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Public Policy Analysis: Agenda Setting



[BSc] WP, PSc, ID

Admission Requirements

Decision-Making Processes, Introduction to Comparative Politics, Media and Communication Theory, or permission of the instructor.


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 seem to be treated with the same urgency as other problems. Often, analysts respond to such questions with arguments pointing to a lack of resolve or desire on the part of policy makers to address these key challenges; ergo treating the problem as one of simply unenlightened preferences on the part of policy makers or citizens.

An alternative perspective looks harder at how different issues attract and sustain policy attention – the study of agenda setting –, which must presages any preference driven policy choice by political elites.

This more complicated story forces us to ask to what extent policy problems are particularly challenging due to structural issues or factors related to the policy issue itself, and to what extent inaction or hyperactivity is a function of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ preference and desires on the part of decision-makers. Understanding how policy-making agendas are set in the public, the media, and ultimately in important decision-making institutions through policy-making elites, 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.

This 3rd year seminar will engage these issues that dominate a currently expanding and dynamic domain of communication science, political science and public policy scholarship and require students to integrate the lessons of this literature into a unique self-guided research/advocacy paper.

Course Objectives

    1. Develop a more sophisticated understanding of policy issues and how they differ from one another.
    1. 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.
    1. Engage independently with the broad interdisciplinary research programme of agenda setting research
    1. Establish basic sound procedures for collecting and evaluating quantitative content data of text documents.

Mode of Instruction

This course will be almost entirely seminar-based, with student preparation for classroom discussion forming a core component of the class.




Students will be required to read substantial portions of the following texts, and should be considered for purchase: Dearing, James W. and Everett M. Rogers. 1997. Agenda Setting. Sage

Contact Information

Dr. Brandon C. Zicha at
Students should feel free to contact instructor with questions about the course.

Weekly Overview

  • Week 1: Introduction to the study of decision-making & Microfoundations

  • Week 2: Understanding individual decision-making: Rational and not-so-rational choices.

  • Week 3: Centralization vs. Decentralization

  • Week 4: Grappling with Collective Decisions

  • Week 5: Solutions to Collective Decision-Making Challenges: Institutions & Delegation

  • Week 6: Delegation Problems

  • Week 7: Policy and Decision-making in time (Weekly overview subject to change)

Preparation for first session

Students will receive reading for the first meeting via blackboard after enrolling. Please e-mail the instructor If you have not heard from the instructor as the first session approaches so that he may personally send them to you.