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About The Project

History and Development of the Project

In response to a clear need for better measurement of key concepts in the study of public policy, Bryan Jones and Frank Baumgartner initiated the Policy Agendas Project in 1993. It is now located in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. Jones and Baumgartner began the project to address an inability of scholars and policymakers to trace changes in policy activity within particular policymaking areas across longer periods of time. This difficulty was due to the lack of consistent and reliable measures of policymaking activity within policy categories. For example, how would one have confidence that more congressional hearings were held on welfare policies in 1975 than in 2005 (or vice versa)?

Without reliable measures of the occurrences of various policymaking activities that are comparable across time, policy scholars were not able to assess rigorously the extent to which activities had changed from one time period to another. As a consequence, the Policy Agendas Project developed a coding scheme utilizing 19 major topic and 225 subtopic codes. Codes are assigned based on policy content and are mutually exclusive and exhaustive. All activities are categorized, and each item (such as a congressional hearing) is assigned one and only one category.

The approach roughly approximates that used by economists to assess the value of goods and services within particular areas of the economy, a system referred to as the National Income and Products Accounts, and tabulated by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (http://www.bea.gov/national/). How do we know that health care consumes a higher proportion of GDP today than twenty years ago? How do we know that health care in the US consumes more than in other nations? Assessing growth in a particular economic sector requires reliable measures of the value of outputs in that sector. Similarly, assessing changes in policymaking activity from one time to another requires a similar system of measurement. The Policy Agendas Project offers such a system, and the Comparative Policy Agendas Project generalizes that system to a growing list of other countries. The process of making sure that all countries are measuring similar policy content in their category systems is an ongoing task, and the country projects (including the American project) are currently (2013) adjusting their coding systems to ensure comparability.

The Policy Agendas Project actively maintains ten data series, all coded by the same consistent and reliable coding system. This allows comparing policy activity within a single series at different points in time and activity at the same point in time across two different series. The series include Congressional hearings, public laws, roll call votes, Congressional Quarterly coverage, Presidential State of the Union speeches, Executive Orders, Supreme Court cases, a sample of New York Times articles, and Gallup’s Most Important Problem public opinion series. In addition, the Project tabulates Congressional Budget Authority using the Office of Management and Budget’s categorization. We also work with the Congressional Bills Project to make available Congressional bills introduced, and with James Stimson to make available Policy Moods opinion data on an issue-by-issue basis. The total number of observations across all series is almost 260,000 (over 500,000 including Congressional bills).

Having consistent measures across time is but the first step in understanding the policy dynamics that account for policy change. Policy scholars employ both statistical and qualitative analyses to assess the causal relations underlying the changes that are described by the Policy Agendas datasets.

Funding

This project is made possible with support from the National Science Foundation, the University of Texas at Austin,University of Washington, the Pennsylvania State University and Texas A&M University.

By the Numbers

Datasets available for download: 12
Observations (all datasets): 500,371
Observations (all datasets, excluding Congressional Bills): 256,282
Vistors per year (June 2012-June 2013): 31,832
Pageviews per year (June 2012-June 2013): 86,221
Average time spent using Trends Analysis tool (June 2012-June 2013): 3:27

Staff

The Policy Agendas Project and dataset updates are made possible by the work of a number of affiliated faculty as well as graduate student fellows and undergraduate research fellows at the University of Texas.  Staff from the UT College of the Liberal Arts - ITS Services also provide the important ongoing development of our website.  Learn more about our staff here.

Additional Information

The UT Department of Government provides an overview of the Policy Agendas Project here, and the UT College of Liberal Arts features a story about the Project ("Visualizing Policy Agendas") here.