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Decision-making at the Governmental Level


Decision-making is the thought process that individuals are engaged in arriving at certain policies. It entails figuring out the best idea that when applied specific problems are solved. Decisions are made both at individual and governmental level. They are made to cater for needs in either public or private sector (Colebatch & Colebatch, 2009). Due to globalization, there is need for faster and efficient decision-making processes. For individuals, decisions are made to solve personal problems. Governments make decisions mainly to help its people when faced by problems. No individual can live successfully without taking formidable decisions in life. Equally, no government will succeed in handling domestic and foreign problems without good decisions. They are therefore inevitable in life.

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Small Scale Decision Making

Even though the factors affecting decision-making are the same, in small scale the process is not rigorous as in large scale. Generally, it provides a base line for study. This study will take the example of a retailer who makes decisions him/herself. If he/she consults, then it is only his/her family members. Above all, the retailer has to contend with the government directives concerning health, safety and security. He has to make a decision in advance, on how he will go about them.

Apart from authorities, there is also the public which is a consumer of goods produced by the retailer. The retailer has to decide in advance about his interaction with the consumer. On the part of management, clear policies of interactions need to be drawn (Bridgman, Althus & Glyn, 2004). Some form of order should be established between the retailer and the business. The retailer may ask him/herself some basic questions such as, “is he/she going to manage it himself or he will employ someone.” This decision need to be made in advance. It becomes a complex process even though it started as a simple issue (Milinski, 1998).

Theories about Policymaking

Because of the complex nature of organizations and governments, various schools of thoughts have emerged to explain the process of decision-making. Without them, we can do little to offer coherence to policymaking issues. In real practice, the theories complement each other in making the process successfully.

Human Relations Approach

The theory starts by identifying the underlying issues behind decision-making. It argues that the process involves human beings and affects them as well. That is why they should be involved in making decisions. Without involving people in coining them, it would be difficult to implement them (Kaboolian, 1998)). People can react to the policy, the policy makers or even the institution making them. It is therefore better if it is understood that policymaking is a group affair.

It further stipulates that good decisions will be reached at when the makers are motivated in various ways. The kind of motivation is non-economical. It means that policy makers will appreciate social rewards more than economic rewards. For that case, promotion and application of sanctions will regulate decision-making process. The best decision makers should be promoted to high positions since it will boost their morale. The lazy ones who are non-committal to service delivery should face disciplinary actions including demotion and dismissal. The theory has both strengths and weaknesses.

Bureaucracy (Ideal Type)

Max Weber formulated bureaucracy theory in the 19th century to explain a new form of social organization that took root in Europe and America. There were large organizations with huge management structures. These organizations were quite efficient compared to traditional forms and ways of thinking. Bureaucracies were rational (Kaboolian, 1998). They subdued human affairs to the rule of reason. Decision-making was based on rules that guided the pursuit of organizational goals. A work manual guides business operations within organizations with the personnel being trained according to their job requirements. This is because there is extensive use of written documents. However, experts in a particular field make decisions.

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In the bureaucracy, there are clear lines of hierarchical authority. It has a system of supervision and subordination, that is, clear line of command. People know who should be making what decisions at what times. On the other hand, jobs are specified with very clear obligations, responsibilities and scope of authority. The theory was used for a long time to guide decision making in organizations.

Classical/policy cycle

The two theories are closely related. The major proponents were Gunder Frank, Gulick, Max Weber and Herbert Simon. It is also related to Max Weber’s ideal type but this one was developed further. The theorists argue that what matters in decision-making process are the institutions. The institutions set standards that should be followed by every decision maker. There are rules and guidelines that lead an organization. It means that the office holder do not matter as far as decision-making process is concerned. The institution is self-regulating. The bearer has limited powers. He/she exercises those powers contained in the organizational constitution.

To ensure that the set standards are followed to the later, they developed some factors that had to be considered in decision-making. They did this by coining an acronym “POSDCORB” meaning planning, organizing, directing, coordinating and budgeting.

By planning, it means putting in place all required material that ensures smooth decision-making process. It involves reviewing literature and researching extensively to establish facts related to the topic being decided. For every policy, previous research is assessed and evaluated thoroughly. Lack of proper research will lead to generation of policies that are not operational. This is related to coordination in that all concerned parties should be informed in advance. Lack of proper coordination facilitates emergence of divergent views, which can derail the implementation of the policy (Denhardt 2001).

