Situated Attention, Loose and Tight Coupling, and the Garbage Can Model

William C Ocasio

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter first examines the role of attention in the garbage can model of decision making and compares it both to prior approaches in the Carnegie School tradition and the attention-based view of the firm. Both the garbage can model and the attention-based view rely on the same assumption, one that is rarely recognized nor understood – that organizational decision making is characterized by situated attention, where organizational participants vary across time and place in what they attend to. In the garbage can model, decision opportunities are the temporal contexts for situated attention; in the attention-based view, attention is situated in both time and place within the organization's communication channels. In the garbage can, situated attention is also shaped by the ecology of problems and opportunities competing for attention. The final part examines the determinants and consequences of tight versus loose coupling of channels in organizations and its effects on participants’ situated attention. Attention structures external to channels and the architecture of channel structures shape the degree of coupling found in organizations. In viewing coupling as a variable, the chapter suggests that a modified garbage can model, combined with an increased focus on situated attention, provides the foundations for a more general theory of nonroutine decision making.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice
Subtitle of host publicationLooking Forward at Forty
EditorsAlessandro Lomi, J. Richard Harrison
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781780527130
StatePublished - 2012

Publication series

NameResearch in the Sociology of Organizations
PublisherEmerald Group Publishing Limited
ISSN (Print)0733-558X


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