- All Best Essays, Term Papers and Book Report

Incrementalism - Ppublic Policy as Variations on the Past

Essay by   •  June 17, 2011  •  Essay  •  3,094 Words (13 Pages)  •  2,957 Views

Essay Preview: Incrementalism - Ppublic Policy as Variations on the Past

Report this essay
Page 1 of 13

INCREMENTALISM 'Public Policy as variations on the Past'

Thomas Dye refers to increamentalism as one of the models used in public policy making. Under the increamental model, Dye argues that public policy making involves mostly a variation on the past policy. Charles E. Lindblo, one of the prominent scholars who advanced many ideas on theories of decision making and on incrementalism in particular, presented incrementalism for the first time as an attempt to critique the traditional rational comprehensive model of decision making. This appeared in his work, 'The Science of Muddling Through' in 1950 p.79-88, Journal of Public Administration Review in 1959. Lindblom argued that although rational comprehensive approach can be described, it cannot be practiced except for relatively simple problems and even then in a somewhat modified form. He further added that, the limits on human intellectual capacities and on available information set definite limits to man's capacity to be comprehensive. No one can practice the rational-comprehensive method for really complex problems; every administrator faced with a sufficiently complex problem must find ways drastically to simplify.

Lindblom further argued that policy makers do not review the whole range of existing and proposed policies neither do they attempt to identify all societal goals, identify alternatives, calculate the costs and benefits of each alternative nor do they rank the preferences in an order which maximizes the net benefit. All these sum up the incremental view that rational comprehensive model is impractical in nature and hence a more conservative model of decision making '(incrementalism) is taken as an alternative.

The main argument held by incrementalism is that, in the process of decision making, existing programs, policies and expenditures serve as a BASE. It further postulates that attention is usually concentrated on new programs and policies and on INCREASES, DECREASES or MODIFICATIONS of current programs.

Robert Dye (1981) enumerated various reasons as to why policy makers indulge into the use of incrementalism. According to him, instrumentalism is preferred by policy makers because

They accept the legitimacy of previous policies because of the uncertainty about the consequences of completely new or different policies. Policy makers maintain that it is safer to stick to known programs when the consequences of new ones cannot be predicted (under conditions of uncertainty, policy makers continue past programs or policies regardless whether or not the program has proven effective).

Incrementalism is practically expedient. The model is preferred as it has the capability of reducing conflicts as no complete shift from one program to another. Policy makers argue that conflict and disputes are likely to heighten when there is a total shift in policies which involves great gains or losses, all or nothing. As tensions in getting new policies and programs passed every year seem very great, past policy victories are continued into future years unless there is a substantial political realignment.

The nature of policy makers is also seen as pro-incrementalism . Human beings are perceived as not acting to maximize their values but rather to satisfy particular demands. People often do not find the best way of doing things but search for an option that works in a particular circumstance, in such a search process, they usually begin with the familiar policy alternative which is close to the current policies.

Need to avoid 'sunk costs' compel policy makers to take incremental approach in decision or policy makers. The heavy investments in existing policies in terms of buildings, finance, personnel and other material wealth preludes radical changes. Only those policy alternatives which cause little physical, economic, organizational and administrative dislocation are considered.

The other reason as to why policy makers prefer incrementalism over rational comprehensive model is that they do not have time, information and resources to investigate all alternatives to existing policies. Policy makers do not have enough predictive capacity hence a constraint to rational model.

Normally there are no agreed societal goals or values.

There are numerous criticisms which are labeled against incrementalism. It is accused of being a conservative approach of decision and policy making and that this being the reason, it can continue even some policies which are undesirable for the society.

The depiction of the application of incrementalism in policy making in the case of Tanzania provides some interesting cases. The model a[pear to dominate the scene from the time of independence to date. This can be revealed using the case of agricultural policy in the country. Tanzania adopted its first agricultural policy after independence in 1983. This followed a declaration made by the president of the time in 1982 and the report submitted by a team which he appointed. What is useful, in an attempt to identify the application of incremental model in policy making in the case of Tanzania is as follows.


Tanzania is a predominantly an agricultural country (The Agricultural Policy of Tanzania, 1983). Agriculture has remained a leading sector in terms of GDP, proportion of the population dependent on agricultural activities and as the main source of food consumed in Tanzania (NBS, 2008). More than 70% of the population live in rural areas and derive most of their needs from agricultural activities. National statistics show that more than 95% of food consumed in Tanzania is locally produced. Food production is mainly done by smallholder farmers and very few large scale farmers. Tanzania agriculture contribution to GDP has fallen from 45% in 1980s to 25% in 2010 while the proportion of population with life directly and wholly dependent on basic agricultural production has remained at more than 70%. With a population of about 46 million people (2010 estimates), 70% would mean more than 32 million Tanzanians are directly involved in agricultural policy reverberations in one way or another on a daily basis. This is because decision making in agriculture takes place at every level of government and more importantly at family and individual levels. Formulation implementation and evaluation of an agricultural policy in Tanzania could be considered complex and delicate.

The process of formulation, implementation and evaluation of agricultural policy in an economy like Tanzania would in principle mainly apply the 'incremental model' with an invariable use of the other models in order to ensure



Download as:   txt (20.3 Kb)   pdf (208.5 Kb)   docx (16.8 Kb)  
Continue for 12 more pages »
Only available on