The Influence of Public and Media Attention on Policy: Applying the Issue-Attention Cycle to Radon in Canada
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Radon is the second leading cause of lung-cancer in Canada. This colourless, odorless, tasteless, radioactive gas can seep into homes through the cracks, joints, and gaps in the foundation. Radon gas can accumulate and when inhaled exposes a person’s lungs to alpha radiation and the products of the radon decay chain. Stakeholders across the country encourage radon testing and mitigation in an effort to address the second leading cause of lung cancer in Canada. Awareness campaigns such as Radon Action Month work against the dynamics of public attention as described by the issue-attention cycle and have potential agenda-setting implications. This research examines the influence of public and media attention on policy attention and subsequent policy action or inaction. The issue-attention cycle predicts that an increase in public attention to a problem raises awareness of the problem among policymakers and applies pressure, influencing policy attention and action. The multiple streams approach to agenda-setting integrates the agency of a policy entrepreneur, who promotes a policy idea, as well as describes the conditions that open a policy window, or the opportunity for policy action. It is proposed that the issue-attention cycle can open and close a policy window. The issue-attention cycle is applied to the human health risk of radon gas and the multiple streams approach to agenda-setting further augments the analysis. A review of traditional media, internet search trends, policy documents, and semi-structured interviews measures media, public, and policy attention. Policy action is measured through all proposed bills, passed or not, and regulations. Data is collected at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government and presented in time-series. Two periods of intense public and media attention are focused on for analysis, the first in 2014 and the second in 2017. The results indicate that attention to radon peaks sharply, but often lacks the gradual decline as described by the issue-attention cycle. Despite the dynamic of attention being different from the issue-attention cycle, there is still evidence that the increase in media and public attention influenced policy attention. Following the peak of attention in 2014, it is found that the National Radon Program was more successful at engaging provinces, municipalities, and other stakeholders such as lung associations. No policy entrepreneur is identified during this period of attention, and no policy action is measured. However, in 2017 policy action is measured as Alberta passed Bill 209 – Radon Awareness and Testing Act. A policy entrepreneur is proposed to exist in the province of Alberta but due to the limitations of this research it cannot be confirmed. This research adds to existing agenda setting knowledge, by applying concepts that have seen limited use in the Canadian context. The use of internet search trends is a modern measure of public attention that is direct and continuous. The measure can continue to contribute to policy research and the understanding of the competition for attention. In addition, much of the work in the radon space is to raise awareness and encourage testing and mitigation. Other similar issues could benefit by learning from the strategies employed to overcome biases and the use of media as a tool for building awareness.
DegreeMaster of Public Policy (M.P.P.)
DepartmentJohnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy
CommitteePhillips, Peter; Longo, Justin; McIntosh, Tom; Yang, Yang
Copyright DateApril 2021