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SPOC: Unlocking Policy Neglect: Comparative Agenda Setting




Admissions requirements

By application only.

Please note: Students must submit an application in order to be considered for admission. This application should comprise a brief statement (no more than 300 words) explaining:

  1. their personal motivations for wishing to take this class, and
  2. how this course would complement their study plan.

In addition, students should also include a list of courses they have completed which they feel might prepare them well for this course. Selection will be based on the strength of students’ motivations and with an eye towards achieving in the classroom between students with different kinds of expertise.

Applications should be sent to

LUC Students: should have taken Quantitative Research Methods AND Decision-Making Processes AND/OR Comparative Party systems and have 2nd or 3rd year standing. Those not meeting these requirements should contact the instructor.

Students who have taken Public Policy Analysis: Agenda Setting are not eligible to enroll in this course.


NOTE: This course is still in development and in coordination with our partners in the U.S.A. The following description covers the thrust of the content and mission of the course as well as the general structure.

When discussing policy-making or policy-making failures, spectators often note that important global challenges like climate change, human rights abuses, or economic inequality do not seems to be treated with the same urgency as other
problems, or they are treated inconsistently. The most recent example of such a selective policy attention can be illustrated by the recent criticism of Western
governments for only shifting their policy on ISIS after coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, despite those attacks following on the heels of similar and apparently less salient
attacks in Beirut.

Likewise, just this last year we saw a large refugee crisis expand in the Mediterranean with public attention focused on the crisis only when a picture of dead children on the beaches of Turkey made the rounds of the internet. Why was this example the trigger rather than the already enormous influx of refugees in the preceding weeks?

Not only does one notice differences between issues, but also between countries. Why are some issues more prominent on policy agendas in European democracies than American ones? Why is the policy discourse in the Netherlands and the reactions to issues different?

Often, analysts respond to such questions with arguments pointing to a lack of resolve or desire on the part of policymakers to address these key challenges; ergo treating the problem as one of simply unenlightened views on the part of policymakers or citizens.

However, agenda setting studies which examine the way that issues rise on fall in the minds of individuals, the mass public, the media, major political actors, and the government suggest a more complicated picture. Ultimately, this perspective rests on examining the fundamental problem of governing in a world where the number of issues that require attention far outstrips the capacity of the public or the state to attend to all of them in the manner they might prefer at any particular time.

Understanding how policy- making agendas are set in the public, the media, and ultimately in important decision-making institutions, and how and why different problems face particular challenges rising to prominence is the first and arguably most vital step to effective action on these issues. Moreover, such understanding suggests different strategies or approaches to advocating for particular issues with the aim of fomenting real policy change in the local and global challenges that so vex us as citizens

Thus, this course will introduce students to the study of agenda-setting theory organized such that the predominant battles over how issues come to be raised and disposed of by democratic government will form a central fault line for many of our discussions.
We will come to see that where one falls on the question of ‘where do governing agendas come from?’ has large implications for what we should expect from contemporary democratic processes and the role of ‘the people’ in that process. Is it top down, bottom up, or in what way and when both?

The questions tackled in this course are currently the focus of an expanding and dynamic domain of communication science, political science and public policy scholarship. Students will integrate the lessons of this literature into a unique self-guided research paper and advocacy paper by the conclusion of the course, drawing on both existing and student collected agenda data from the United States and
the Netherlands.

The multinational group of students will spend roughly the first half of the class exploring prominant literature and foundations of agenda setting theory specifically, and the Dutch and American contexts. The second half of the class will be focused on the development of two group projects (with groups bridging the trans-Atlantic divide via electronic collaberation): One large overarching data collection project leading to individual research papers, and a smaller `issue advocacy’ project.

Course objectives

At the end of this course the student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a more sophisticated understanding of policy issues and how they differ from one another.

  • Appreciate the complexity and challenges involved in governing societies with as many policy demands as citizens but with finite decision-making resources in the form of time and attention.

  • Engage independently with a broad interdisciplinary research programme with familiarity in core literatures of political science, public administration, and communication science.

  • Build a deeper understanding of the specific process by which policy attention can be acquired for issues of concern to the student.

  • Conduct independent quantitative research in pursuit of both a positive (scientific) nature, as well as a normative (advocacy) nature, including collecting original content analyzed agenda data.


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

Those interested in enrolling should be aware that this is a semester long 10 EC course taught as a Small Private Online Course (SPOC), which will include students from LUC, Leiden Honours Academy, and Grinnell College (in Grinnell, Iowa).

Thus, the method of instruction will be following a more student centered `flipped-classroom approach’ with course content delivered via recorded lectures, and semi-frequent online video-conferenced webinars, collective activities.


Participation, 10%
Activities, 15%
Reaction Essays, 20%
Group Wiki, 10%
Group Data Project, 15%
Final Research Paper, 20%
Advocacy Plan/Video, 10%


There will be NO Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be invited to use the NEOLMS learning management system for this course a few weeks before the start of the class.

Reading list



This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Curriculum Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact