Discussion papers

CPM-00-63 - 2 May 2000

A New Look into Garbage Cans - Petri Nets and Organisational Choice

Sven Heitsch, Daniela Hinck and Marcel Martens

A Paper at: The “Starting from Society” symposium at ASIB’2000 convention, Birmingham University, 16th-19th April 2000.

Also published as: Sven Heitsch, Daniela Hinck and Marcel Martens (2000), “A New Look into Garbage Cans – Petri Nets and Organisational Choice”, in the Proceedings of the AISB’00 Symposium on Starting from Society – the Application of Social Analogies to Computational Systems, Birmingham, UK: AISB, 51-60. (ISBN 1 902956 13 8)


Understanding how organisations make decisions is crucial step towards understanding organisations. Seeing organisations as a place of structure and rationality has not led to satisfying results. The “Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice” of Cohen, March, and Olsen (1972), fundamental to behaviouristic organisational theory, looks at “organized anarchies” and opens eyes for ambiguous and unpredictable decision situations. Reference Nets, a high-level Petri net formalism, offer formal semantics, graphical representation, means to model concurrency, and immediate executability, and, thus, seem to meet basic requirements to model and present sociological theories. In this paper Petri nets are used to formalise the Garbage Can Model and expose its implicit assumptions. The resulting model serves as a basis for interdisciplinary collaboration. Weaknesses of the original theory are laid open leading to new sociological considerations.