Setting the Advocacy Agenda: Theorizing Issue Emergence and Nonemergence in Transnational Advocacy Networks


  • Author's note: Grant support for the research on which this study is based was provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the University of Pittsburgh's Central Research Development Fund, and the National Science Foundation's Human and Social Dynamics Program under grant #SES 0432844. The Ford Institute of Human Security at University of Pittsburgh, the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and Graduate Institute of International Studies at University of Geneva generously provided facilities space and in-kind support for the collection of focus group data. I gratefully acknowledge the research assistance of Robert Filar, Luke Gerdes, Betcy Jose-Thota, Chris Moran, Marianne Nichols, and Robyn Wheeler; Stuart Shulman's invaluable advice regarding qualitative data analysis software; the helpful suggestions of Vera Achvarina, Lisa Alfredson, David Bearce, Clifford Bob, Daniel Chong, Jack Donnelly, Michael Goodhart, John Mendeloff, Joel Oestreich, Simon Reich, Ben Rubin Nita Rudra, Laura Sjoberg, Dan Thomas, the ISQ editors and several anonymous reviewers on an earlier draft of this project; and the willingness of all the human rights advocates and humanitarian practitioners who shared their insights, opinions, and experiences. Coded web content and link analysis on which this study is based is available as an Atlas.ti copy bundle and an .xls file respectively from the author's project website at


A proliferating literature in IR theory documents the impact of transnational advocacy networks on global public policy making. We know little, however, about the process by which advocacy networks select issues around which to mobilize in the first place. This paper aims to develop a framework for analyzing variation in issue emergence by comparing two prominent issues in the transnational network around children and armed conflict (child soldiers and girls in war) to an issue absent from this advocacy sphere (the protection needs of children born as a result of wartime rape). This variation is not easily explained by extant hypotheses about issue emergence, which suggests the need for rigorous research on both positive and negative outcomes in global agenda setting. I conclude with several suggestions toward that end.