Beyond the visible policy agenda: Problem definitions disappearing from the agenda as nondecisions

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In the agenda-setting process, prior to the decision-making process, there is a predecisional process whereby some issues are systematically blocked by powerful actors from being placed on the formal agenda. These issues are termed nondecisions. This article argues that the predecisional process exists not only at the issue level but also at the level of problem definitions. Because of the empirical challenge of studying problem definitions that are not on the formal agenda, the article suggests examining problem definitions that were on the formal agenda and then disappeared from it. Such problem definitions can be termed nondecisions when their disappearance is due to latent power mechanisms, such as anticipated reactions or information control. The article tests these arguments using two American policy cases: prescription drug prices and child care. In so doing, it sheds light on the predecisional process and expands our understanding of the politics of problem definitions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-95
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Public Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2018.


  • agenda-setting
  • nondecisions
  • policy process
  • power
  • problem definitions


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