The failure of governments to respond to public issues to the satisfaction of their citizens is often rooted in lapses originating in the agenda setting stage. Firstly, many critical policy problems fail to feature in official policy agendas as compared to relatively minor concerns. Secondly, the poor framing of public problems often preoccupies policymakers with ineffective and/ or wasteful policy solutions. Though public managers are well positioned to tackle these issues; in reality this potential remains largely untapped for many reasons. This includes the common view that their responsibility lies outside the purview of political and technical considerations that characterize agenda setting and is instead limited to administrative and organizational tasks. Agenda setting concerns the process by which governments decide which issues need their attention, and focuses on, among other things, the determination and definition of what constitutes the problem that subsequent policy actions are intended to resolve.
Agenda setting is sometimes also defined as the process by which public demands are translated into items that governments consider for action. Empirical evidence however has shown that the source of this demand has largely been from within the government rather than social groups. In either case, however public managers must understand how demands for policy action can arise and are placed on the formal agenda of government. Three key features characterize agenda setting: (1) the process is non-linear, (2) is both political as well as technical and (3) it takes places within a complex network of state and societal actors (Xun et al, 2010). Tools such as initiation of consultations, surveys and setting indicators can aid in agenda setting.