Incremental planning

Incremental planning is the most widely noted alternative model to comprehensive rational planning (Mitchell 2002).

It is based on ‘bounded’ instrumental rationality (Larsen 2003). One advocate is Charles Lindbloom who wrote the famous  ‘Muddling through’ (1959). This title refers to the core of this planning model: Planning is considered less a scientific technique that follows concrete steps; rather it is a mixture of intuition and experience in reality (Larsen 2003). This planning model describes the real everyday life in a planning office rather than the comprehensive rational model (Mitchell 2002).

Central assumptions

  • There is not a right solution as time, money, information and mental capabilities of the planners are not sufficient (Kinyashi 2006; Mitchell 2002).
  • Thus, only a few options are identified and evaluated which differ only marginally from each other as well as from the existing situation.
  • There are different views and interests as well as multiple problems (Mitchell 2002).
  • Big changes are carried out best in little, practicable steps over a long period leading to satisfying results (not necessarily the maximum) (Mitchell 2002).

Assumptions and role of the planner

  • The planner is considered to be ‘bounded’ rational (Larsen 2003; Mitchell 2002) who
  • simplifies the complex world to an easier model
  • often does not know the right problem and thus
  • is not always able to determine a clear definition of goals and measures and thus
  • tries to find a satisfactory solution rather than the best one (Mitchell 2002).
  • Thus, the planner is considered less as the ‘expert’. His task is particularly to determine the type of problem to be solved and to mediate between different views and interests to reach a consensus (Mitchell 2002; Hostovsky 2007).

Role of the population

  • The civil society can make a contribution to planning as the provider of information (strategic/functional participation for generating information, relieving administration, increasing social acceptance) (Kinyashi 2006).

Planning process

Planning is carried out more decentrally than in the rational planning process. Both the population and more agencies are involved in planning. Important features of the planning process are:

  • There is no clear determination of goals and objectives; rather they are determined by a mixture of intuition, experiences, rules of thumb and a series of consultancies (Larsen 2003).
  • Only a few options are considered and evaluated (Mitchell 2002).
  • Analysing and evaluation are distributed among more agencies and organisations within society (Fainstein and Fainstein 1996).
  • The problem is redefined at regular intervals (Larsen 2003; Mitchell 2002).
  • A satisfying solution is one for which substantive consensus can be attained.
  • The process is an ongoing chain of incremental decisions (evolutionary approach) (Mitchell 2002).

Simple analysing and modelling techniques as well as communication techniques are used.


  • no radical changes are possible;
  • solutions cannot be optimised;
  • the focus is on what can be implemented (Slusser 2007).

Another planning model is termed mixed scanning.