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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Politics

Undergraduate Course: Public Policy: Agenda-Setting (PLIT10100)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course introduces the field of agenda-setting within public policy research. Agenda-setting as the name suggests focuses on how and why some issues receive political attention when others do not. This is central both to understanding policy change and political competition. The course makes use interactive datasets designed to familiarize students with statistical analyses.
Course description Agenda-setting as the name suggests focuses on how and why some issues receive political attention when others do not. This is central both to understanding policy change and political competition. Studies of agenda-setting continue to make progress building on early discussions of conflict expansion, the power of keeping items off the agenda, path dependence, bounded rationality and the importance of policy windows just to name a few. Newer comparative studies have also focused on the dynamic nature of political agendas more and more in recent years. These studies not only look at what is and what is not on the agenda, but how the agenda changes after long periods of stability.

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the agenda-setting literature as it relates to public policy as a bridge into quantitative methods training. To accomplish this classic and new works in the field of agenda-setting will be discussed and students will use the knowledge gained in the class to analyse policies that interest them through a final essay. The course will makes use of demonstrations and data from the Comparative Agendas Project Database ( It will also explain the intuition of a variety of statistical techniques covered in the course readings including linear regression, time series analysis and stochastic process methods.

No prior statistical training is necessary in order to be successful in this course which is intended as a bridge between students¿ substantive training and their understanding of quantitative political research using a variety of easily accessible comparative datasets.

Students will be expected to use graphical and/or tabular statistical evidence in their essays to help make their arguments through either a quantitative or qualitative research design.

Outline content
1. An Introduction to Policy Agendas
We start with introduce the agenda-setting research through an interactive overview of the Comparative Agendas Project (CAP) website that contains easy to access tools for assessing policy attention cross-nationally.

2. Power and Elitism
Power and who has it when it comes to determining the course of political agendas is a classic, but fundamental question in political science. We will take the first step towards answering not only who has power over political agendas, but what power itself actually means.

3. Agenda-Setting Foundations
This theme focuses on the efforts to build a model of attention noting where it originates, how it functions and importantly why it fades.

4. The Garbage Can
The Garbage Can Model introduces and discusses the various streams of information and power that exist in the policy-making process.

5. Punctuated Equilibrium
For decades the common theory of policy-making was and in many ways still is incrementalism, where most if not all policy changes occur through a long process of progressive changed marked by institutional friction and uncertainly. However, a few, but quite significant policy changes are made across political systems with amazing speed. Punctuated equilibrium theory, a concept borrowed from evolutionary theory reconciles these two opposing facts into a single theory of policy-making.

6. Power Laws and Threshold Models
Following the introduction of punctuated equilibrium we will take a brief step back to focus on key theories concerning the nature of attention in business, marketing and patterns in political outcomes to explain common patterns in human behavior.

7. A Model of Choice
Our focus on decision-making processes will draw on the work of Noble Prize Winner Herbert Simon and the introduction and expansion of bounded rationality within agenda-setting research. Marked by a cognitively and practically limited ability to use information, bounded rationality provides a fundamental key to understanding decision-making.

8. Heresthetics and Venue-shopping
Sometimes agenda-setting is about changing the state of play. Heresthetics and Venue-shopping mark the process and ability for key actors to manipulate people and institutions to achieve their desired outcomes by changing processes and communication.

9. Party Effects
Much of political science focuses on how much political parties matter. Much of agenda-setting finds how little they affect attention. We will explore these seemingly contradictory findings by discussing how and when political parties affect attention and why.

10. New and New-Old Directions in Agenda-Setting
Despite laying claim to one of the few theoretical laws in social science research, the accuracy and direction of agenda-setting research is constantly developing. To close the course we will focus on recent work that questions and pushes the boundaries of agenda-setting research.

Student Learning experience
This course is designed as an honours seminar. While it will contain some lecture content, the majority of every class will depend on a high level of student participation including guided questions and open, but respectful discussions. The study of agenda-setting is still very much a developing concept and in order to understand it continual discussion as well as new observations are needed. I fully encourage students to draw on outside theories, their experiences and from insights from other disciplines (as much of the agenda-setting research does) throughout the course and its assesments.

The course is hands-on, taught through lectures and seminars. You will conduct your own research into intoxication and write it up for assessment. It is taught through in-class activities and ethnographic work outside of class. I encourage you to make connections between theory, research and public policy. The course is cross-discipline and open to students with backgrounds in social sciences, natural sciences and the humanities.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: Introduction to Politics and International Relations (PLIT08004) OR Politics in a Changing World: An Introduction for non-specialists (PLIT08012) OR Politics and International Relations 1A: Concepts and Debates (PLIT08017)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Students who lack the compulsory pre-requisites but have completed comparable courses should contact the Course Organiser to confirm if they are eligible to take this course.
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 4 Politics/International Relations courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses.

** as numbers are limited, visiting students should contact the Visiting Student Section for admission to this course **
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  30
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 90 %, Practical Exam 10 %
Additional Information (Assessment) A combination of a final research paper (60%), reaction paper (30%) and student participation (10%).
Feedback Assessment for this course will include a final paper based on theories, data and methods covered in the course (research project 60%), a reaction paper based course readings aimed at improving writing skills (written assessment 30%) and in class participation marked by the level of involvement in course discussions (practical exam 10%).
Students are free to choose any policy area(s) or dataset(s) that interests them for use in their final project subject to my approval. In addition, the content of student¿s reaction papers are also chosen by students based off the themes and readings in the course. Combined the reaction and final papers are designed to assist students in writing original evidence based research similar to a dissertation project.
Formative assessment: Students will be asked to submit a general topic and dataset in the middle of the course via e-mail. While unmarked, I will offer feedback and suggestions to the best of my ability to help develop their final papers.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Become familiar with the Comparative Agendas Project coding system and data through the Project website¿s documentation and resources (e.g. Trend Analysis Tool, Codebooks) as a gateway between substantive knowledge and statistical skills.
  2. Gain an understanding of theories of power, elitism and decision-making that drive agenda-setting processes and relate these to contemporary and historical examples.
  3. Develop an ability to assess complex and interrelated systems that form the policy-making process
  4. Learn how to present and development testable hypotheses by matching theory to data and method.
  5. Communicate a detailed and reasoned argument through the use of the scientific method and supporting data based on qualitative and/or quantitative methods
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills The course will teach students to be independent learners and researchers that take responsibility for the arguments they put forth.
Students will learn a variety of both new and old ideas theories as well as methodologies throughout the course and combined introduction to statistics.
Through their final papers students will need to make careful decisions on the basis of rigorous and independent thought in order to present a well-reasoned argument.
In class discussions as well as each aspect of the course assessment will require careful debate and argumentation.
Many of the theories and methods discussed in the course will be unfamiliar to students and test their ability to adapt to new ideas and situations.
Students will be expected to have a clear plan and goal for their final paper working towards it throughout the course and its various assessments.
KeywordsAgenda-Setting,Public Policy,Comparative Politics,Institutions,Data,Statistics
Course organiserDr Shaun Bevan
Course secretaryMr James Heitler
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