Staffing as an aspect of policy formulation entails having the right people for the right job. The most qualified staff should be brought in to undertake decision-making tasks since they have experience. It is believed that they have what is called standard operating procedures. They are familiar with all the challenges that can interfere with the formation of the policy. They are therefore in better positions to handle these challenges. Furthermore, the best staff has the power of disseminating information. Once the decision has been made, it is the function of the decision maker to ensure it reaches its destination. Directing is all about distributing information. It is not done in shoddy manner instead; it needs experts who know where to start.

Coordination comes in at the implementation stage. This is where the concerned institution making decisions should ensure that the public is informed on time about the policy. Other policies will require the services of civil societies for mass awareness. The decision makers should see the best ways of introducing the policy to the beneficiaries. Budgeting is the heart of any policy. Right away from planning to dissemination, the whole process demands finances.

Those who view classical approach as a policy cycle have developed some stages that the process goes through right away from identification to evaluation. Bridgman and Davis (2004) offer an Australian model, which has the following stages: issue identification, policy analysis, policy instruments, consultation, coordination, decision, implementation, and evaluation. Evaluation can either be midterm or end term. They simplified the stages further into the following figure.

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An Australian policy cycle model (Bridgman & Davis, 2004)
Figure 1: An Australian policy cycle model (Bridgman & Davis, 2004)

Unlike the original classical theory, the policy cycle theorists observed that consultation was eminent in decision-making. This is why there theory is widely accepted. They noted that many proposals are rejected because at one point, a relevant authority was not consulted.

Bridgman and Davis have suggested a continuum to characterize the levels of consultation that occur in policy processes.

Information consultation Partnership Delegation Control
Fig. 2: Source: Bridgman and Davis (2004)

Task: Refugees and Asylum seekers in Australia

The issue of refugees has become a big challenge to the government of Australia. It has been widely covered in the media recently hence attracting the attention of the government. The government as the representative of the people of Australia must intervene to bring some relief and normalcy to the nation. Refugees have been flocking the country from their home countries mainly because of civil unrests and other humanitarian crises. The citizens of Australia have refused to believe that they have to live with foreigners. The government on its part cannot go ahead to flush out the refugees due to its international interests. Above all, a decision must be made to cool down the tempers among Australians.

Context of the Decision

Colebatch (2009) argued that there are two types of contexts but they apply differently. There are horizontal and vertical decision-making contexts. The vertical context covers the decision-making process within the state. The issue of refugees is a matter of the executive thus the minister concerned should make clear policies by consulting the ministry officials. If he does not, then he should take the matter to the cabinet. Once a decision is reached, it is communicated to the juniors who are supposed to act immediately (Klingner, 1997).

The second context is horizontal. Since the refugees cannot be allowed access to the country without verification, the minister should contact his counterpart on the other side. Without verification, terrorists could be allowed into the country. If it is not possible to reach the foreigners’ officials, the minister will take up the matter to the United Nations’ agency in charge of refugees. This is horizontal decision making since all nations are treated equally before the eyes of the international system. It does not mean that states have surrendered their sovereignty to one power; it is because states are signatories to the statutes establishing the organs (there is no a Leviathan as it used to be in the social contract).

The Environment

The environment involves people, institutions, politics, religion and even nature. The environment shapes decisions. The policies made become operational within the context of the environment. If not handled well the environment can terminate a policy. There are internal and external environments. Internal is that which is within the decision makers. They include colleagues, friends, and relatives. The nature of the institution also affects the outcome of the policy.

External is that which is not in direct contact with the policy maker. It might be the public or the international community. The policy maker has little control over them. Sometimes they can be very powerful to an extent of thwarting any efforts made by policy makers. For example, under hostile political climate such as during campaigns, policies receive disproval even before they are finalized. The international community can as well exert pressure to decision makers to drop their agenda policy especially when the outcome will affect the world security.

