T04P02 - The Emergence of Public Policy and the Role of Agenda Setting for Policy Change in Countries and Regions of the Global South

Topic : Problems and Agenda Setting

Panel Chair : Heike Grimm - heike.grimm@uni-erfurt.de

Objectives and Scientific Relevance of the panel

Call for papers

Session 1 The Emergence of Public Policy and Agenda Setting: Case Studies from the Global South

Addressing maternal mortality in Cambodia: the role of politics and evidence in policy-making

Helen Walls - helenwalls@gmail.com - London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine - United Kingdom

Marco Liverani - marco.liverani@lshtm.ac.uk - United Kingdom

Keovathanak Khim - kkvathanak@gmail.com - University of Health Sciences - Cambodia

Justin Parkhurst - j.parkhurst@lse.ac.uk - London School of Economics and Political Science - United Kingdom

Much of the support for the ‘evidence-based policy’ movement widely embraced in the health community draws from concern that policy decisions are often based on inadequate engagement with ‘high-quality’ evidence. In many such discussions, evidence is assumed to improve decisions if it can only be used more, with evidentiary quality evaluated solely on the basis of its rigour in demonstrating causal effects. In contrast, policy scholars have described this as an overly simplistic view of the policy-making process, noting that research ‘use’ can mean a variety of things, and with multiple competing interests shaping which pieces of evidence are seen as relevant to a decision. More insightful analyses of policy-making processes can be derived from an-explicitly political approach to policy analysis; one cognizant of the complex nature of policy-making systems and informed by theories of policy change. Drawing on in-depth interviews undertaken in 2015/16 with key health sector stakeholders in Cambodia and a related documentary analysis, we reflect on the implementation of a particular health policy – Cambodia’s Government Midwifery Incentive Scheme (GMIS), a government initiated and funded performance-based financing mechanism aimed at motivating skilled birth attendants (or trained health personnel) to promote deliveries in public health facilities. In particular, this paper explores why this particular policy approach – an incentives-based approach rather than more structural change designed to addressing maternal mortality – was implemented, and to what extent and how this decision was informed by evidence. There was little clear indication of a rigorous or contextually-specific evidence base, but rather the decision appears to have been made from the highest levels of government. To understand why policy-makers chose this particular intervention, we found John Kingdon’s Policy Streams approach to be useful to help identify explanatory factors; as three ‘streams’ of problem identification, political will, and an acceptable solution appeared to converge for the decision process. Here, a higher than desired maternal mortality ratio indicated the problem, the global prioritisation of the issue within the Millennium Development Goals (and the government’s pressure to achieve those goals) reflected the politics of the issues, and the existence of pay-for-performance approaches in health economics in general that could be developed into the GMIS specifically presented a clear ‘solution’. The choice of intervention looked little like the result of a rigorous ‘evidence-informed’ approach to addressing a policy issue as it did not appear to reflect a rigorous or systematic review of empirical evidence and other alternatives as evidence champions often advocate, but rather appeared to reflect the convergence of a clearly identified problem with political will and a solution acceptable within the parameters of the particular policy-making context, as described by Kingdon’s approach.

Policy Reforms in Turbulent Times: The Politics of Agenda Setting in Nepal after the Restoration of Multiparty Democracy in 1990

Ram Ghimire - ram.ghimire@anu.edu.au - Australian National University - Australia

Public policy has become an increasingly complex, multi-dimensional and highly contextual field of study. Policy-making today is not simply an authoritative allocation of values. It is no more a monopoly of the state. A number of state and non-state actors, stakeholders and interest groups with varied interests, beliefs, cultures, motives, incentives and power relationships compete with each other to incorporate their ideas, values, interests and preferences in the policy agenda. Therefore, agenda setting is essentially a political process where different policy actors, stakeholders and interest groups within and outside the government are engaged in defining and redefining policy problems, disseminating ideas, values and interests among the general public and effectively drawing attention of the policy-makers in government.

