Advancing Frontiers on Comparative Policy Research through the ACF Research Program

Workshop Number
Workshop Director
Karin Ingold
Universität Bern
Workshop Co-Director
Daniel Nohrstedt
Uppsala Universitet

A central objective for political science research is to advance the understanding of how political systems develop and affect public policy in the context of complex interactions between actors, events, and institutions. This long-standing objective can only be achieved through the development and use of theories to simplify the complexity of public policy-making across political systems. Theory development, thus, compels political science researchers into ongoing tasks of developing, testing and refining hypotheses about public policies. Complications arise from the diversity of policy areas, countries, and levels of policy-making from the local to the international that shackle growth in the generalizability of knowledge. As a result, one of the key challenges to the study of public policy is to evaluate the descriptive accuracy and explanatory validity of theories and frameworks across political systems.
Against this background, this workshop serves as a forum to advance the research frontiers of knowledge in public policy across political systems based on the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF). The ACF emerged in the early 1980s under the direction of Paul Sabatier and Hank Jenkins-Smith to advance understandings of political behavior, learning, and policy change. Over the past 30 years, the ACF has become one of the most utilized theories of public policy. There have been over 300 applications to date, in over 100 different journals and over 20 books. A large majority of these applications involve cases in North America and Europe (over 75% in aggregate), though the framework is increasingly applied in other parts of the world, including Asia and South America (Henry et al. 2014; Jenkins-Smith et al. forthcoming; Jang et al., 2016). The most frequent applications of the framework have been to environmental policy issues but scholars regularly apply the ACF to health, finance/economic, social, and education policy issues. Taken together, these applications and experiences provide evidence about how advocacy coalitions form and shape policy processes, patterns of learning, and explanations for major and minor policy.
From these past applications, the ACF has shown to be a suitable theory for guiding comparative research. Yet, these applications point to several gaps and challenges, including the need for common methods of data collection and analysis, research constraints in collecting data, and tendencies to stretch conceptual definitions in any given study. This workshop will push research into a new frontier regarding understanding the policy process through learning from past success and failures in applying the ACF comparatively at the global scale and in exploring opportunities for theoretical, empirical, and methodological advances.
More concretely, this workshop will solicit research projects and papers that pursue innovative approaches on policy outcomes and shed light on associated conceptual, empirical, and methodological issues. Additionally, the workshop seeks to advance knowledge about the relationship between policy outcomes, actors, institutions, events, and other factors inherent to policy processes and policymaking. This requires a focused collective effort by scholars from different sub-disciplines to apply and refine theoretical postulates regarding drivers, mechanisms, and outcomes of policy processes. To stimulate such collective efforts, the workshop encourages contributions that identifies important gaps in prior policy process literature and presents innovative approaches for overcoming these gaps. An underlying theme that will span all projects and papers in this workshop is improving comparative research involving public policy.
Recent edited volumes (Weible et al. 2016), special issues (Henry et al. 2014; Weible et al. 2011), and literature reviews (Weible et al.2009; Nohrstedt and Olofsson 2016; Jang et al., 2016; Pierce et al., 2017) have identified some potential new directions for theoretical and empirical research in the ACF, especially from a comparative perspective. For example, the ACF assumes that access to and exploitation of various political resources is important for advocacy coalitions as they seek to influence public policy. But efforts could be encouraged to identify a typology of political resources and develop it further. Similarly the ACF outlines a certain hierarchy between belief systems and coordination: actors with similar beliefs tend to engage in mutual relationships of coordination. But what about reversing this argument by asking how coordination might impact how actors think about a policy issue. This workshop gives room for such new directions in public policy and ACF research and invites innovative conceptual developments, methodological and empirical applications to issues of policy processes, coalition formation, beliefs and coordination, brokerage, policy learning, and policy change.
The major advantages of organizing a workshop based on the ACF are twofold. First, this workshop builds on past lessons of successes and failures of applying the ACF comparatively at a global scale. In this regard, it “stands on the shoulders of giants” as a foundation for envisioning and moving towards higher plateaus of knowledge. Second, more practically, the ACF provides a shared research platform that enables analysts to work together in describing, explaining and sometimes predicting phenomena within and across contexts. Specifically, a research program such as the ACF provides a common vocabulary to help analysts communicate across disciplines, from different substantive policy areas, and from different parts of the world as well as guidance towards specific areas of descriptive and explanatory inquiry. Hence, this workshop provides a venue for continued discussion and exchange among scholars.
Workshop participants are encouraged to identify remaining gaps in prior literature and discuss prioritized avenues for advancing policy process research. Candidate issues include, but are definitely not limited to: (i) policy outputs and outcomes (what type of policy processes, if any, support positive outcomes?); (ii) democratic governance (what are the most important implications of complex policy processes for democracy?); (iii) the role of advocacy coalitions as a political actor (how do actors perceive and utilize advocacy coalitions as a form of political organization?); (iv) influence (under what conditions and through what strategies and means do subsystem actors achieve influence in the policy process?); (v) comparison (what can we learn from comparative case studies highlighting, besides policy process dynamics, also larger institutional variances between different political systems?); and (vi) events and shocks internal and external to the subsystem (what impacts do focusing events have on the configuration of actors and subsystem structures?).
The timing of this workshop is perfect. With the accumulated knowledge under the ACF that spans decades and the recent growth of the theory at a global scale, the ACF is at a precipice. A potential lack of coordination among scholars or common methodological approaches threaten to devolve research trajectories into isolated cases hindering any generalizable understanding of public policy issues across political systems. This proposed workshop has the potential to connect scholars, integrate existing knowledge sources, and produce new ideas for ensuring ACF-guided research and public policy research, in general, move to even better understandings and knowledge that distinguish localized and generalized lessons.

