Issue management

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Issues or issue management describes the systematic discussion of an organization (usually a company, but also authorities, parties, associations, etc.) with issues relating to their environment. The aim is to identify organizational issues that arise in public at an early stage and to react accordingly. This can be done by participating in the public opinion- forming process or by adapting organizational policy. In addition, measures by an organization to bring topics into public discussion themselves are part of issue management.

The term is also used in project management and software testing. There z. B. the problem management , the task management or the administration and processing of reported errors so called.



Companies face increasing turbulence in their environment. Globalization of the information and economic markets, social change in values and social differentiation , as well as the increasing abundance and faster dissemination of information in the media society lead to an increasing complexity and dynamism of the environmental conditions of a company and thus to an increase in relevant demands and topics that limit the Let a company expect room for maneuver. Complexity means that more and more areas of the environment are becoming relevant for a company, dynamism means the speed of change. The legitimacy and thus assertiveness of organizational interests is now being put to the test in a number of areas before public opinion.

Issues in this context are the mentioned claims and topics that are increasingly being brought to an organization. Supporters are stakeholders from the organizational environment. In other words, issues arise as a consequence of the meeting of the organization and the outside world. They represent the connection between the organization and the stakeholders . Social development produces trends and topics that are brought to a company by stakeholders and thus become issues. There is no equivalent in German for the word issue, it is usually translated as dispute, dispute, or contentious or essential point. It is therefore advisable to use the term in German as well. As a consensus of all proposed definitions, the following properties can be assumed for issues:

  • Public interest, d. H. Consequences beyond privacy
  • Conflict potential with regard to possible solutions, reference to values ​​or distribution
  • Influence on organizations and their options for action
  • Issues create a relationship between sub-publics and the organization
  • Connection with one or more events

After the "birth" of an issue, in which an issue is taken up by interest groups who thus become "issue raisers", an issue goes through a topic career that is usually represented as a life cycle:

  • Definition phase: the issue is recognized as a problem by the issue raiser
  • Legitimation phase: Issue raisers have to spread their concerns to the public by relating their project to the prevailing values .
  • Polarization phase: The issue enters the public discussion. This takes place primarily in the mass media , which simplify and polarize existing opinions on the topic in order to generate the greatest possible public interest.
  • Identification phase: Solutions are discussed publicly through the media dissemination. The participants identify with one of the common solutions and represent it from now on.
  • Solution: The critical issue is resolved through negotiation, adjustment or sovereign regulation. A solution is never final, but the issue enters a latent phase and can arise again at any time if the framework conditions change.

The later the phase of an issue, the fewer the options for action of the organization concerned and the higher the costs of possible reactions. At one point, the time pressure increases in order to be able to influence the process at all. On the other hand, the options for action decrease, as the points of view of those involved become more solid as the issue progresses in its cycle.

Issues management

Issues management is a procedure that ensures the ability of an organization to observe and process information and thus contributes to overcoming uncertainty and risk. Issues management creates the prerequisite for actively dealing with these issues through the early identification of critical issues and stakeholder claims that threaten to impair the company's scope for action. This early warning function is followed by the development of strategies to influence the public discussion process or, if this does not appear possible, to adapt the organizational policy. "The basic goal is to avoid unpleasant surprises or conflicts that would otherwise be associated with these issues, on the one hand, and to take advantage of opportunities that issues can bring on the other hand."

So issues management does three things:

  • Identification, observation and analysis of social, technological, political and economic forces and trends that could influence the company
  • Interpretation and definition of the resulting implications and options
  • Selection and implementation of strategies to deal with these issues


The term Issues Management was first coined in 1976 by the US PR consultant W. Howard Chase. When he created the term, he was concerned with a new conception of public relations (PR), an expansion of the scope of action. Issues management should upgrade PR, so far only a collection of different techniques for Chase, and establish it as a management function. Issues management in the tradition of this approach emphasizes the observation of the organizational environment for opportunities and threats.

A second fundamental direction is called Strategic Issues Management (SIM) and goes back in particular to Igor Ansoff . This direction did not develop from PR, but from strategic management . Ansoff assumed that rigid planning cycles would no longer do justice to the increasingly turbulent corporate environment. However, developments in the opposite direction could be identified at an early stage using so-called “weak signals” and thus incorporated into strategic management. Issues management in the tradition of this approach emphasizes the analysis of issues with regard to their effects on corporate strategy .



The aim here is to identify issues as early as possible in their life cycle in order to give the organization room to maneuver and thus more opportunities to influence. It is about looking for events and trends (“weak signals”) that could develop into issues that affect the company. The activities for identifying issues can be divided into scanning and monitoring.

Scanning is the non-directional observation of the corporate environment. The object of observation is basically everything in the contact areas of the company, i.e. the discovery of new developments and trends in areas that have already been observed or the discovery of events in areas that have not yet been observed. Because of this broad spectrum, this approach is rather intuitive and unstructured. It's about recognizing connections or patterns. The difficulty here is that one is looking for something without knowing what. In addition, there is the infinite variety of information, especially from the Internet.

Sources of scanning can be

  • Mass media
  • Internet (homepages, newsgroups, forums, blogs)
  • Internal or external personal communications, oral or written
  • Semi-public sources (gray literature), such as manuscripts, studies, conference documents, newsletters, etc.

