Posts Tagged Agenda Setting

The Use of Multiple Streams Framework in Agenda Setting

The Use of Multiple Streams Framework in Agenda Setting

By: Yudo Anggoro, University of North Carolina at Charlotte


Public policy making process deals with the way government solves problems in the society. Government institutions solve problems by formulating alternatives and selecting policy solutions; and these solutions should be implemented, evaluated, and revised (Sabatier, 2007). In order to explain policy process, Anderson (2008) provides a general framework which views policy process as a sequential pattern of action involving a number of functional categories/stages of activity. These stages are problem identification, agenda setting, policy formulation, policy adoption, policy implementation, policy evaluation, and finally policy termination/change/continuation. These stages are built to generalize theories in policy making and to seek what issues happened, who is involved, and how far the effect of a certain issue is.

In order to explain each stage in public policy making process, some theories are offered with their own advantages and disadvantages. Some theories are often referred to explain policy making process; such as Punctuated Equilibrium Theory for policy formulation, Advocacy Coalition Framework for policy adoption and change, and Multiple Streams Framework to explain problem definition and agenda setting. This essay will focus on Multiple Streams Framework which explains why some issues get into agenda while others do not. This essay also will discuss what factors influence an issue to get agenda setting, and also what factors affect an issue loses agenda setting.

Agenda Setting

Agenda setting is a crucial stage in public policy making process. This process will determine whether a problem will be considered as an issue by the government or not. Therefore, problem and issue are two different things. In terms of public policy, problem is a condition or situation that produces needs or dissatisfaction among people and for which relief or redress by governmental action is sought (Anderson, 2008). When a problem receives attention from government, it becomes an issue. Cobb and Elder (1983) define an issue as a conflict between two or more identifiable groups over procedural or substantive matters relating to the distribution of position or resources.

Issues can be generated through different means. Cobb and Elder (1983) indicates that the formation of issue depends on the dynamic interplay between the initiator and the triggering device. Initiators are people who initiate an issue. Initiators consist of exploiters, people who create an issue for their own benefit; readjustors, people who generate issue to redress imbalance in the society; do-gooders, people who do not have power to gain over an issue they created before; and circumstantial reactors, an unanticipated event which creates an issue. A famous example of circumstantial reactors is the assassinations of President Kennedy which led to gun control issue in 1961.

Triggering devices which generate issue can be divided into internal and external events (Cobb and Elder, 1983). Internal events consist of natural disaster, unanticipated human events, technological change, imbalance in the distribution of resources, and the last is ecological change. External trigger mechanisms consist of an act of war, innovation in weapons technology, international conflict, and the last is changing world alignment patterns.

Certain issues need good strategy to be put into political agenda. Only a portion of problems will succeed in securing agenda because officials lack of time, resources, information, and others (Anderson, 2008). Basically there are two types of agenda setting (Cobb and Elder, 1983); the systematic agenda and the institutional or governmental agenda. The systematic agenda consists of all issues that are commonly perceived by members of community as meriting public attention and as involving matters within the legitimate jurisdiction of existing governmental authority. An institutional agenda tends to be specific, concrete, and limited in the number of items.

Getting into Agenda Setting

When competition is tight for problems to receive attention from the government, there must be some conditions for particular problem to be put into agenda setting. Cobb and Elder (1983) state that three conditions should be met; which are widespread attention from public, shared concern of a sizable portion that some type of action is required, and shared perception that the matter is an appropriate concern of some governmental unit and falls within the bounds of its authority

Portz (1996) also contributes his opinion on how certain issues can be put into agenda setting. He also mentions several causes, which are:

  1. The role of policy entrepreneurs, which are people who are able to move problems to the decision agenda. Kingdon (1995) also mentions the importance of policy entrepreneur as a person who takes advantage to raise problem and solution into a public attention. Mintrom (1997) also highlight the role of policy entrepreneurs by defining policy entrepreneurs as people who seek to initiate dynamic policy change. They attempt to win support for ideas by using network, identifying problems, shaping the terms of policy debates, and also building coalitions.
  2. The role of media through mobilization of criticism or enthusiasm for change or support of existing political institutions, and the nature if problem itself. The importance of media in agenda setting is also stated by Cobb and Elder (1983) by saying that media can elevate issues to the systemic agenda and increasing their chances to receive formal agenda consideration. Sometimes certain persons in media can act as opinion leaders in bringing a particular issue into public area.
  3. Problem visibility. Visibility of a problem can be reached in several ways. Cobb and Elder (1983) mention some factors; such as severity, incidence, novelty, proximity, and crisis. In this case, media also can help some problems to be visible by the government since media promotes an atmosphere of enthusiasm or criticism that can focus attention on particular problem definition.
  4. The role of political sponsorship, it is the person who has political power to push the problem into policy process. It can be business leaders, government leaders, or presidents who support the issue.
  5. Viable and applicable solution. The solutions of problems should be available, acceptable, and affordable.

