Charles Lindblom

Bargaining approach propounded by Charles Lindblom emphasizes the incremental and fragmented nature of decision-making in complex political systems. It highlights the significance of negotiation and compromise among various stakeholders, acknowledging the limitations of comprehensive rational planning in policy formation.

Charles Lindblom (1917-2018)


In the realm of public administration, decision-making is far from straightforward. Charles E. Lindblom, a prominent figure in the field, introduced a unique perspective on governmental decision-making in his seminal essay ‘The Science of Muddling Through’ back in 1959. Lindblom’s approach, known as the bargaining approach, challenges the conventional notion that decisions can be made through rational analysis alone. Instead, it acknowledges the inevitability of conflicts and calls for ‘partisan mutual adjustments’ to reach resolutions. 

In this article, we will delve into the key concepts of the bargaining approach and explore its implications for administrative decision-making.

Incremental Decision-Making

Charles Lindblom’s theory emphasizes that administrative decisions rarely occur in a single decisive moment. Rather, they unfold incrementally through a series of small and calibrated steps. He said that there are two separate varieties of decision-making, namely, the rational-comprehensive or root method (under which method the officials takes decisions rationally from the options available to him) and the successive limited comparisons or branch method (under which the official makes decision not based on rationality but on the basis what is immediately relevant). 

He says that the second method depicts the administrative reality. And further states that the administrator outlines actions not from broad ranges of options selected and analyzed every time when decisions have to be made but only changes a few incremental steps which are feasible from the already available decisions.

This incremental approach recognizes that administrators don’t have the luxury of considering the entire spectrum of available options every time a decision is required. Instead, they make decisions based on what is immediately relevant and feasible from the pool of existing choices.

This perspective challenges the traditional rational-comprehensive or root method, where officials meticulously analyze all available options before making a decision. According to Charles Lindblom, the incremental approach better reflects the reality of administrative decision-making.

Incomprehensive Decision-Making

Another fundamental aspect of the bargaining approach is the concept of incomprehensiveness. Charles Lindblom contends that administrators cannot possibly take into account all available options at their disposal due to time and resource constraints. Instead, they work with the options that are readily accessible and relevant to the issue at hand. This approach acknowledges the limitations of decision-makers and seeks practical, workable solutions within those constraints

Successive Limited Comparisons

In the world of public administration, policy decisions are rarely made once and for all. Instead, they are continually revised and refined through a series of successive limited comparisons. Lindblom’s branch method of decision-making involves comparing narrow choices in an ongoing process. This contrasts with the rational-comprehensive method, which assumes that decisions can be neatly wrapped up in a single analysis.

Sufficing Rather than Maximizing

Charles Lindblom’s theory asserts that in practice, decision-making often involves sufficing rather than maximizing. This means that administrators aim to find a satisfactory solution that meets the immediate needs of the situation, rather than tirelessly pursuing the absolute best option. This approach acknowledges the pragmatism inherent in administrative decision-making.

Pluralist Conception of the Public Sector

Finally, Charles Lindblom’s theory rests on a pluralist conception of the public sector. It recognizes that various interest groups continuously vie for influence over policy issues. Administrators find themselves in the middle of these competing interests, requiring them to navigate the complex terrain of conflicting viewpoints. In this context, the art of compromise becomes a crucial aspect of decision-making methods.


The bargaining approach to decision-making, as proposed by Charles E. Lindblom, offers a fresh perspective on the complexities of public administration. It challenges the idealized notion of rational decision-making and embraces the messiness of real-world governance. By acknowledging the incremental, incomprehensive, and pluralistic nature of administrative decisions, this approach provides a more realistic framework for understanding and navigating the intricate web of public policy.

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