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  • Author or Editor: Karin Ingold x
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Traditional scholarship on political engagement has emphasised political parties, interest groups and social movements as ways to influence public policy. This paper highlights the particular role of advocacy coalitions as another conduit for political engagement. Drawing from scholarship associated with the Advocacy Coalition Framework, we offer a way to think about political contexts through coalitions, policy subsystems and political systems, and the attributes of politically engaged actors. It is one of the first attempts to draw practical lessons about the theory of coalitions and, thus, to facilitate better governance and politics as well as the advancement of scholarship.

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People can influence government in a number of ways. For some, elections serve as the principal conduit, whereas for others political party affiliation serves this purpose. People might join an interest group, while others might participate in a social movement. All of these paths have been studied in the varied corpuses of academic literature and have been translated into numerous hands-on textbooks and ‘how- to’ articles that offer recommendations for people wanting to impact decisions and policies (della Porta and Diani, 2006; Cigler and Loomis, 1995). The purpose of this chapter is to focus on another way that people can influence government: ‘advocacy coalitions’; and draw lessons about why they matter and what practical advice can be gleaned from the scholarship about them.

Advocacy coalitions is a term that refers to a type of alliance involving people aligned around a shared policy goal. People associated with the same advocacy coalition have similar ideologies and worldviews and, therefore, wish to change a given policy (concerning health, environmental, or many other issues) in the same direction. The coalition that these people form is an informal network of allies that usually operate against an opposing coalition consisting of other people who advocate for different policy directions. As one coalition tries to outmanoeuvre the other coalition in influencing government, the result is an ongoing game of political one-upmanship of making and unmaking public policies that can last years to decades.

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We address a key puzzle in policy studies: why don’t major differences in political systems and policy produce major differences in policy processes, outputs, and outcomes? We show why key aspects of fracking policy are similar in the UK and Switzerland despite the UK majoritarian government being ‘all out for shale’ and Switzerland’s consensus democracy favouring moratoriums. We use the ‘advocacy coalition framework’ and new survey data to show why differences in UK and Swiss processes are subtle. In both cases, actors cooperate and compete with each other by sharing information within and across coalitions.

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Policy positions are used extensively to explain coalition formation, advocacy success and policy outputs, and government consultations and stakeholder surveys are seen as important means of gathering data about policy actors’ positions. However, we know little about how accurately official consultations and stakeholder surveys reflect their views. This study compares advocacy organisations’ publicly stated positions in their responses to official consultations with their positions expressed in confidential surveys conducted by the authors. It compares three decision-making processes in Switzerland – in energy, climate and water protection – to analyse responses via two different types of data gathering methods. The results show a substantial divergence between official and private expressions of policy positions. Specific types of policy actors (losers), instruments (persuasive measures) and subsystems (collaborative network) produce more divergent positions. This has important methodological implications for comparative policy studies that use different data gathering methods and focus on different policy domains.

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