A large body of research on agenda setting focuses media studies, information dissemination and public deliberation where interest groups, think-tanks and political entrepreneurs are more influential than the political parties. The mainstream literature is also biased to the US and other developed countries. It fails to recognize contextual dynamism of many developing countries where media is less vibrant, civic engagement is considerably low and effective public deliberation is almost non-existent. In these countries state-society relations largely determine the roles, rules and behaviour of different policy actors and stakeholders which is crucial in explaining the dynamic process of agenda setting. Similarly, political interactions and citizen responses are heavily influenced by regime types. It also influences political leaders and bureaucratic executives’ incentives to initiate policy reforms. Political-bureaucratic interface has significant influence on agenda setting process as it determines the degree of personalized rules and dominance of unofficial relationships between the political leaders and senior civil servants. Similarly, international donors have influential role in agenda setting of policy reforms through aid negotiations, technical assistance and monitoring and evaluation of development projects in developing countries. Existing research on agenda setting has overlooked many of these pertinent issues.

Against this backdrop this paper focuses on agenda setting of policy reforms in developing countries with special reference to Nepal, a relatively less studied country, to contextualize agenda setting dynamics from aid-dependant developing countries’ perspectives highlighting the political, social and administrative context in the post-liberalization era (1990 onwards). Guided by the following research questions, it examines the politics of agenda setting in Nepal across three different policies: civil service rightsizing, privatization of public enterprises and anti-corruption reforms.

1. Where and how did the reform agenda originate?
2. To what extent were the reform agenda adopted?
This study aims to contribute to the existing body of theoretical and empirical knowledge on agenda setting process. It employs mixed methods research design using both primary and secondary data as an evidence to support the arguments with the help of a questionnaire survey, three thematic focus group discussions and 100 elite interviews representing a wide range of policy actors along with an extensive review of relevant policy documents for the last 26 years.


Dynamics of Agenda-setting: Institutions, Media and Electoral Impacts in the Creation of Policy Windows in India

Maitreyee Mukherjee - moitrebagchi@gmail.com - Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS - Singapore

-submitted by Maitreyee Mukherjee, PhD candidate, LKYSPP, Singapore.


Agenda setting is a crucial step in policy cycle, whereby important issues get highlighted and receive government attention. Understanding the pattern of interactions that focuses government’s attention over one or few issues out of a possibly large cluster, might be useful in management of future agendas (Howlett, 1997). Furthermore, this knowledge can help academicians as well as policy practitioners to better formulate policy tools in bringing important issues to government focus.

While studies dealing with various aspects of agenda setting dynamics have been carried out mostly in western nations, there is a dearth of similar research in Asian countries. To address this gap, my paper investigates the nature of issue-attention dynamics in India, specifically the roles played by two key actors, i.e. media and institutions. In addition, I also look into how political interests (created by election cycles) are instrumental in opening up of policy windows to initiate policy agenda.

This paper examines patterns of agenda setting addressing the Ganges river pollution and its abatement in India, over a span of two decades[1]. The Ganges is one of the largest and most complicated trans boundary river basin systems. It is also among the top ten most polluted rivers in the world. The river has enormous cultural and religious significance for the nation and comprise of great economic as well as ecological wealth to the region.

The Indian government had initiated efforts to clean the river back in 1985 with Ganga Action Plan I. However, this and subsequent action plans[2] had little impact on water quality and other ecological parameters of the basin. Once GAP I and II ceased to function post 2000, issues related to the Ganges slowly faded out of public as well as governmental agenda. Eventually wide-spread media attention, along with collective pressures from environmentalists, religious leaders, inter-national agencies and policy entrepreneurs forced the Indian government to revive the Ganges clean-up project under fresh leadership and organizational capacities in 2008. The ruling political leadership has vowed to deliver a visibly clean river by year 2019.

The paper analyses time-series data gathered on the frequency of mentions of Ganges pollution-related topics in parliamentary as well as public or media discussions in the country over the period of 1996-2016. It uses time series case plot analysis and cross-correlation functions to evaluate the nature of agenda setting dynamics in India. Findings suggest that the pattern of agenda-setting in this case-study showed characteristics of punctuated equilibrium (Baumgartner and Jones, 1991) over the time period examined. Moreover existence of an institutionalized policy window opening could also be identified in two instances, which happened to coincide with election years.


