The Agenda-Setting Process and Crises: Toward a Conceptual Framework
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New York : Oxford University Press
InStern, E.K. (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Crisis Analysis
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Stern, E.K. (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Crisis Analysis
SubjectInstitute for Management Research
An agenda is a list of issues being discussed and sometimes decided upon. This discussion can take place in society (the public agenda), in media outlets (the media agenda), and in government institutions (the political agenda). The number of issues that can be discussed in these fora is limited and thus not every issue will get onto the agenda. Actors will therefore try to put some issues on the agenda while blocking others. Not all issues, however, have the same weight. Some issues (such as the economy) are of such a magnitude that they can bump other issues off the agenda. This ability to push issues from the agenda is also attributed to crises. After all, an event with such an impact on society will surely affect what is being discussed. Reality, however, is more complex, starting with the fact that society may not perceive an event to be a crisis even though it has a huge impact on those directly affected. And even if society defines the event as a crisis, which aspect(s) of the crisis will be put on the agenda? Will the focus be on, for instance, preventative measures, or the fact that some parts of the population were more affected by the crisis than others? By combining several strands of literature (most notably the agenda-setting, media, and framing literature), it is possible to discern five elements that need to be included in a conceptual framework if one wants to explain how crises affect the agenda-setting process. These five elements are (a) agenda interaction, (b) windows of opportunity, (c) entrepreneurs, (d) venue shopping, and (e) framing and problem definition. Agenda interaction refers to the interaction between and within the three types of agendas: the public, the media, and the political agendas. If political actors are, for example, able to define the event as minor and this definition is accepted by the public and the media, the issue will drop from all agendas. Windows of opportunity are moments in time when issues can be pushed onto the agenda and may even lead to policy change. Crises are one way to open these windows. A person who is trying to use that window to get a problem or solution on the agenda (and sometimes succeeding) is an entrepreneur. Other actions entrepreneurs can use include venue shopping—strategically selecting (and trying to access) those decision making arenas that seem to be a good bet when one tries to win a debate. To get access to these venues, however, entrepreneurs need to ensure that they frame the problem in such a way that a venue will decide that the issue falls under its jurisdiction. Framing also plays a role in whether an event becomes defined as a crisis, which type of window will open, and which particular aspect of the crisis will make it onto the agenda.
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