Problem Definition and Agenda Setting

… a core topic in Policy Analysis and Process

Topic description

This topic teaches students about problem definition and the theories surrounding framing, as well as agenda setting practices. Students learn about the issue-attention cycle and the role of the media in influencing which policy issues move to the active policy agenda of governments.

Topic learning outcome

Upon completing this topic the student will be familiar with the theory and practice of defining problems and setting agendas, including the concepts listed below.

Core concepts associated with this topic
Pal’s Aspects of Problem Definition

Issue Framing

Policy Images

Policy Window

Other potential concepts on the Old Atlas

Shaming; Agenda Setting; Ideas in Good Currency; Attentive Public; Issue Attention Cycle; Issue-Framing; Narrative.

Recommended readings for 7 hours of preparation

TO COME

Recommended readings in MPP and MPA courses

University of Toronto PPG1001

TO COME

Concept comprehension questions

CCQ206.08.10. Among the statements a-d pertaining to Pal’s aspects of problem definition choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Leslie Pal says that policymaking is, in large measure, about trying to solve problems and so the nature of those problems – how they are defined – is central to the entire process.

b. Key aspects of problem definition include causality (what factors lie behind the problem) and severity (how bad is the problem likely to get).

c. Key aspects of problem definition include incidence (what is the scope of impact), novelty (is it new), and proximity (how close is the problem).

d. Key aspects of problem definition include crisis (how pressing is the problem), problem population (who will be targeted in the policy response), and solutions (what can be done).

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.08.11. Among the statements a-d pertaining to issue framing choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Issue framing is a way of depicting a policy issue or problem in broad and understandable if somewhat simplified terms.

b. The first dimension of issue framing is analytical and emphasizes the logical elements that make up an argument or claim.

c. The second dimension of issue framing is part of policy communications, combining effective arguments with powerful rhetorical tools such as metaphors and labels.

d. Issue framing cannot be applied to complex issues that cross multiple policy fields.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.08.12. Among the statements a-d pertaining to policy images choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Policy images are a mixture of empirical information and emotive appeals that explain an issue and justify the public policy response.

b. Most people, even in cases where they are quite interested in a given policy issue, will tend to summarize it using policy images.

c. A policy image is an identifiable method through which collective action is structured to address a public problem.

d. Policy images give a sense of the tone of the issue in positive or negative terms.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

CCQ206.08.13. Among the statements a-d pertaining to policy window choose the one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Policy windows are defined as unpredictable openings in the policy process that create the possibility for influence over the direction and outcome of that process.

b. A great deal of the agenda-setting process is contingent on unpredictable factors and personalities – i.e., to the opening of policy windows.

c. Windows sometimes open regularly but who jumps through successfully or not is still a matter of chance and skill.

d. A policy window is a mixture of empirical information and emotive appeals that explain the issue and justify the public policy response.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 22 May 2017.

Image: Boundless.com, at https://www.boundless.com/management/textbooks/boundless-management-textbook/introduction-to-management-1/additional-roles-and-skills-of-managers-20/managing-organizational-priorities-128-5852/, accessed 31 March 2016.