Web lecture Muddling through

Course subject(s) Module 4: Governance and Regulation in complex situation

Web lecture ‘Muddling through’

In the world of interdependant infrastructures, no single actor is in charge. Decision making is always a result of a process of interaction, of a negotiation. On top of that, there are many unknowns and often split incentives, which makes the world of infrastructures even more complex.

As explained by professor Middelton, complexity has implications for governance. No one oversees all the complexities of a system, there are too many uncertainties. What is a proper governance-model , if the world is a network of interdependencies and if there is no one single actor in charge?
The answer is that an incremental model and process is required for the management of infra-systems. This model is also known as ‘Muddling through’ and was introduced by Charles Lindblom. The main characteristics are:

  • A small and limited set of options are considered.
  • Options are only marginally different from an existing situation.
  • Options are considered by comparing actual consequences.
  • Try an option increalingly and then observe the consequences.
  • If the consequences are fine, then use a little more of that specific option.
  • If consequences are negative, then back off and try something different.
  • Focus is on outcomes and trial and error.

In the next web lecture, professor Hans de Bruijn will first describe in more detail the concept of Muddling through’ and explain the relevance of this model. In his second web lecture, he will focus on the implications for the process of decision making (negotiated knowledge) within the framework of complex infrastructures and he will present a kind of checklist for making collective decisions. This checklist can be summarized as follows:

  1. Consider infrastructure systems always as multi-layer systems. An intervention at one of these layers will always have an impact on the other layers.
  2. Remember that complex infra-systems are socio-technical systems. So always consider both the social elements (actors, rules, incentive structures) as the physical elements.
  3. Accept redundancies: most well functioning systems are redundant.
  4. Tolerate variety. A variety of types of sustainable cars, a variety of local and decentral initiatives to generate electricity, a variety of technologies etc.
  5. Give room to the actors involved to organize themselves, to take initiatives, to maneuver.  This will always be conducive to initiatives and entrepreneurship.

Download: 360p | 720p | 1080p | subtitles | transcript | slides

Download: 360p | 720p | 1080p | subtitles | transcript | slides

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Next Generation Infrastructures by TU Delft OpenCourseWare is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://ocw.tudelft.nl/courses/next-generation-infrastructures/.
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