The Advocacy Coalition Framework

The Advocacy Coalition Framework

Policy Approaches


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The Advocacy Coalition Framework

The Advocacy Framework (ACF) emerged in the early 1980s in the works of Paul Sabatier and Hank Jenkins-Smith. It sought to provide an alternative to the understanding of the policy process as a policy cycle. The ACF aimed at gaining a better understanding of some of the most perplexing puzzles in public policy, including the formation and maintenance of coalitions, the propensity for learning and the role of science and technology in policy processes, and the factors associated with policy change over time. Since its emergence, the framework developed into a research program with various scholars applying the framework, testing and developing its hypotheses, and exploring new methods of data collection and analysis in political contexts that span the globe.

The ACF is based on seven foundational assumptions that are:

  1. Policy Subsystems are the primary unit of analysis to understand policy processes. These subsystems are characterized by a geographical area, an issue, and policy actors.
  2. The subsystem actors include participants that attempt to influence policy. These may include government officials, private or non-private organizations, experts, scholars, consulting firms, think tanks, and media among others.
  3. The ACF assumes that policy actors are boundedly rational, and have limited cognitive abilities to process the information.
  4. Subsystems aggregate actors into one or more coalitions. The ACF provides a lens to see the policy actors as members of coalitions. These coalitions are formed based on similarities and differences in policy core beliefs.
  5. Policies often reflect and translate the beliefs of one or more coalitions.
  6. Scientific and technical information is important for understanding subsystem affairs. Scientific and technical information, beside the day-to-day experience of the policy actors, inform the causal patterns adopted by the Belief systems.
  7. To understand the policy process or policy change, the researcher must adopt a long-term perspective (e.g., 10 years or more). It takes a long time to understand the policy process because the winners of today could be the losers of tomorrow. Often, the debates among the coalitions last more than decades, and in order to understand the Coalitions, learning, and policy change, one must understand all the past events.

The ACF attempts to understand and explain mainly three puzzles. These are Advocacy coalitions, learning, and policy change. They are considered as puzzles because the research on the hypotheses related to them has produced mixed results.

Advocacy Coalition

Advocacy coalitions are all those defined by political actors who share certain ideas and who coordinate among themselves in a functional way to suggest specific issues to the government and influence in the decision-making process. However, even when there is evidence that shows the existence of coalitions and the shared beliefs within coalitions, there is no clarity if it is indispensable to have shared core beliefs when forming coalitions or just secondary beliefs. These diverse findings reflect different approaches when studying this dynamic. Additionally, some scholars bear in mind that other factors, such as shared interests, trust and resources are important too in coalition formation, not only shared beliefs.

The policy actors who are part of the advocacy coalition are those who are essential to the ‘coalition members’, and those who play a certain role within the coalition: brokers, who work in order to reach agreements among opponents; and entrepreneurs, who play a role in leading coalitions, facilitating learning, and producing policy change.


It refers to the way in which individuals decide to change their actions and way of thinking after having certain experiences and which are concerned with the accomplishment or revision of the guidelines of the belief system of each individual or collective.

Research has shown that learning the process does indeed occur within and between different coalitions. However, it is not clear whether this learning process includes changing the core and secondary policy beliefs within the coalition, or whether the change in secondary beliefs can begin to generate this learning. In addition, many researchers have emphasized that other factors, such as science and networks, have been shown to facilitate policy learning within and between the various coalitions.

Policy change

It refers to the changes that occur in policy, analyses, and studies what generates these changes and, subsequently, what these changes are. There are some changes in the core beliefs of the coalitions, named Major policy changes, and there are Minor changes, which occur in the secondary aspects of the policy subsystem. Research has shown that there are indeed changes in policy and that there are certain factors that lead to a change in policy. However, the process of understanding is complex because policy change is not the result of one event alone, but rather a combination of diverse dynamics that occur in one process over time.

The ACF originally applied in the US, has much grown globally. It has been applied in Europe, Asia, and Africa in the work of many scholars.  In the video below, Chris Weible talks about the ACF during the First International Conference on Public Policy in Grenoble, France.



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