The first stage in the public policy cycle is agenda-setting. Before a policy can be formulated, it must first command attention. A multitude of perceived problems and grievances compete for recognition at any given time. Some will get official consideration, but most will be ignored or given only cursory treatment then soon abandoned. Constituent bitterness and disaffection is left in the wake.
We must not take agenda setting lightly or naively: Control of the agenda is a formidable form of power, perhaps its ultimate display. Agenda setting should not be confused by beliefs such as the following, which might be regarded as common myths of agenda setting:
All important matters get on the agenda.
The public policy agenda just happens spontaneously.
Once on the agenda, a matter will get prompt and thorough consideration and action.
Agenda items get attention because they are of public importance.
American society is so open that the agenda is amorphous and getting on the agenda is a simple and commonplace event. You can count on it.
If these assertions are not true, then what gets on the agenda and how it gets there must be seriously examined. Agenda setting is therefore critical to our understanding of public policy. Regard this as a gatekeeping function that determines who can even begin to get something from government. Gatekeepers control access. Some will win while others lose. Losers will typically outnumber winners.
How might we begin to explain this? We might start with something simple and familiar based on how you determine your own agenda. We will ultimately need to complicate the explanation of a systematic agenda to render it suitable to support the public policy process.
The Public Policy Cycle Web Site | Page: © Wayne Hayes, Ph.D. | ProfWork |
Initialized: August 24, 2001 | Last Update: 05/29/2014