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How Portable is the Advocacy Coalition Framework? Drawing Lessons from Cross-National Studies in Unconventional Oil and Gas Development

Public Policy
Coalition
Comparative Perspective
Policy Change
Energy Policy
Policy-Making
Chris Weible
University of Colorado Denver
Chris Weible
University of Colorado Denver

Abstract

The fundamental challenge facing the advancement of science and knowledge about public policy and government is the portability of our theories and methods. In the increasingly comparative field of public policy, scholars who focus on different substantive domains or work in different parts of the world confront a dilemma over the appropriateness of various theoretical approaches to their particular context and the generalizability of their results to other contexts. Over the past few years, the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) has been applied across several countries in Europe (5 countries), North America (2 countries), South America (1 country), and Asia (2 countries) in the study of coalitions, learning, and policy change in the context of unconventional oil and gas development using hydraulic fracturing. The result is a collection of case studies that can provide insights into the portability of the ACF and the struggles and gains of conducting comparative policy process research. This paper groups its lessons into theoretical and methodological categories. Among the theoretical lessons, this paper underscores the importance of the structure of government (e.g., unitary versus federal systems), basic institutional rules that structure the governance of the issue (e.g., mineral rights), and the distribution and abundance of the good itself (e.g., the economic viability of the resource and its location in the country) in shaping the characteristics of the policy subsystem and the structure of the coalitions therein. Methodologically, this study points to the importance of having clear concepts over consistent measures in conducting comparative case studies and an openness to utilizing different sources of data while acknowledging their strengths and limitations. In all, we find that the science under the ACF is very strong in some areas (e.g. studying coalitions) and not nearly as strong in others (e.g., studying policy change). We conclude with tips for advancing ACF comparative social science.