Henry, A., Ingold, K., Nohrstedt, D., Weible, C. M. (2014) Policy Change in Comparative Contexts. Applying the Advocacy Coalition Framework Outside of Western Europe and North America. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice, 16(4, SI), 299-312
Jenkins-Smith, H., Nohrstedt, D., Weible, C., Ingold, K. (forthcoming). The Advocacy Coalition Framework: Foundations, Evolution and Future Challenges. In Paul Sabatier & Chris Weible (eds..) Theories of the Policy Process, Boulder: Westview Press.
Nohrstedt, D., Olofsson, K. (2016). A review of applications of the Advocacy Coalition framework in Swedish policy processes. European Policy Analysis, 2(2): 18-42
Weible, C, Heikkila, T, Ingold, K, Fischer, M. (2016). Policy Debates on Hydraulic Fracturing. Comparing Coalition Politics in North America and Europe. Palgrave Macmillan.
Weible, C., Sabatier, P., Jenkins-Smith, H., Nohrstedt, D., Henry, A. et al. (2011). A Quarter Century of the Advocacy Coalition Framework: An Introduction to the Special Issue. Policy Studies Journal, Wiley-Blackwell. 39(3): 349-360

Paper List

Advocacy Coalitions, Institutional Contexts and Political Economy: Comparing Climate Change Policy Domains in 14 Countries View Paper Details
Advocacy Coalitions: Beyond the Archetype and Toward Dynamism and Diversity View Paper Details
Combining the ACF with Feedback Effects of Policy-Induced Technological Change - A Longitudinal Case Study of German Energy Politics View Paper Details
Cross-Fertilising the ACF with the IRR for a better understanding of Sustainable Natural Resource Management View Paper Details
Fields, Coalitions and the Fate of Energy Technologies: Conceptual and Empirical Considerations View Paper Details
If the UK Government is 'All Out for Shale', How can the Scottish Government Prohibit Fracking? A Two-Level ACF Explanation View Paper Details
The Effect of Beliefs on Instrument Choice – The Case of Swiss Renewable Energy Policy View Paper Details
Triggering Events, Policy Learning or Negotiated Agreements through Brokers? Exploring Divergent Outcomes in Marine National Park Planning in Sweden View Paper Details
Understanding China’s Policy Processes-A Review of the Advocacy Coalition Framework’s Applications in the China Context View Paper Details
Which First? Relations between Policy Learning and Policy Change in the French Politics of Hydraulic Fracturing View Paper Details
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