confirm and extend some of the most interesting conclusions of the Garbage Can model: Most decisions are made without solving any problem, organization members face the same old problems again and again, and the few problems that are solved are generally handled at low hierarchical levels. These findings have an implication that was overseen in the original model, namely, that top executives need not be good problem-solvers.

Keywords: Organizational Decision Making, Garbage Can Model, Postponing Decisions, Buck-Passing

JEL Classification: D79

Suggested Citation

Lomi, Alessandro and Fioretti, Guido, Passing the Buck in the Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice (July 31, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Alessandro Lomi

University of Lugano ( email )

Via Lambertenghi 10 A
Lugano, TN Ticino 6900

Guido Fioretti (Contact Author)

University of Bologna ( email )

Via Capo di Lucca 34
Bologna, 40126

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