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Madison, WI 53726
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Urban Natural Resources Stewardship

Rapid Issue Tracking: Taking the Pulse of Media Attention and Public Discussion

Research Issue

It can be difficult to know how much attention – and what kind of attention – a particular issue or problem is getting in the media and among the general public.  For researchers, environmental communication professionals, and other decision makers, it is especially useful to get such information in a timely manner.

Our Research

We developed a method for quickly "taking the pulse" of online public and media discussions. Rapid Issue Tracking uses traditional news media, social media, and other textual data such as public comments received by an agency as the data source.

There are five basic steps in Rapid Issue Tracking:

  1. Define the problem or issue including timing, geographic focus, interested parties, and types of messages that are relevant.  In addition, identify any budget issues or constraints related to carrying out the data analysis.
  2. Identify appropriate online news sources.  For some issues, specialized news sources may be included.
  3. Develop search terms and download stories.  In identifying search terms, it is especially important to use non-technical language when appropriate in order to capture articles or references that use plain language.
  4. Analyze the textual data.  This is the most labor-intensive step even when commercial software is used to facilitate the process.
  5. Present the findings.  In most cases, a presentation or short report that summarizes the findings is expected.

As case studies, we used Rapid Issue Tracking to analyze media and public discussions of the Forest Service’s Recreation Site-Facility Master Planning process and the 2008 National Forest Management Act (NFMA) Planning Rule.

Expected Outcomes

The Rapid Issue Tracking methodology is applicable to a wide range of topics, not just natural resource management and policy. It provides decision makers with a timely and concise summary of the public discussion about important policy issues.

Research Results

Bengston, David N.; Fan, David P.; Reed, Patrick; Goldhor-Wilcock, Ashley.  2009.  Rapid issue tracking: A method for taking the pulse of the public discussion of environmental policy.   Environmental Communication 3(3): 367-385. 

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • David N. Bengston, Research Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station
  • David P. Fan, President of InfoTrend, Inc., and Professor of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development and Adjunct Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota

Research Partners

  • Patrick Reed, Human Dimensions National Program Assistant Lead, U.S. Forest Service, Washington Office
  • Ashley Goldhor-Wilcock, Human Dimensions National Program Lead, U.S. Forest Service, Washington Office

Last Modified: 10/20/2010