A Heuristic Study of the Decision to Privatize Local Government Services

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Institution Granting Degree

Western Michigan University

Cedarville University School or Department

History and Government

First Advisor

Dr. Robert Peters

Second Advisor

Dr. Matthew Mingus

Third Advisor

Dr. Richard Ghere


Local government, Michigan, privatize, public services, public administration


The purpose of this research is to explore the nature of local government decision making. Six Michigan cities, selected from respondents to an International City/County Management Association (ICMA) privatization survey, are the basis of this multi-case study examining the decision to privatize public services.

Classical decision-making theory is used to identify six foundational elements from which to analyze the privatization decision: (1) identification of the problem(s) that triggered the decision to consider privatization; (2) the solutions considered; (3) the processes or mechanisms used to make the decision; (4) the environment in which the decision was made; (5) the identification of the key participants, their role in the decision-making process, and what effect they had on the decision; and (6) the evaluation of the decision to privatize. From these foundational elements, the research identifies the most dominant of four decision-making models: rational, bounded rational, public choice, and contingency theory. The research also identifies internal and external environmental factors that play a part in local governments’ decisions. The primary data in this research are in-depth interviews with local government managers, board members, and department heads. Secondary data sources are used to collect additional information and to analyze interview data for consistency.