Value and fact in organizational decision

A great deal of behavior, and particularly the behavior of individuals within administrative organizations, is purposive—oriented toward goals or objectives. This purposiveness brings about an integration in the pattern of behavior, in the absence of which administration would be meaningless; for, if administration consists in “getting things done” by groups of people, purpose provides a principal criterion in determining what things are to be done.

method. The walker contracts his leg muscles in order to take a step; he takes a step in order to proceed toward his destination; he is going to the des- tination, a mail box, in order to mail a letter; he is sending a letter in order to transmit certain information to another person, and so forth. Each decision involves the selection of a goal, and a behavior relevant to it; this goal may in turn be mediate to a somewhat more distant goal; and so on, until a relatively final aim is reached.2 In so far as decisions lead toward the selection of final goals, they will be called “value judgments”; so far as they involve the implementation of such goals they will be called “factual judgments.”3

Unfortunately, problems do not come to the administrator carefully wrapped in bundles with the value elements and the factual elements neatly sorted. For one thing, goals or final objectives of governmental organization and activity are usually formulated in very general and ambiguous terms— ’’justice,” “the general welfare,” or “liberty.” Then, too, the objectives as defined may be merely intermediate to the attainment of more final aims. For example, in certain spheres of action, the behavior of men is generally oriented around the “economic motive.” Yet, for most men, economic gain is not usually an end in itself, but a means for attaining more final ends: security, comfort, and prestige.

Finally, the value and factual elements may be combined, in some cases, in a single objective. The apprehension of criminals is commonly set up as an objective of a municipal police department. To a certain extent this objective is conceived as an end in itself, that is, as aimed toward the apprehension and punishment of offenders against the law; but from another point of view apprehension is considered a means for protecting citizens, for rehabilitating offenders, and for discouraging potential offenders.

The Hierarchy of Decisions. The concept of purposiveness involves a notion of a hierarchy of decisions—each step downward in the hierarchy consisting in an implementation of the goals set forth in the step immediately above. Behavior is purposive in so far as it is guided by general goals or objectives; it is rational in so far as it selects alternatives which are conducive to the achievement of the previously selected goals.4 2ln chap, iv, this distinction between mediate and final goals will be elaborated, and its necessity shown.

It should not be inferred that this hierarchy or pyramid of goals is perfectly organized or integrated in any actual behavior. A governmental agency, for instance, may be directed simultaneously toward several distinct objectives: a recreation department may seek to improve the health of children, to provide them with good uses for their leisure time, and to prevent juvenile delinquency, as well as to achieve similar goals for the adults in the community.

Even when no conscious or deliberate integration of these goals takes place in decision, it should be noted that an integration generally takes place in fact. Although in making decisions for his agency, the recreation administrator may fail to weigh the diverse and sometimes conflicting objectives against one another in terms of their relative importance, yet his actual decisions, and the direction which he gives to the policy of his agency will amount in practice to a particular set of weights for these objectives. If the program emphasizes athletics for adolescent boys, then this objective is given an actual weight in practice which it may, or may not, have had in the consciousness of the administrator planning the program. Hence, although the administrator may refuse the task, or be unable to perform it, of consciously and deliberately integrating his system of objectives, he cannot avoid the implications of his actual decisions, which achieve such a synthesis in fact.

The Relative Element in Decision. In an important sense, all decision is a matter of compromise. The alternative that is finally selected never permits a complete or perfect achievement of objectives, but is merely the best solution that is available under the circumstances. The environmental situation inevitably limits the alternatives that are available, and hence sets a maximum to the level of attainment of purpose that is possible.

This relative element in achievement—this element of compromise— makes even more inescapable the necessity of finding a common denominator when behavior is aimed simultaneously at several objectives. For instance, if experience showed that an organization like the Work Projects Administration could at one and the same time dispense relief and construct public works without handicapping either objective, then the agency might attempt to attain at the same time both of these objectives. If, on the other hand, experience showed that the accomplishment of either of these objectives through the organization seriously impeded the accomplishment of the other, one would have to be selected as the objective of the agency, and the other sacrificed. In balancing the nator, it would be necessary to cease thinking of the two aims as ends in themselves, and instead to conceive them as means to some more general end.

An Illustration of the Process of Decision. In order to understand more clearly the intimate relationships that exist in any practical administrative problem between judgments of value and fact, it will be helpful to study an example from the field of municipal government.

What questions of value and fact arise in the opening and improvement of a new street? It is necessary to determine: (1) the design of the street, (2) the proper relationship of the street to the master plan, (3) means of financing the project, (4) whether the project should be let on contract or done by force account, (5) the relation of this project to construction that may be required subsequent to the improvement (e.g., utility cuts in this particular street), and (6) numerous other questions of like nature. These are questions for which answers must be found—each one combining value and factual elements. A partial separation of the two elements can be achieved by distinguishing the purposes of the project from its procedures.

On the one hand, decisions regarding these questions must be based upon the purposes for which the street is intended, and the social values affected by its construction—among them, (1) speed and convenience in transportation, (2) traffic safety, (3) effect of street layout on property values, (4) construction costs, and (5) distribution of cost among taxpayers.

On the other hand, the decisions must be made in the light of scientific and practical knowledge as to the effect particular measures will have in realizing these values. Included here are (1) the relative smoothness, permanence, and cost of each type of pavement, (2) relative advantages of alternate routes from the standpoint of cost and convenience to traffic, and (3) the total cost and distribution of cost for alternative methods of financing.

The final decision, then, will depend both on the relative weight that is given to the different objectives and on judgment as to the extent to which any given plan will attain each objective.

This brief account will serve to indicate some of the basic features of the process of decision—features that will be further elaborated in this study.

Source: Simon Herbert A. (1997), Administrative Behavior, Free Press; Subsequent edition.

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