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date: 29 March 2017

Advocacy Coalitions in Foreign Policy

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.

The advocacy coalition framework (ACF) was developed to explain policy processes where contentious coalitions of actors sought to translate competing belief systems into public policy. This framework is one of the most prominent and widely applied frameworks or theories to explain public policy. While the framework has been applied hundreds of times, in over 50 different countries, by authors from dozens of countries around the world, the vast majority of ACF applications have sought to explain domestic or comparative policy processes. It is a nascent framework for understanding foreign policy analysis.

The unit of analysis of the ACF is the policy subsystem. This includes a geographic location, a public issue, and official and unofficial policy actors that are actively engaged with a policy issue. The dependence on a geographic location as part of the unit of analysis is a major theoretical obstacle for applying the ACF to foreign policy analysis. This may be overcome by recognizing that the geographic location is the target of the policy process, rather than the geographic location of the policy actors. The theoretical emphases of the ACF are advocacy coalitions, policy change, and learning. Policy actors include interest groups, members of the media, scientists and academics, and government officials who share beliefs about a policy and coordinate their behavior to develop advocacy coalitions. Past research applying the ACF to foreign policy analysis has focused on identifying these advocacy coalitions and on analyzing the stability of their belief systems and membership over time. Additional research has sought to explain the influence that external subsystem events, such as crises or changes in policy from other subsystems, have on foreign policy. Learning remains an underdeveloped area both within the ACF and among applications to foreign policy analysis.

The ACF provides robust hypotheses about advocacy coalitions and the role they have in policy change. There are over a hundred empirical studies demonstrating the internal and external validity of the framework. However, few applications explicitly focus on foreign policy analysis and even fewer are empirical. The ACF is a framework that can be applied to foreign policy analysis to better understand the development of advocacy coalitions and how they may influence changes in foreign policy.