Understanding Public Policy Agenda Setting Using the 4 P’s Model: Power, Perception, Potency and Proximity

This briefing note belongs to a series on the various models used in political science to represent public policy development processes. Note that the purpose of these briefing notes is not to refine an existing model. Our purpose is rather to suggest how each of these models constitutes a useful interpretive lens that can guide reflection and action leading to the production of healthy public policies.

In addition to the news or to unforeseen events that may arise daily, policy makers have to grapple with a multiplicity of evolving demands coming from numerous actors on all sides. These unfolding events and ongoing demands all compete for their attention and struggle to get placed on the government agenda. However, given a context of limited resources (cognitive, financial, temporal, etc.), choices have to be made. In the field of public policy analysis, the term “agenda setting,”1 denotes this initial stage during which a “list” is formed of various subjects that decision makers, such as elected officials and senior public servants, intend to examine. The (sometimes unconscious) selection of these subjects is fundamental, because a subject that is absent from the “list” is a subject about which decisions cannot be made. In brief, the study of agenda setting concerns the ranking of government priorities. It enables understanding of why, given competition between social issues of concern, some elicit a more or less immediate political response.
Inversely, the political science literature on agenda setting also allows us to understand why certain issues or problems are ignored, and tend to fall under the radar.

This briefing note presents the conceptual model based on the 4 P's (power, perception, potency and proximity) proposed by Zahariadis (2016) to elucidate the agenda-setting process2. First, in an overview of the theoretical literature, we present certain facets of political reality to contextualize political decision-making. Next, the 4 P’s are presented to spark reflection among public health actors (practitioners, professionals and managers working in public or community health organizations) interested in developing their ability to get certain issues relevant to public health placed on the agenda.

  1. The political science literature presents the stages of public policy analysis in the following order: agenda setting, formulation, decision making (or adoption), implementation and evaluation.
  2. This model was developed by Zahariadis to provide a simple understanding of the main determinants of agenda setting identified in previous theoretical studies.
Understanding Public Policy Agenda Setting Using the 4 P’s Model: Power, Perception, Potency and Proximity



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