Groupthink theory and Rationalist model

According to Group theory, policy decisions are influenced by group pressure like bargaining, competing, negotiating to the demands of the groups. Individuals are important in politics when they act as part of group interests. Groups act as a bridge between individuals and government. Group theory of public policy-making is modelled on the “Hydraulic theory of politics” in which the polity is viewed as a system of forces and pressures, pushing against one another in the making of public policy. The group influence depends on the numbers, wealth, leadership, etc. 

“Interest group is the shared-attitude group that makes certain claims upon other groups in the society”. 

David Truman

“The public policy is the equilibrium which is determined by the group struggle”.


Group theory is quite largely applied in Indian political system. In case of no clear-cut majority to any single party, they form a coalition group to form the government. That coalition group contains people with diverse interests. Still, group theory has certain forces intended to maintain equilibrium in the interest group system. The power of one group is checked by the power of other competing groups.

  1. A large set of people support to the constitutional system.
  2. The individuals belong to more than one group moderates the demands of groups.

Critical observations

  • Group theory mostly viewed policy-makers as respondents to the influence groups. 
  • It is observed that group theory has been applied to situations in which policy decision is influenced by a small group.
  • Political scientists Esser and Lindoerfer find some evidence of people’s nod despite doubting that issue. 

Groupthink theory

Groupthink theory was developed by Irving Janis. He says that individuals in group are under pressure to conform to group norms and perception of information. But the quality of being together (Cohesiveness) is a major factor in the accomplishment of tasks. There may be cases where individual opinions differ from the group’s viewpoint. It can lead to a total misinterpretation of judgements.

Measures to deal Groupthink process

  1. A Leader must create an environment where his fellow members express their views without any fear.
  2. Decisions should be taken by setting up policy-planning and evaluation groups.
  3. Alternatives should not be overlooked.
  4. Policy planning and analysis should be done without any bias.
  5. Reviewing a decision is always important before finalizing.
  6. Ideas, opinions from experts should be welcomed.
  7. If the policy decision involves any rival nation or organization, then understanding the intentions of it is a must.
Groupthink process of decision-making

“The psychological drive for consensus in cohesive decision-making groups”. 

Irving Jains

Groupthink discourages anyone from expressing a different view. Moreover, the individual is also pressurized by the group to change his view. 


  1. Although this model suggests prescriptive preventive measures, critics felt like it lacks scientific and analytic clarity.
  2. The inadequacies of the case study method for hypothesis testing.

So, it is advised to students of public policy to treat this model as “speculative theory” rather than a formal model which has been proved by scientific research.

Rationalist model

Rationalist model is considered to be a primary method of policy decision-making in both public and private organizations. Rationality is considered to be a “yardstick of wisdom” in policy-making. The rationality model emphasizes that policy-making is choosing among policy alternatives on rational grounds. 

Rational policy is one which is designed to maximize ‘net value achievement’.

Robert Haveman

According to dye, a rational policy achieves “maximum social gain”. He also says that rationalism involves the calculation of all social, political and economic values sacrificed or achieved by a public policy. In the rational model, it is assumed that decision-maker has nearly all information regarding the issue and he analyzes the solutions and selects the best among them. To be rational is not so easy. To be rational, there should be

  1. Identification and determination of the goals
  2. The ranking of goals in order of importance
  3. The identification of possible policy alternatives for achieving those goals; and
  4. The cost-benefit-analysis of policy alternatives.

Dror, prescribes policy-makers to know all the society’s value preferences and their relative weights. He also recommended to aware of all the policy alternatives available along with consequences. Next, calculate the ratio of achieved to sacrificed societal values for each alternative. Finally, select the most efficient policy alternative.

After policy-choice implementation, rational policy-maker needs to observe its effects closely. If necessary he needs to alter the policy. This is called feedback stage of rational policymaking. 

Limitations to Rationality

In accomplishing goals

Rational policy-making is very difficult. By the time the policy-maker recommends a rational policy, the problem has become so complex that rational prescriptions become decisions which are based on the societal goals. Making more rational policies is more an exercise than a goal.

In securing optimisation

In reality, rational policy-making does not always produce optimal results. The public interest is taken to be more important than being merely the sum of individual interests in the polity. If a policy intends to do public good, then it states that there exists a public bad. A public bad, in fact too often, results from the individual’s rational perspective that “everybody’s doing it and my little bit won’t matter much”.  For example, attempt to reduce green house gas emissions by encouraging energy efficient technologies. Here buying energy efficient gadgets add cost to an individual, but ultimately it can do public good.

The conflict between Rational choice and Need for action

Policymakers are not motivated to make decisions based on societal goals but try instead to maximize their rewards, such as power, money, status. Sometimes time acts as a constraint to analyze possible alternatives carefully. And there may be specific groups with conflicting opinions which drop decision-maker into confusion in comparing and weigh them.

The dilemma of political feasibility

The dilemma of political feasibility concerns itself with what is possible. Politicians mostly opt to continue with previous policies in case of uncertainty about the consequences of following different policy alternatives. Postponement of the decision, the appointment of the committees are used as means to reduce the conflicts.

The problem of Cost-Benefit analysis

It is very time taken and complex task to collect all the information required to make a well-informed decision about each policy. There may be many social, economical and cultural aspects objecting it.

Nature and Environment of Bureaucracy

Fragmentation of authority, satisfying goals, conflicting values and limited technology are the factors that limit the capacity of bureaucracies to make rational policies.

If the rational model were to be followed, many rational decisions would have to be compromised because they were not politically feasible. A rational logical and technically desirable policy may not be adopted because the political system will not accept it. The figures don’t always speak for themselves, and good ideas not always win out. Analysis and decision-makers are constantly faced with a conflict between technically superior and politically feasible alternatives.

Patton and Sawicki

A rational model depends on having clear and well-defined goals as well as sufficient authority to coordinate action. Maybe it is difficult to achieve rationality as a goal in the policy-making process. But it is important to keep rationality in mind while making policies.

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