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Public Policy Analysis: Agenda-Setting



[BSc], GED, ID, PSc

Admission Requirements

Decision-making Processes, or Intro to Comparative Politics, or Media and Communication Theory, or third-year status, or permission from the instructor.

Quantitative Research Methods is helpful, but not required.


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. 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, 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, which they will need to communicate to a non-technical audience via an oral or recorded multi-media digital presentation.

Course Objectives

  • Develop 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

  • Develop and practice communicating academically informed intellectually sophisticated arguments to a non-specialist audience.

Mode of Instruction

This course will be primarily seminar-based, with short lectures (no longer than 30 minutes on average), 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

Baumgartner, Frank R., Suzanna L. De Boef, and Amber E. Boydstun. 2008. The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence. Cambridge University Press.

Please contact Instructor for details on further texts to be purchased after enrolling in this course.

Contact Information

Dr. Brandon C. Zicha at

Weekly Overview

Week 1: Agenda Setting Foundations and Policy Typologies
Week 2: The Public Agenda
Week 3: The Media Agenda
Week 4: Applications: Death Penalty
Week 5: Government Agendas
Week 6: Policy Dynamics
Week 7: Applications: Policy Domains

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.