Advocates or honest information brokers? Examining the higher education public policy agenda-setting processes of intermediary organizations
- The Review of Higher Education
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 44, Number 3, Spring 2021
- pp. 325-355
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This multiple-site case study of 24 intermediary organizations (IOs) engaged in postsecondary public policy examined how they identify policy issues and move issues, problems, and solutions onto the higher education policy agenda. Specifically, this study used agenda-setting theory to examine how IOs construct higher education policy issues, problems, and solutions, and the processes they employ to set the higher education policy agenda. IO information production and use were of particular interest to this study. The findings demonstrate that IOs engage in multiple agenda-setting processes including coalition building, hosting convenings, storytelling, publishing policy agendas, and leveraging focusing events. Some IOs position themselves as honest information brokers without obvious political agendas; others deliberately advocate for policy change. Regardless of how they positioned themselves, all IOs examined in this study used information strategically—either information created by the IOs themselves or secondary data and information from other sources—to identify issues and construct problems and solutions. Previous to this study, research had explored the outcomes of IO agenda-setting activities including how they successfully promote interstate policy diffusion and influence the policy formation process. This study significantly uses agenda-setting theory to expose the processes IOs use to set the postsecondary policy agenda. The findings also surfaced an echo-chamber effect among IOs coalescing around a few issues (specifically, college access and affordability) at the exclusion of other issues that warrant policymaker attention such as Indigenous students which was prioritized by just one of the 24 IOs studied.