Policymaking environments are multi-centric by necessity and design. Alcohol premises licensing is governed by Scottish legislation, which also allows for local autonomy.
To describe the obstacles faced by local public health actors in seeking to influence the alcohol premises licensing system in Scotland as an example of local advocacy efforts in multi-centric policymaking.
Snowball sampling identified and recruited 12 public health actors who were actively seeking to influence alcohol premises licensing, along with a national key informant. In-depth interviews (n=13) discussed challenges experienced and perceptions of best strategies for success. Interviews (69m average) were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analysed using an inductive framework approach.
Most interviewees operated in local premises licensing arenas, influencing national legislation only through intermediaries. Challenges to engagement included: unfamiliar conventions, stakeholders and decision-making cultures, resources, data gaps, and licensing boards’ prioritisation of economic growth. Their preferred solution was a strengthening of national legislation to constrain local autonomy, but they adapted their strategies to the challenges faced.
The adoption of a particular objective in national government (a public health objective for alcohol licensing) may not remove the need for effective local advocacy in a multi-centric system. Local policymakers have their own conventions, processes and views on evidence, and successful advocacy may involve diverse strategies and relationship building over time. Practitioners advocating policy change may benefit from a better understanding of prior research on how to bring about such change; scholars of such processes could better engage with this audience.
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