Utility of the advocacy coalition framework in a regional budget crisis

Date01 July 2021
Published date01 July 2021
Subject MatterRegular Articles
Utility of the advocacy
coalition framework in
a regional budget crisis
Kimberly Wiley
Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences,
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA
Elizabeth AM Searing
Department of Public Administration and Policy,
Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy,
University at Albany (SUNY), Albany, NY, USA
Sarah Young
Department of Political Science and International Affairs,
University of North Georgia, Dahlonega, GA, USA
The advocacy coalition framework predicts that externally controlled events, such as
jurisdictional shifts, can open venues for policy change within a policy subsystem.
Advocacy coalitions may opt to look outside of their traditional decision-making
venue for a more suitable venue. Yet, how and when coalitions use their political
resources during this venue shift is unclear. We examine how coalitions leverage
policy venues and resources when their traditional strategies are found unproductive.
We empirically test how advocacy coalitions engage their political resources during an
exogenous shock. Using semi-structured interviews with eight individual coalition lead-
ers representing an estimated 1100 individual charities, this study distils whether and
how coalition resources and venue shifts are used by subsystem actors. Three main
strategies emerge, and we find that some resources are employed in a unique way
during the policy implementation crisis, as opposed to how they are used during their
original policy advocacy. Finally, we propose further refinement of the advocacy coali-
tion framework to accommodate points of crisis on the complex road from policy
Corresponding author:
Kimberly Wiley, University of Florida, PO Box 110310, Gainesville, FL 32611-7011, USA.
Email: kimberlywiley@ufl.edu
Public Policy and Administration
2021, Vol. 36(3) 401–426
!The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0952076720905007
advocacy to implementation. From this study, coalitions can learn how to leverage their
resources and navigate to an effective decision-making venue to ensure that external
crises do not lead to policy failure.
Advocacy coalition framework, budget crisis, charities
Though the application of theory to practice has long been a tenet of policy
research, increasing political polarization in many countries is causing a resurgence
of interest in the applicability of classic theories to the rigors of actual policy-
making. For example, Sabatier (1986) developed the advocacy coalition frame-
work (ACF) almost four decades ago to explain how actors with shared beliefs
coordinate action to achieve the common goal of reaching a mutual policy out-
come. The original framework holds as its core principle that people seek
to translate beliefs into action through coordinated approaches and engagement
in politics (Sabatier and Weible, 2007). While the ACF’s purpose has held up
against the test of time, it has also undergone substantial revisions to account
for additional coalition resources (Mintrom and Vergari, 1996; Sewell, 2005;
Weible, 2006), coalition opportunity structures (Sabatier and Weible, 2007), and
internal and exogenous shocks to the policy subsystem (Nohrstedt, 2005; Sabatier
and Jenkins-Smith, 1993; Zafonte and Sabatier, 2004). In 2007, Sabatier and
Weible recognized the diff‌iculties of theory keeping up with reality and suggested
that one of the most critical questions the authors laid out for future research is “to
what extent can the ACF be used as a practical tool for policy makers?” (p. 209;
Weible, 2006).
This study responds to that call by empirically evaluating whether the theoret-
ical framework of ACF is useful to explain how independent coalitions behave
during an exogenous shock created by a f‌inancial policy crisis. The actions of social
service providers during the 2015–2017 budget crisis in the State of Illinois in the
United States is a robust opportunity to assess the ACF operationalization by
actors in the subsystem. During this period, the State of Illinois was at a policy
stalemate without a budget, and social service providers (primarily charities) held
signed contracts with the State of Illinois to deliver services on its behalf. The state
delayed or stopped payments for the services these organizations rendered under
their state-initiated and executed contracts. This created a technical policy victory
according to the ACF (contracts were awarded to the coalition members or char-
ities), but resulted in a f‌iscal policy crisis. In this study, we examine how stable,
independent advocacy coalitions engage their political resources during this type of
exogenous shock.
402 Public Policy and Administration 36(3)

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