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Decision-making in practice: The use of cognitive heuristics by senior managersThis thesis uses a grounded theory methodology to reveal the processes by which cognitive heuristics are used by senior managers to make decisions in a large UK local authority. The thesis is based on primary data, organisational documentation and an extensive and critical review of the pertinent literature. Primary data was generated over four years and involved detailed observation of 156 senior managers making a total of 513 decisions, together with formal interviews and informal discussions with these managers. The organisation under study provided an ideal context for this research since it offered a rich insight into management decision-making practices in diverse contexts such as social work and highways, and with varying degrees of urgency ranging from procurement decisions lasting several months to instant decisions concerning child protection. Furthermore, UK local government has been subject to drastic change in recent years, such as the introduction of private sector management practices and increased competition. This has been exacerbated by an austerity programme which means that local authorities, in common with much of the world, have to do a lot more with a lot less. The turbulent context of local government is, in Yin’s (2009) terms, an ‘exemplifying’ case study, and hence the issues raised in this study resonate far beyond the scope of this thesis. This thesis makes a number of significant contributions to knowledge. Firstly, original flow charts are developed that allow the underlying processes of heuristic decision-making to be identified, and these reveal that, whereas the academic literature treats heuristics as discrete entities, there is actually considerable interplay between them. Further, a new definition of the moral heuristic is developed, which allows researchers to view this heuristic at a higher, more conceptual level than has hitherto been possible. The thesis also extends the work of Daniel Kahneman and demonstrates that the role of the unconscious in decision-making is more complex than previously thought. For instance, intuitive heuristics can be used consciously and choice-based heuristics can be used unconsciously. It is also argued that the underlying processes of ‘classical’ theory are better explained by the degree of consciousness involved when making a decision, and not by the commonly accepted normative/behavioural distinction made by Herbert Simon and others. As such, this thesis represents an important contribution to the decision-making literature.