Incrementalism (incrementalist decision-making)

Because an exhaustive analysis of the costs and benefits of every conceivable option for dealing with a problem in public policy is often unduly time-consuming and expensive, large organizations (and often individuals) may resort to a practical shortcut in deciding on possible improvements of existing programs. Only a few of the many possible options are seriously examined, and these tend to be ones that involve only small changes in existing policies or procedures rather than radical innovations. Changes are thus made only "at the margin." An example of incrementalism often cited:

Congressional budget decision-making in the U.S., where the usual questions considered about a given (existing) agency might typically range from whether to cut 4 or 5 percent from its budget to whether to tack on a 5 or 10% increase. Congress very seldom stops to think seriously about whether the agency ought to be abolished entirely as unnecessary or harmful to the public interest or whether its responsibilities would be better performed in some entirely different manner by another agency. Consequently, one of the best predictors of an agency's budget in a given year is that same agency's budget for the year before plus or minus a small increment representing the rate of growth or shrinkage of total government revenues.

[See also: rational-comprehensive models of decision-making, systems theory models of decision-making, bureaucracy, bureaucratic politics]