‘The Advocacy Coalition Framework provides an interesting but incomplete account of the role of ideas in environmental policy- making’. Discuss. This essay will aim to explore the attributes and theory of the advocacy coalition framework and how it provides an incomplete account of the roles of ideas in environmental policy-making. It will begin by discussing what ideas are in policy making and how they affect the decision making process. It then moves on to discuss the role of ideas in the advocacy coalition framework, its features and the employment of the model with reference to Lake Tahoe case study in 1993.
It will seek to address ways in which the advocacy coalition framework is incomplete in its application for environmental policy making and finally suggest alternative framework- epistemic communities – as a favourable model for the role of ideas. It will use examples of the chlorofluorocarbons case from 1987 to illustrate how epistemic communities provide a more adequate policy model. It will conclude by agreeing that advocacy coalition framework is an interesting but incomplete account for ideational theory in environmental policy making and recommend that epistemic communities model provides a more legitimate and thorough account.
Although the epistemic community framework is a preferred framework for determining environmental policy, this essay will also propose some limitations to this model. However, this essay does not want to digress from the argument at hand therefore will not explain the limitations of epistemic communities in great detail, but acknowledges and understands there are further criticisms to the model than those discussed A policy idea is a somewhat confused concept to policy making in that there is no rigid definition of what constitutes an idea.
An attempt at a definition is a proposal for change which is often a creative thought arising from heuristic situations and empirical evidence. Ideas can explain policy as the result of normative and causal factors in the policy decision process. It challenges the self- interested attraction of pluralist policy which has come to determine some policy streams. Scholars have paid far less attention to how ideas that is, theories, conceptual models, norms, frames and world views, rather than self- interests affect policy making1.
‘Normative ideas consist taken for granted assumptions about values, attitudes, identities and other collectively shared expectations. Normative beliefs can be so strong that they override the self-interests of policy makers2. ‘ There are three types of ideas which can affect policy making; world culture, frames and programmatic ideas. World culture can be described as transnational cognitive paradigms or normative frameworks which explain policies that are difficult to understand within conventional realist frameworks.
An example Campbell (2002) employs is Eyre and Suchman’s case where greatly different sized countries will adopt nuclear weapons system of great technical ability, not as a response to military threat, but more as an ostensible alignment with nation states that are modern, independent and socially legitimate3. The importance of frames explains how policy makers strategically locate normative and cognitive ideas in the forefront of policy debates to be adopted by political actors. This harvests voter support by making the idea more politically acceptable to the public.
An example in the UK (as is in many other EU and developed countries) is the contentious and controversial subject of immigration control and the perceived negative impact on ‘Britishness. ‘ Framing of this policy area has undoubtedly led to heightened tension amongst migrant and domicile groups and the recent surge in voter empathy for the British National Party. The last idea is programmatic and concerns ingrained policy ideology amongst elite groups surrounding specific policy areas.
Following on from the above immigration example, programmatic ideas may dictate that immigration reduction is a policy call generally associated with perhaps centre- right ideologies, and certainly right sitting parties. Sabatier and Jenkins- Smith introduced the idea of advocacy coalition framework (ACF) in the mid 1980’s. It was borne out of a search for an alternative to Jones’ stages heuristic (1977) , a desire to synthesise the best features of the top-down and bottom- up approaches to policy implementation and a commitment to incorporate technical information into more prominent role in the policy process4.
‘The members of each policy advocacy coalition in a policy sector share values and forms of knowledge which distinguish alliances from others. Different policy advocacy coalitions advance their ideas from within their expert knowledge citadels’5. The features of the ACF reflects policy as implicit cognitive and normative beliefs and was conceived as an alternative to rational theory and self- interested stages of public policy model.
There are normally two to four competing policy advocacy coalitions (which form larger subsystems) that may comprise of bureaucrats, journalists, interest groups, supporters and professionals who all act together to oppose other conflicting coalitions in order to effect change6. Sabatier’s basic premise that to understand the process of policy change a time perspective of ten years or more is required has neatly fitted into the research conducted 1964-65 in the Lake Tahoe case7.
Sabatier conducted over twenty years of field work at Lake Tahoe and collated data from a subsystems comprising of actors specialising in land and water quality issues. Sabatier built up a large amount of empirical evidence by gathering over 190 testimonies by 141 different people8. He found that the coalition comprised of local legislators and businesses, who having different sets of policy core beliefs, were able to coalesce to form the Environmental Coalition.
The Environmental Coalition faced strong opposition from rival the coalition consisting of members such as state government actors, legislators, business and property lobbyist and tourism boards9, all of whom are advancing policy change in different directions. Conflicting strategies amongst the two coalition groups at Lake Tahoe were mediated by another group of actors which Sabatier terms as ‘policy brokers’ – a separate set of actors who are preoccupied with keeping the level of political conflict within reasonable limits whilst reaching compromise solutions10.
The assumption that most policy situations are stable, needing at least ten years or more to change process paths, is not thoroughly demonstrated as Sabatier suggests that only exogenous factors can change this policy process. According to Sabatier, deep core beliefs are basic ontological normative beliefs which are very resistant to change therefore it is the policy core which is determined by exogenous shocks and is susceptible to change, as these external factors affect the actor’s decisions and the policy making processes11.
Changes in socio-economic conditions, system wide governing coalitions and policy decisions from other subsystems will impose and direct policy. Sabatier maintains that because of these exogenous shocks, the Tahoe environmental coalition mobilised mounting support through strengthening coalition ties and witnessed an enormous increase in political resources12. Though this represents a coalition’s basic normative commitments, it is hard to decipher how exactly the policy belief is measured and ideas subsequently changed.