Jason focuses on the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) model of policymaking, using the particular example of New York’s fracking ban. While Jason’s example shows that the ACF model was useful for analyzing how a policy decision was ultimately made, how does this understanding provide opportunities for improving policy outcomes?
First, taking a step back, I think we need to be more explicit when discussing policymaking models in regards to whether these models are descriptive, normative, or perhaps some mix of both. Are the proposed models and frameworks intended to represent how all policy decisions are made, or do they represent best case scenarios in policymaking or a guide to how policy should be made? This distinction is most ambiguous in regards to the stages model of policymaking. As Jason noted, the stages model has been criticized as unrealistic due to its emphasis on rational, linear steps that do not accurately reflect the realities of policymaking. However, those same features are what could make the stages model appealing as a guide for how policy should be made. If one were an inexperienced policymaker looking for a starting point, the stages model would seem to provide a normative step-by-step approach to the policymaking process.
The ACF model Jason describes, on the other hand, seems to be much more of an interpretation of the complicated, messy process that goes into real-world policymaking. While it may be, to its proponents at least, a realistic depiction of the process, it does not seem like an ideal way to make policy decisions. For one, the use and importance of resources by the coalitions would give coalitions with more connection to elites a greater voice in the policy process. Jason’s case study on fracking shows how the anti-fracking coalition was able to muster significant resources in the form of mobilization and public support to outweigh the pro-fracking lobby’s much more significant financial resources. I wonder, however, whether this is the exception or the norm, and the extent to which the financial resources a coalition has access to contributes to their success in policy outcomes. Connecting a coalition’s resources to policy outcomes may be realistic, although arguably cynical, but few would say that a policymaking system that potentially favors coalitions with elite access and greater financial resources is ideal or fair.
While it may be a realistic model of how policymaking often works, it’s less clear to me how understanding a policy process through the ACF model can go beyond analysis and lead to improvements in the policy process. There’s a danger in, by saying the world works a certain way, reinforcing and reproducing a particular system and making it less amenable to reform. In this election cycle, accepting corporate donations and super PAC funding has been defended as just a reality of our political system. But the Sanders campaign showed that it is possible to defy what’s consider realistic and raise large sums of money solely through individual contributions. Based on the ACF model, it seems that the policy ideas of small coalitions with limited resources (of all kinds) are less likely to be heard unless they join a larger coalition. In the example Jason gives us, there may have been advocates for alternative solutions beyond the simple pro- or anti-fracking positions that were neither loud nor large enough to make their voices heard. What has happened since the fracking ban is that New York State has continued to increase its reliance on natural gas, but primarily through purchasing fracked gas from Pennsylvania—shifting environmental risk to a neighboring state seems like a pyrrhic victory for environmentalists.
The other issue with the ACF is that of scale. Jason’s example works well as a demonstration of the ACF model because it was a very high profile case that mobilized large numbers of people and garnered a lot of public attention. Many public policy decisions are small, and it seems inconceivable that all of them would have enough public interest to generate coalitions around the issue. For these small policies that may go largely unnoticed by the public, it’s conceivable that the decision process was something much closer to what’s described in the stages model.
In conclusion, I think we need to keep in mind that these models of policymaking are interpretations, and as other posters have shown by applying the stage model to Jason’s fracking example, more than one can be used to describe the same set of events. In evaluating these models, the accuracy of a model in describing real-world policy processes is important for policy analysis, but we should also be mindful of how interpreting policy processes in certain ways does or does not allow for opportunities to improve that process and work towards policymaking that results in more transparency, equity, and fairness, and most of all, better outcomes.