Simple Definition of Agenda

Two definitions of agenda will be offered, a simple, descriptive definition and a systematic, explanatory definition. Try to follow the progression in viewpoint, from your own personal agenda through the wider world of public policy.

What is Your Agenda?

Here is a descriptive, common sense definition of agenda:

An agenda is a list of things to do.

You may have several activities planned this evening. That's your short-term agenda. Notice that this example need not distinguish among priorities. There are just certain things which must got done in a particular period of time. We will make the notion of agenda more complicated as we go along, one step at a time. Recall, however, that, after all is said, a simple notion of the agenda is still simply a list of things to do.

Probe more deeply. The term agenda implies a plan for action and an actor implementing that plan. An agenda suggests a willful subject, the actor engaged in the agenda, and objects, those activities meant to be done. There is something which must be done by some agent, whether a person, a group, or an organization. We speak of a national agenda. In the field of public policy, legislative bodies, which make policy, and executive departments, which implement policy, all have agenda. So somebody is planning to act on something. Agenda are concrete and dynamic, not mere abstractions. Agenda are actively constructed commitments.

Now, let us look at the idea of an agenda in a more systematic way, as a problem of the allocation of a scarce resource, your time, devoted to achieving identifiable ends, or goals. We may know this as time management. You realize that your day is limited, like mine, and that other people and situations compete for your time, energy, and attention. Thomas Alva Edison, Napoleon, and George Washington operated under such constraints. What they accomplished depended, at least in part, on how effectively they managed their agenda. The point is that the formulation of your agenda requires the allocation of a scarce resource, your time. Effective people use time well.

What happens to you if there is a lot to do and time is short? The agenda items crowd out one another and you must decide what to do, when, how much time to spend on it, and so forth. Stress mounts. To cope, we set priorities on our agenda items, sorting our agenda according to the importance an item has to us. The priorities we set say much about us: Our priorities reveal our values. The agenda reveals much.

Perhaps you have come to realize that effective time management is an important skill for a college student. You might become more careful and clever about formulating your agenda. In addition to determining priorities, you might approach your activities in a sequential manner, recognizing the complexity of your tasks and the necessity to break them down into steps which follow each other. At this point you have graduated from a simple to-do-list to a plan. Your life has become more complicated and your time allocation has become more sophisticated. Recognize that agenda-setting is a deliberate, mindful activity.

Let us now turn to an analysis of a more complicated, systematic approach to the process of setting agenda.

The Public Policy Cycle Web Site | Page: © Wayne Hayes, Ph.D. | ™ ProfWork |
Initialized: August 24, 2001 | Last Update: 05/29/2014