Advocacy Coalition

… a core concept used in Implementation and Delivery and Atlas107

Concept description

Leslie Pal (reference below, p. 259) defines advocacy coalition as “a wide range of actors, including government from all levels, officials, interest organizations, research groups, journalists, and even other countries, who share a belief system about a policy area and over time demonstrate some degree of coordinated activities.”

Advocacy coalition framework

Pal summarizes the advocacy coalition framework as follows (p. 239-241):

“As Paul Sabatier (1993) describes it,

The advocacy coalition framework (ACF) has at least four basic premises: (1) that understanding the process of policy change – and the role of policy-oriented learning therein – requires a time perspective of a decade or more; (2) that the most useful way to think about policy change over such a time span is through a focus on “policy subsystems,” that is, the interaction of actors from different institutions who follow and seek to influence governmental decisions in a policy area; (3) that those subsystems must include an intergovernmental dimension, that is, they must involve all levels of government (at least for domestic policy); (4) that public policies (or programs) can be conceptualized in the same manner as belief systems, that is, as sets of value priorities and causal assumptions about how to realize them. (p. 16)

“A distinctive feature of the advocacy coalition framework is its emphasis on the role of ideas and values in the policy process. The framework assumes that both policy actors and policies can be understood in terms of the structure of their belief systems. These systems have three key elements. The first is the deep or normative core, which consists of fundamental axioms about human nature, justice, and priorities among values such as security, health, and life. These ideas are very difficult to change through policy arguments. The second set of ideas is the near (policy) core, and it comprises notions about the proper scope of government activity, distributions of power and authority, orientations on substantive policy conflicts, and basic choices about policy instruments. These are difficult to change but can be altered if experience seriously differs from theory. The final set contains secondary aspects and consists of instrumental decisions needed to implement the policy core, such as decisions about administrative rules, budgetary allocations, and statutory interpretation. These are comparatively easy to shift or change and constitute the bulk of technical policy argumentation.

“Figure 6.2 illustrates the main elements of the advocacy coalition framework. Note that it has both a strong dynamic quality as well as a contextual dimension that places policy subsystems into the larger socio-economic and political situation of the polity. The relatively stable parameters are system variables that change only slowly over time but set the stage in terms of institutions as well as resources for policy actors. The external events embrace both unpredictable shocks to the subsystem as well as the interaction effects with other subsystems. Together, these provide constraints, resources, and opportunities for the policy subsystem, which, in the framework, is dominated by a number of advocacy coalitions “composed of people from various governmental and private organizations who share a set of normative and causal beliefs and who often act in concert” (Sabatier, 1993, p. 18). These coalitions pursue competing strategies to achieve their policy objectives, a conflict that is usually mediated by policy brokers interested in compromise. At any given time, the policy sector will be dominated by a winning coalition. The framework is interested in what it calls “policy oriented learning” or “relatively enduring alterations of thought or behavioral intentions that result from experience and are concerned with the attainment (or revision) of policy objectives” (Sabatier, 1993, p. 19). Most change in policy subsystems occurs because of external shocks, but instrumental learning is important, especially if the goal is better public policy.

“The advocacy coalition framework also has several distinct hypotheses about how policy subsystems operate. Among them are (1) in any subsystem, the lineup of allies and opponents is stable over periods of a decade or so, (2) there is more consensus within coalitions on core beliefs than on secondary ones, (3) government policies rarely change if the original sponsoring coalition is still in power, (4) policies for which there are quantitative data are more amenable to policy learning than areas distinguished by qualitative data, and (5) policy learning across belief systems is more likely when there exists a prestigious forum that forces professionals from all sides to participate.

“The advocacy coalition framework is a useful framework for mapping out, in a dynamic fashion, the players, issues, and debates in a policy subsystem. Its incorporation of ideas and values, as well as the impact (usually limited) of expertise and scientific professionals, is welcome. Also, the idea of a coalition gets around the more rigid and insular conceptualization in the network literature that divides subsystems into decisionmakers and attentive, but impotent, publics. Unlike the structural approach to policy networks, however, it does not provide any a priori typologies. Indeed, it is relatively weak in describing patterns of relationships either among the coalitions or among brokers.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Implementing through Partners and Networks (core topic) in Implementation and Delivery and Atlas107.


Leslie Pal (2014), Beyond Policy Analysis – Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times, Fifth Edition, Nelson Education, Toronto. See Beyond Policy Analysis – Book Highlights.

Sabatier, P. A. (1993). Policy change over a decade or more. In P. A. Sabatier & H. Jenkins-Smith (Eds.) Policy change and learning: An advocacy coalition approach (pp. 13-39). Boulder, CO: Westview.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 6 April 2017.

Image: American Spice Trade Association, at, accessed 6 April 2017.