Losing Agenda Setting

At the other side, sometimes certain problems that may reach agendas may disappear from agenda setting. Policy makers may feel that the problems have been solved and they turn to other issues (Anderson, 2008). Some factors may lead to this loss of agenda status. Sometimes people become accustomed to a problem so they no longer label it as a problem. An example of this condition is when people in Washington DC became accustomed with supersonic sound from Concorde Airplane which flew over Washington DC several years ago.

Changes in the condition that give rise to a problem also contribute to losing agenda setting. When there is a change in government or decision maker, an issue may not get attention anymore from new government. Sometimes a new and more pressing problem may distract government attention on previous problem; so that new and more pressing problem will be prioritized to be put into agenda setting.

The Multiple Streams Framework and Its Implication on Agenda Setting

Literature on public policy has provided a framework to understand why some issues succeed in getting attention while others fail to do so. The Multiple Streams Framework, as developed by Kingdom (1984) is a vital stage in policy making process since they will help to determine which issues will be considered, which will be given further examination, and which will be abandoned (Anderson, 2008). Although this framework is able to explain the whole process in public policy making, this essay will focus only on its ability to explain agenda setting.

The Multiple Streams Framework consists of five elements; which are problems, policies, politics, policy windows, and policy entrepreneurs (Zahariadis, 2007). Problems streams are the conditions that policy makers and people want to address; such as environmental problems, transportation, health care, and so on. Policies streams are all the ideas that compete to receive attention. The politics streams consist of three elements: the national mood, pressure group campaign, and administrative or legislative turnover. Policy windows streams are defined as fleeting opportunities for advocates of proposals to push their pet solutions, or to push attention to their social problems. Problems happen when policy entrepreneurs use the wrong window to pursue their goals. Policy entrepreneurs streams, as explained before, are individuals or corporate actors who attempt to couple their streams. When policy windows open, policy entrepreneurs are people who immediately seize the opportunity to initiate action.

This framework looks promising in explaining agenda setting process. It gives comprehensive view on how a problem can become an issue, get public attention, and finally reach political agenda. This framework also stresses out the role of policy entrepreneur as a person who is able to mobilize public opinion toward certain issues, and therefore these issues can be put into agenda setting. Based on the framework, policy entrepreneur always seeks for opportunity window to open. As an “entrepreneur”, policy entrepreneur should be creative to find alternative solutions to solve problems in the society, or to formulate creative strategies to put issues into agenda setting. The more successful policy entrepreneurs are those who have greater access to policy makers, they have vast network. Sometimes they use the power of media to force decision maker to pay attention to the issue that they bring.

Even though Multiple Streams Framework seems like a perfect framework, but in my opinion this framework looks overwhelmed with theories. A lot of theories are forced to be fitted into the framework. This framework does not “touch the ground”. Perhaps for research or academic purpose this framework can be accepted, but how if this framework is implemented in a real world policy problem? Can this framework really work to solve problem? How does this framework formulate better strategies to put issue into agenda setting? The implementation of this framework should be look further.

Following scientific research method, this framework should be falsifiable; it should be able to tested and refuted by other researchers. It also must be implemented in different cases in different time; it should be replicable. But at least, this framework can successfully explain general side of agenda setting process; it can be generalized.


To summarize this essay, all the authors mentioned above have greatly made significant contributions to provide framework in explaining agenda setting stage in policy making process. Even though there a lot of competition in addressing the problems happened in public area, some efforts and strategies should be made to ensure these issues will be taken care of by the government. The use if media and also political support sometimes are needed to put these issues into the center of public attention. But the most important thing is that the issue should have viable solutions and can be implemented to solve problems in the community.

Multiple Streams Framework (MSA) offers comprehensive view on putting issue into agenda setting. In this framework, the role of policy entrepreneurs is critical to take advantage of the window of opportunity to couple problems with solutions and thus facilitate the chances of the issue to be considered and not to lose agenda setting.


Anderson, James. 2008. Public Policymaking. Houghton-Mifflin.

Cobb, Roger and Charles D. Elder. 1983. What is an Issue? What Makes an Issue? In Participation in American Politics: the Dynamics of Agenda Building, 82-93. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kingdom, John. 1996. Agendas, alternatives, and public policies. New York: Harper Collins. (originally published in 1984). Chapters 1 and 2.

Mintrom, Michael. 1997. “Policy Entrepreneurs and the Diffusion of Innovation.” American Journal of Political Science, 41(3): 738-770.

Mintrom, Michael and Sandra Vergari. 1996. “Advocacy Coalitions, Policy Entrepreneurs and Policy Change.” Policy Studies Journal, 24:420-38.

Portz, John. 1996. “Problem Definitions and Policy Agendas: Shaping the Educational Agenda in Boston.” Policy Studies Journal, 24: 371-86.

Sabatier, Paul A. 2007. “The Need for Better Theories.” In Theories of the Policy Process. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

Zahariadis, Nikolaos. 2007. “The Multiple Streams Framework.” In Theories of the Policy Process, 2nd ed. Paul A. Sabatier, ed. Chapter 3. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.


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