Agenda Setting in Polycentric Systems: A Theoretical Synthesis to Analyze Environmental Governance

32 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2015 Last revised: 14 Jan 2015

See all articles by Kris Hartley

Kris Hartley

Education University of Hong Kong

Date Written: January 13, 2015


Surging concern about climate change, terrorism, and financial crises in the past decade has underscored the relevance of governance systems that transcend jurisdictional boundaries and institutional barriers. With the spread of democratization, these systems are now under increasing pressure to accommodate multiple stakeholders in both policy development and service delivery. The polycentricity literature has been used to examine collective action within certain types of such systems. However, there is scope for further theoretical refinement through the systematic incorporation of agenda setting, the first stage of the policy cycle as defined in the literature (Lasswell 1956; Howlett, Ramesh, and Perl 1995). Applying Real-Dato’s (2009) synthetic framework for literature evaluation, this study identifies complementarities and divergences between polycentricity and agenda setting, making the case for an analytical approach that combines both. The paper begins by proposing a consensus definition of agenda setting that can be used to test for coverage in the polycentricity literature. It then overlays theories representing each: Kingdon’s (1995) multiple streams for agenda setting, and Ostrom’s (2007) IAD framework for polycentricity. Finally, the combined framework is used to explore two case studies of grassroots environmental activism in polycentric situations, each having characteristics that test the explanatory capacity of polycentricity, agenda setting, and the combination thereof. This comparison traces the progress of agendas through the institutional ecology, linking governance structure with policy change. This paper’s contribution is theoretical novelty from a methodical synthesis of related literatures, and it intends to prompt further discussion about innovative governance models informed by theoretical integration.

Keywords: agenda setting; polycentricity; institutional analysis; environmental governance

Suggested Citation

Hartley, Kris, Agenda Setting in Polycentric Systems: A Theoretical Synthesis to Analyze Environmental Governance (January 13, 2015). Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Research Paper No. 15-11, Available at SSRN: or

Kris Hartley (Contact Author)

Education University of Hong Kong ( email )

Hong Kong
Hong Kong

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