Baumgartner, F. R., & Jones, B. D. (1991). Agenda dynamics and policy subsystems. The journal of Politics, 53(04), 1044-1074.


Howlett, M. (1997). Issue-attention and punctuated equilibria models reconsidered: An empirical examination of the dynamics of agenda-setting in Canada. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 30(01), 3-29.

[1] 1996-2016. This period was chosen due to availability of data and also significant policy related activities ensued during this time.
[2] Ganga Action Plan I (GAP I) ran between 1985-2000

Ganga Action Plan II(GAP II) ran between 1991-2001

Who Sets the Agenda in Kazakhstan? Identifying the key actor for economic diversification

Mergen Dyussenov - mergend7@gmail.com - Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy - Singapore



The proposed article, as applied to the context of Kazakhstan, seeks to answer a major question that persists in current agenda-setting debates: who sets the current policy agenda in economic diversification, in 2012-2016? As a broad literature review suggests with regard to a wide range of policy issues, among the major actors across different nations, media seems to exert key agenda-setting influence, though the public (collectively viewed as non-experts) has also grown in influence especially with emergence of the internet in much of the developed, and increasingly across developing, world. Finally, academia and think tanks, collectively experts, also tend to exert agenda-setting influence for some issues, often socially controversial issues and those with scientific uncertainty.


The research methodology includes: using certain think tanks’ web-sites to collect observed trends in the number of publications as a proxy for attention dynamics and conducting the content analysis of these publications; Scopus database to trace scholarly articles as a proxy of academic attention; Nexis Lexis to trace media publications as a proxy for attention dynamics, with content analysis of articles; and use of Google search (filtered for blogs)[1] to trace comments of the wider public on e-blogs and/or media articles related to economic diversification in Kazakhstan. Based on tracing longitudinal trends over the period 2012-2016, the analysis would allow identifying the key actor (or actors) that actually sets the policy agenda in the context of Kazakhstan.


Economic diversification remains a crucial issue that persists across developing nations, Kazakhstan included. Particularly, this issue remains crucial in Kazakh current policy agenda since the petroleum sector’s share is about 60% of total national exports as of 2016 (KazMunaiGaz 2016). Although agenda-setting is viewed as the most critical stage of the policy process (Howlett et al. 2009) that determines its subsequent stages (Peters 2015), there appears to be a persistent scarcity of agenda-setting research in the context of Kazakhstan. The present paper, therefore, seeks to fill this gap. A vital policy implication is to allow the Kazakh government and the public to clearly identify the most influential actor in setting the policy agenda for economic diversification to better craft a set of relevant policies, taking this player’s interests into consideration. This would significantly improve budget allocation efficiency, with further implications to democratic governance, and further strengthening national competitiveness.


[1] Google has recently disabled its Blog search engine, so now it offers instead Google news search that can be filtered by specifically selecting blogs. http://searchengineland.com/google-blog-search-now-within-google-news-search-202202





Howlett, M., Ramesh M, & Perl, A. (2009). Studying public policy: Policy cycles & policy

     subsystems (3rd ed.). Don Mills, Ont; Oxford: Oxford University Press.


KazMunaiGaz (2016). Oil and gas sector. Retrieved from:



Peters, B. G. (2015). Advanced introduction to public policy. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar

Session 2 The Emergence of Public Policy and Agenda Setting: Theories, Tools and Application in a Global South Context

Understanding Policy Change within CITES Convention through the lens of Advocacy Coalition Framework

Remi Chandran - chandran.remi@nies.go.jp - National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES) - Japan