Monitoring is the targeted observation of trends and issues that have already been identified or given. Issue monitoring methods are


Among the multitude of issues, a company's resources must be directed to the most urgent. To do this, the issues must be prioritized. Typical criteria are - in relation to the organization - urgency, impact and influenceability of the issue. Issues managers must communicate the top issues identified in this way in the company, so they are subject to the company's internal opinion-making. As a result, analogous to the agenda setting of the media, an issue agenda emerges with the most important issues for the organization, which do not have to be the most strategically urgent. Prioritization therefore not only includes the creation of a ranking, but also communication measures to "sell" certain issues within the organization.


The result of the analysis of the previously identified top issues serves as a decision-making basis for the further issues management process. The objects of investigation are the three dimensions of an issue: factual dimension, actor dimension, time dimension. Ideally, an analysis consists of the following elements:

Factual dimension

  • Content of the issue
  • Type and effect of the company relationship
  • Attention value ... is a "measure of the potential for resonance of an issue in public and thus for the ability to mobilize consensus." The factors of attention value are based on the known news factors and "are primarily based on the perceived importance of an issue and its diffusion potential." this is how the possible topic career can be assessed.

Actor dimension

  • Identification of the stakeholders
  • Interpretation framework (perception of problems and assignment of blame, feeling of restriction, degree of concern, ideas for solutions)
  • Status of the stakeholders (power, legitimacy, subjective urgency of the matter)

Time dimension

  • Media attention
  • Part of the public involved


Based on the analysis results, the next step is to determine how the organization will deal with the issue. To do this, a position must first be developed and formulated. The comparison of strengths and weaknesses of the organization with the possibilities and threats ( SWOT analysis ) by the issue supports the decision as to whether and how the issue should be dealt with. At the same time, the goals that the organization has with regard to an issue must be determined. After the decision to act, there are basically three strategic options, namely the defense of the issues related to the issue, the attempt to influence the issue through participation and the adjustment by the organization. The strategy also includes the decision about the type of means to be used, i.e. communication , management tools, lobbying, etc. and about the target groups of measures. Target groups can be opponents, allies or mediators (e.g. media, politics) with regard to their position on the issue.


The nature of the measures corresponds to the total resources available to an organization. Representatives of the SIM emphasize that this is not just about communication measures.


The last step of the ideal issues management process can be divided into result control and process control. Result control means the comparison between the set goals and the results achieved. As in the entire communication area, this is difficult, because due to the many external influences, certain effects are not clearly causes, such as B. PR measures can be assigned. Process control is the review of the efficiency and effectiveness of the individual steps in issues management.

In both cases, the ongoing monitoring of the development of the issue as described above is also part of the evaluation. Process control of the prioritization is possible by comparing the top issues with the areas in which an organization has actually taken measures.

Organizational problems

Some, like Chase, see issues management as a way to professionalize public relations. In fact, it is noticeable that a wide range of management and controlling instruments are used in other organizational and especially corporate functions , while PR is still in its infancy here. At the same time, this could arouse resistance, as creatively seeing communicators, to greater involvement in a management concept. For representatives of strategic issues management, restricting issues management to PR is just old wine in new bottles, as only what constitutes good public relations would be followed. Another organizational problem is the choice between a more top-down or bottom-up approach. The latter offer greater impartiality and a more complete coverage of the corporate environment, but the amount of information can quickly get out of hand and tie up resources. With top-down approaches, there is also no need to convince management of certain issues. Issues management is in part opposed to the usual hierarchical organization: Information is not sought according to strategic guidelines, but information is intended to trigger or change strategic action. Best practice studies indicate that issues management works best when large parts of the organization are involved. Issues management as a networking process has to struggle with similar problems as knowledge management .


  • Horst Avenarius: Public Relations. The basic form of social communication. 2nd Edition. Primus, Darmstadt 2000, ISBN 3-89678-181-2 .
  • Joseph F. Coates, Vary T. Coates, Jennifer Jarrat, Lisa Heinz: Issues Management. Lomond 1986.
  • Gabler-Wirtschaftslexikon.
  • Franz Liebl: The shock of the new. Munich 2000.
  • Stefan Lütgens: Dealing with potential crises in good time - actively shaping issues. Strategic corporate communication through issues management. Schifferstadt 2002.
  • Ulrike Röttger (Ed.): Issues Management. Wiesbaden 2001.
  • Günter C. Schaufler & Benno Signitzer: Issues Management: buzzword or new way in PR? In: prmagazin . 12/1990, pp. 31-34.
  • Gero Kalt, Achim Kinter, Michael Kuhn (eds.): Chefsache Issues Management: An instrument for strategic corporate management - basics, practice, trends. Frankfurt am Main 2003.
  • Gero Kalt, Achim Kinter, Michael Kuhn (eds.): Strategic Issues Management. About successfully dealing with crises and profiling issues. Frankfurt am Main 2009.
  • Bernadette Förster, Jonas Keller, Heiko A. von der Gracht, Inga-Lena Darkow: Delphi-based strategic issue management: crafting consumer goods supply chain strategy. In: International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management , Vol. 44, Issue 5, 2014, pp. 373-391, doi: 10.1108 / IJPDLM-09-2012-0289 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. See: LIEBL, p. 9 ff.
  2. See: AVENARIUS, p. 178 f.
  3. See: RÖTTGER, p. 19
  5. LÜTGENS, p. 81
  6. see: COATES u. a., p. 2
  7. See: LÜTGENS, p. 85 f.
  8. See: GABLER, p. 3634 ff.
  9. cf. LIEBL, p. 106 ff.
  10. LIEBL, p. 48