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Agenda Setting

G.D.R.U.U. Abeyrathne,
Dept. of Economics,
University of Ruhuna,
Key Terms
Policy Formation: the total process of creating
or forming a public policy.
Policy Formulation: It refers to the more
discrete stage of adopting a proposed course
of action for dealing with a public problem.
Early researchers had concerned much with
policy adoption. At present, more attention is
paid on how issues get into the agenda
What have they researched?
Why some issues get into the agenda?
Why some issues does not reached to the
stage of agenda setting?
Conditions to be met
It has to reach crisis proportions and could
not be ignored.
It has achieved particularity. It is the issue
exemplifying and dramatizing a large issue
such as ozone depletion and global warming.
It has an emotive aspect. That is human
interest angle.
It has wide impact.
It raises the question about power and legitimacy
It has to be fashionable.
Agenda setting is set of political controversies
that will be viewed as falling within legitimate
concern meriting the attention of the polity, a set
of items scheduled for active and serious
attention by decision making bodies (Cobb and
Elder, 1972).
It is the learning of problem by public officials.
Decision to give their personal attention.
The mobilization of organizations to respond
to them (Barbara, G. Nelson, 1984).
Nature of Policy Problems
It is a condition or situation that produces
need or dissatisfaction on the part of people
for which relief or redress is sought (Anderson,
1990, Public Policy Making).
Tractability of some policy problems varies
greatly. Some are easy to define. Some are
more difficult to define.
Types of Agendas
They are of basically two types. i.e. Systemic
Agenda and Institutional agenda
Systemic agenda consists of all those issues
that might be subject to action or that are
already acted on by the government. These
issues can be either pseudo issues or issues
discussed just to placate or calm clientele
groups but without serious attempt to make
serious choices.
Institutional agenda is comprised of those
issues that a government has decided to act
on seriously (e.g. Legislative calender) It is also
known as public agenda as opposed to
popular agenda. Thus systemic agenda can be
thought of as those issues which are waiting
to enter the institution agenda.
Evolution of the Literature on Agenda
During 1970s, it was thought of as the link between
mass participation and elite decision making (Rogger W
Cobb and charles D. Elder, The Politics of Agenda
Building Journal of Politics, 33(4), pp 892-915).
It sought to explain the movement of an issue from
popular agenda to public agenda.
It was thought that if the audience of the issue is greater,
the possibility of entering into institutional agenda also
is greater. Social significance and specificity of issue are
also important aspects in this regard.
Issues get into the popular agenda on account
1. Widespread attention 2. Shared concern of a
sizable portion of the public 3. Acceptance by
the public as proper for governmental
Clarence Davies Contribution

His work is on How Does the Agenda Get Set?

He has argued that the agenda setting consisted
of three phases.
1. Initiation- public problems creates a demand
for action
2. Diffusion- These demands are transposed into
issues for government
3. Processing- issues are converted into agenda
Roger Cobb, Jennie-Keith Rose and
March Rose
Agenda Building as a Comparative Political Process,
American Political Science Review, 70, 1976, pp 126-
In that work , they have identified three models of
agenda setting.
1. Outside initiative model(It is similar to model discussed
above under the Cobb 2. Mobilization Model . Under
this models issues are initiated within the government
and then enter the agenda 3. Inside initiative model:
Issues are initiated internally but are not expanded to
the public. Issue supporters desired to keep the issues
within governmental area exclusively.
Who set agenda
There are number of explanation on who set
Elite Perspective
Pluralist Perspective
Sub-government argument.
Sub-governmental Perspective
It assumes the existence of networks of key
players in determining public policy.
1. Key congressional committee members
dealing with issues
2. Agency Bureaucrats responsible for the policy
in question
3. Clientele groups with a stake in the issue
(Douglas Carter, 1965, Power in Washignton)
Conditions for evolving a sub-
A relatively narrow policy field
Specialized congressional committee
responsible for that field and differed to and
by the rest of the congress
Uniquely equipped interests group and
general apathy shown by the public
Relatively autonomous agencies able to
cultivate ties outside the executive branch of
the government.