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Agenda Setting

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Agenda Setting 

The social and political process of determining what issues to address and in what priority

(Pal, 2006)


Agenda-setting has traditionally been understood within the context of the mass-media. Within the realm of public policy and government decision-making, however, Pal describes agenda-setting as the process of defining an issue or problem as falling within the public sphere, for which policymakers can be relied upon to offer a "credible and feasible response." Agenda-setting may be influenced by the opening of a "policy window", when governments see opportunities to act based on scheduled or unscheduled shifts in the political climate.

The way in which governments and a range of groups - from political parties and public servants to interest groups, citizen coalitions and the media - communicate their priorities and garner acceptance for them within the public realm has a significant effect on how issues are positioned on the public agenda and which issues receive attention.

Roger Cobb et al. describe three models of agenda building.

1.     Outside initiative model. Civil society groups attempt to raise awareness of an issue in the general population (Onto the public agenda) with the aim of bringing these issues to the government. (Onto the formal agenda)

2.     Mobilization model. The government or civil service attempt to get public support for an issue that is on the formal agenda. They attempt to get issues already on the formal agenda onto the public agenda.

3.     Inside initiative model. The government promotes issues within the government itself, and attempts to keep them out of the public eye. These issues are on the formal agenda but are kept away from the public agenda.


Cobb, Roger, Jennie Keith-Ross and Marc Howard Ross. 1976. “Agenda Building as a Comparative Political Process" American Political Science Review 70, 1, 126-38.

Pal, Leslie. Beyond Policy Analysis: Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times, third edition. Toronto: Nelson-Thomson,2006.



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