Formulating policies on conservation and trade can be complex and addressing such complexity by means of a rationalistic policy approach alone seems to be inadequate. As conservation and trade policy processes are influenced by macro- and micro-level changes caused by attributes within or external to the policy domain. The purpose of this article is to understand the policy making process within the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Flora and Fauna (CITES). The volatility of the convention also brings it to the attention of international policy researchers on how the 181-member state convention deals with the often conflicting and contradicting policies pushed by member states.  In an attempt to understand the policy process within CITES, this article examines the wildlife-trade[1] subsystem by using Advocacy Coalition Framework as a theoretical framework of policy change based on the beliefs and behaviours of individual actors or groups of actors working within the wildlife policy making domain. The need for understanding the policy process is specifically important as no study has conceptualized the interactions of beliefs and its influence to a policy process within CITES over time (during a time span of more than a decade) as well as the role of coalitions and other external factors in influencing the wildlife–trade policy subsystem.

Public Policy and Ideation: The Case of Pakistan

Butt Dr. Atif Ikram - atif@ccp-pakistan.org.pk - Center for Communication Programs Pakistan - Pakistan

The history of public policy is as old as the notion of a ‘government’. The scholarly quest of developing a deeper understanding on how and why public policies evolve is also at least two centuries old. Yet, existing theories of public policy fall short of capturing the politics and environment of policymaking in developing countries and characterise features such as those represented by the United States or the continental Europe. By taking the case of Pakistan, the paper fills-in this theoretical gap through post-empirical analysis of social-sector policymaking.


The paper studies underlying motivations and the role of ideation in policymaking. It is not concerned with how effective the policymaking process is or how impactful its results might be; rather it is an exploration of those factors that become basis for policy actors, whether inside or outside the decision making circles, for making certain policy choices over others. In other words, the research is aimed at producing knowledge of the policy process, that is how and why of policymaking, rather than knowledge in the policy process which is referred to analysis and evaluation of policies.


By applying the case study approach and qualitatively studying the three social-sector legislations in Pakistan, the research brings out several key findings to substantiate the enormous promise ideational institutionalism holds for studying policymaking process in countries of grey-zone. The paper lays out essential features of ideational institutionalism by introducing and applying an ideational framework of public policy, which combines cognitive, normative and material dimensions behind a policy decision. The paper advances the scholarship in policy studies with an interest in ideas and discourse for overcoming theoretical shortcomings.  

The issue of the dying patient in Israel in light of Kingdon's streams model

Michal Neubauer-Shani - shneke@hotmail.com - Ashkelon Academic College - Israel

Omri Shamir - shamiro1@zahav.net.il - Ashkelon Academic College - Israel

The issue of the end of life in the context of death with dignity has been gathering broad public resonance in recent decades, in light of technological developments that steadily raise the average life expectancy, and in light of the deepening internalization of the liberal rights discourse in society.

Some countries have already regulated it in various ways (for example, Oregon legalized assisted suicide in 1998). Nevertheless, until 2000, this issue was not regulated in Israel, leaving it in the hands of the court system. That year, it was raised to the policy agenda when the Israeli Health Minister Benizri, announced the establishment of a public professional committee to compile a comprehensive bill on the matter. The committee’s work led to a process of thorough legislation that was concluded at the end of 2005, when the Dying Patient Law underwent a second and third reading in the Israeli Parliament.

The process of placing the issue of the patient nearing death on the policymakers’ agenda in Israel (2005), where it reached the legislation process invites a fascinating examination of  John Kingdon's agenda-setting model.

 This case-study validates Kingdon’s model by exhibiting the dynamic in which, the elements ('streams') were aligned at a certain critical time through a policy window of opportunity, all  conducted by three policy entrepreneurs inside and outside of the Israeli political system.

Likewise, it shows that the process is not rational and therefore is characterized by simultaneous occurrences rather than chronological stages.

Nevertheless, Kingdon’s model was formulated in the American political context and therefore is local in terms of applicability to other countries. Furthermore, Kingdon’s model does not recognize the influence of specific factors on various policy issues, thus reducing its applicability to different areas in public policy. This paper highlights the unique characteristics of the Israeli context in regard to the agenda-setting process, thus enabling the adoption of the model. Likewise it pointed at the specific factors, which influence the venue of state-religion issues in Israel, thus decreasing its over generalization.

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