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Researcher explores relative prominence of global policy issues

| Friday, October 2, 2015

In a lecture Thursday, Charli Carpenter argued certain issues garner more global policy attention than others owing to the nature of human security networks and issue framing within these networks.

Carpenter, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in national security and agenda setting , discussed the findings of her book, “Lost Causes: Agenda Vetting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security,” during the lecture sponsored by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

Carpenter said she questioned why certain issues — such as HIV and land mines — received greater attention from global organizations, while others were almost ignored. Carpenter said she “wanted to develop a more systematic answer to that question.”

“I think it’s really good for political scientists to think about where issues came from,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said she approached the problem by coding for search results on global issues and human security through Internet search pages, as well as speaking with “advocacy elites” to understand why different issues were given different amounts of attention. Based on her results, Carpenter concluded human security networks were largely responsible for determining which issues were adopted by different organizations.

Carpenter said while theorists tended to define human security networks as states involved with the prevention of genocide, she defined these networks as composed of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and powerful human rights organizations and non-profits.

“I’m using it [the definition of human security networks] to describe empirically measurable relationships between actors and issues most closely associated with the concept of human security,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said factors within human security networks such as issue-framing, broader context, and ties among organizations in human security networks played a large role in determining which issues were considered more salient. In her research, she examined how three different advocacy campaigns that had garnered little initial attention were treated within human security networks and how this later affected the issues these campaigns were addressing.

“By studying and coding 18 different advocacy networks, we found out that one reason why you see some issues not being paid attention to in the network is the power of very specific organizations,” she said.

“ … What I wanted to do as well is not just stop there and say network effects matter, but do some case studies to figure out how they matter in different issue areas.”

Carpenter said one of the cases she examined — a campaign by the Washington D.C.-based organization, Center for Civilians in Conflict — had previously garnered little attention because of how different powerful NGO’s were initially wary of supporting the issue. She said the campaign, originally slated as one seeking civilian compensation for victims of violent conflict, later gained success after reframing it as a civilian protection campaign and significantly changed its goals.

“These cases in different ways illustrate aspects of the same theme, which is that networks and what’s going on inside networks matters a lot in shaping advocacy agendas,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter noted her research in her book suggests that while individual entrepreneurs and advocates for different causes are influential, how their causes are received in human security networks is critical in understanding effective advocacy for different issues.

“The big message here is that network effects matter in advocacy and big decision-making alongside other factors,” Carpenter said.

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