Intermediate word of the day: agenda

Today’s word is agenda. The main meaning of agenda is a list of all the things that need to be discussed and considered at a meeting – or all the things that need to be done or considered in general. Anyone who works in an office or works for a company that holds regular meetings will know all about agendas. So what kind of things do people say around agendas?

Well, usually before any big meeting, the agenda goes round – it’s circulated – and staff are encouraged to add things to the agenda, if there’s anything in particular that they want to talk about at the meeting. You might mention to your boss that you need to discuss toilets, for example, only to be told that it’s on the agenda. When you’re actually in the meeting, the chair of the meeting – the person who controls the meeting – might stop a discussion that’s not really connected to what’s on the agenda by saying something like We’re getting a bit off the topic here. Can we please get back to the point? And anyone who tries to go back and continue a discussion that’s been stopped may well be told Can we please all just stick to the point! The chair will also keep things on track by signposting the discussion with phrases like:

First on the agenda is . .

The next item on the agenda is . . .

Finally, the last thing on the agenda is . . .

As you go through all the items on the agenda, someone usually has to take minutes – write down a summary of what was said and what needs to be done after the meeting – and usually after the meeting, the secretary will circulate the minutes so that everyone is clear about what’s happening.

Agenda is also a word that politicians use a lot when they’re talking about the things that they think are most important for them to do – or about things that aren’t important for them to do – in the near future, so they might tell potential voters that solving the housing crisis, tackling the housing shortage is high on their agenda – it’s one of the things they really really want to do. Or maybe protecting the environment is high on their agenda – their party is promising to do more to protect the environment.

There are other similar expressions that politicians or business leaders use to talk about what they think is important to focus on at a particular time. The Prime Minister might say that Europe is at the top of her agenda, while someone working for a charity in an area hit by a natural disaster might say that getting food to the people worst affected has to be top of the agenda.

Sometimes people in power try to make those under them feel better by promising that something bad or scary, something that people worry might happen, actually ISN’T on the agenda at all. So bosses will promise that job losses are not on the agenda . . . they’re not going to happen – yet; in the same way, government ministers might promise the public that further spending cuts are not on the agenda.

If a group or a newspaper has their own particular political opinion that they want other people to agree with and that they want to spread more widely, we may talk about the fact that certain groups have their own extreme right-wing agendas or note that they have a fairly progressive, liberal agenda.

In a similar way, if we think someone – or some group – has their own secret plan, or that they secretly want to achieve something, we say they have a hidden agenda – it’s not yet clear exactly what they want, but we’re sure they want SOMETHING! Or perhaps I don’t trust her because I’m sure she has her own agenda – she’s mainly interested in getting what SHE wants, and she isn’t a team-player or interested in working together properly.

If a person or a party has a big influence on what other political parties or people are talking about, and if they are changing the policies of others, then we can say that they are setting the agenda. For example, in Britain, there’s a political party called UKIP, which is very anti-European and has only ever really had one policy – they want Britain to leave the European Union. Now, even though they’re really only a fairly small party, UKIP have set the political agenda for all the main parties over recent years and the decision to hold a referendum on our membership of the European Union was really made because of their growing influence. UKIP knew this and their former leader, a guy called Nigel Farage, very enthusiastically pursued his own agenda – or promoted his own agenda – working hard to get what he wanted from the situation his party were in.

Cover the text. What do you remember?

  • Say two things that happen to an agenda before a meeting?
  • Can you remember five things the chair might say during a meeting?
  • Say two promised politicians might make about what’s on their agenda.
  • Say two promises that might be made to make people feel better when they’re worried something bad might happen.
  • What kind of agendas might newspapers / groups have?
  • What’s the problem if someone has a hidden agenda?

Related stories in the news.

Top of the agenda at the moment in UK politics is Brexit – and in particular the question of how much the divorce bill will be and how the border situation between Northern Ireland and Ireland can be resolved in a way that makes everyone happy. It’s really not looking like an easy solution is going to be found, and part of the problem is that all the different parties involved have their own agendas and want different things from the situation. On top of that, there’s a growing feeling that many people who pushed for Brexit – like Nigel Farage – actually have a hidden agenda that’s less to do with social justice and more money for the National Health Service, and more to do with cutting workers’ rights and cutting tax for big businesses.

On the other side of the Atlantic, there are increasing concerns about the fact that President Trump’s enthusiasm for tweeting is actually setting the political agenda for not only the country, but also the world. This surely marks a new kind of politics! Of course, the anger and outrage that many of his tweets generate feeds into Trumps’ agenda, which is to dominate what is sometimes called the ‘mindshare’ – the level of awareness in the minds of voters that he commands!

Finally, there has recently been an increased awareness of the level of problem gambling in the UK. There are thousands of betting shops – sometimes called ‘bookies’ – in many of the poorest parts of the country, and gambling on horses, dog racing and sports in general is a huge – and growing – problem. The number of people who lose everything and end up homeless because of their gambling problems has forced gambling-related issues onto the public health agenda and there’s hope that maybe something will finally be done to tackle things.

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  • Do you ever have meetings where you can ask for things to be put on the agenda?
  • What was on the agenda in the last meeting you attended?
  • What’s high on the political agenda in your country at the moment?
  • Do you know anyone you don’t trust because they have a hidden agenda?
  • Which newspapers / groups have strong agendas in your country? What kind of agendas do they have?
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