Molitor’s “Emerging Issues”

At a conceptual level Molitor’s (2010)“22-step Model for Tracking and Forecasting Public Policy Change” can be applied to areas other than public policy. For, as he states in the article’s abstract “Things don’t just happen. A cascade of incremental developments and pressures coalesce and help to shape destiny”.

Broadly, his model has three stages:

  • Framing topics:                 situation, ideas, events
  • Advancing change:          change agents, communication, catalysts
  • Resolving issues:              informal acceptance, general accommodation, rule establishment

Schulz (2006) argued, using an adaptation of Molitor’s model, that the weak signals of emerging issues are indeed the portents of change that are experienced by all. That there is indeed a lifecycle of an issue and that this lifecycle has a path from its genesis through catalysts to being an accepted aspect of life.

So, for the purposes of issue capture threshold, the stages of Molitor’s model provide guidance. For an issue to be classified as emerging  a pattern of related events, of which the public is generally unaware of, needs to be identified. This identification process views the progression of idea, to innovation, to event as a continuum. Thus it can be seen that an issue that is already publicly accepted, or indeed in the process of creating change, could no longer be classified as an emerging issue.

Molitor argues that this process of issue tracking can reveal fundamental empirical and measurable quantitative forces for change. He states that a solid understanding of the issue’s context is foundational in realising high quality forecasts.

One of the difficulties of this model is in the precision with which one can place an issue. One needs to be fully cognisant of the extent of the issues acceptance in order to arrive at a suitable classification

Although there are problems with this model, it is a valuable tool from a Strategic Foresight perspective in terms of determining trend timescales and impact scope of any particular issue.


Molitor, G. (2010). “Timeline 22-Step Model for Tracking and Forecasting Public Policy Change”, Journal of Futures Studies, March 2010, 14(3): 1 – 12

Schulz, W (2006). “The cultural contradictions of managing change: using horizon scanning in an evidence-based policy context”, Foresight, vol 8, no 4 pp 3-12]

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