Kind of Decisions Made

The policy makers will aims at balanced decisions, which will serve to give hope to the refugees and cool down the tempers of the hosts. The government must act according to the wishes of the majority who elected it; in order to retain its status internationally. It would not act in a way that will upset other states. A state may choose to offer more opportunities to its people hence empowering them economically. The foreigners will be surviving at the mercy of the hosts. The state would not do anything to uplift the lives of foreigners since it will be viewed as betrayal to the voters.

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By doing this the state will have gained its interests both nationally and internationally. It will be viewed by other states as the most accommodative hence attracting foreign capital, even its citizens will live peacefully in other states. Nationally the voters will feel they are at home, they will perform their tasks honestly such as payment of mortgages, rents and taxes.

Why the State decides that way

Always a state is controlled by a political system. It would want to retain power come next general election. It would not handle its citizens with high handedness. The states popularity comes from the loyalty of its citizens especially in tax payment. Non-responsiveness leads to loss of political power.

Connection of the case to the theories

Theories aid in offering coherence to the worldly issues, we arrive at what might be going on by using the theories to interpret events. They enable us to compare situations while offering our understanding. In the case of the decision making process, the two major theories are used concurrently. If the classical theory a lone is followed, we will end up with autocratic type of leadership, the leaders will practice autocracy. They would not be responsive to the suffering of the majority. For the case above, only the government institutions would be allowed to operate. The refugees could have filled up the country because if someone seeks asylum due to security reasons he/she is not supposed to be denied. The government knows that even though it is signatory of the United Nations treaties, it has to put the interests of the people first (Queensland Cabinet, 2010).

On the other hand, the population cannot be allowed to decide themselves. Plato argued that they are like bronze; they are not fit to rule. The rule by the populace leads to tyranny of the multitude, he argued. The population is too appetitive because their spirits guides them, they are abusive and are never satisfied. That is why the philosopher king is compared to gold since they are people who are guided by reason. They are fit to make decisions that will help people. The soldiers assist the philosopher king because they are people of courage. Finally, it is not lost on us that without the population, the philosopher king is impaired and it is for this reason that they have to be protected at all costs (Saul, n.d.).


It can be concluded that policy formulation is the pillar to any success. Both individuals and organizations utilize it although the state needs it as the first requirement of efficient administration. The government needs complex decision-making machinery because of its size (Menzel, 1999, p. 445). It is emerging that people in the civil service should device new models of policy making due to the complexity nature of human development. Moreover, there needs to be efficient communication channels within the civil service so that the affected parties can receive information at the right time.

Managers at various levels in government should learn to complement the available approaches so that they can achieve desired results (Jessica & Selden 2003). A good civil servant should be imbued to service delivery. With increasing technology, therefore civil servants should familiarize themselves with it so that they can offer services effectively (Jessica & Selden, 2003). Lastly, administration deals with people hence the civil service should learn group dynamics by researching more about them. Lifestyles are no longer homogenous hence the need to dig deeper into the affairs of people in order to learn more about them.


Bridgman, P., Althus, C. & Glyn, D. (2004) The Australian Policy Handbook, 4 Ed. Sydney.

Allen & Unwin Colebatch, H. & Colebatch, H. (2009) Policy, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Denhardt, B. (2001) The Big Questions of Public Administration Education Public Ad ministration Review.

Jessica, S. & Selden, S. (2003) Administrative Discretion and Active Representation: An Expansion of the Theory of Representative Bureaucracy, Public Administration Review.

Kaboolian, J. (1998) The New Public Management: Challenging the Boundaries of the Management vs. Administration Debate Public Administration Review, pp.189-19.

Klingner, L. (1997) Beyond Civil Service: The Changing Face of Pubic Personnel Management, Public Personnel Management, Vol. 26(2). pp. 157-174.

Menzel, D. (1999) Rediscovering the Lost World of Public Service Ethics: Do We Need New Ethics for Public Administrators? Public Administration Review, Vol. 59(5). pp. 443-447.

Milinski, (1998) Obstacles to Sustaining a Labor-Management Partnership: A Management Perspective, Public Personnel Management, Vol. 27(1), pp. 1-23.

Queensland Cabinet, (2010) Queensland Department of Premier & Cabinet, Policy Handbook, Web.

Saul, P. (n.d.) Strategic Opportunism: Planning for tough and turbulent times, Web.

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