TitleCommon approaches for studying advocacy: Review of methods and model practices of the Advocacy Coalition Framework
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsPierce, JJ, Giordono, LS, Peterson, HL, Hicks, KC
JournalThe Social Science Journal
Date PublishedJan-07-2019


  • Most recent ACF applications (over 90%) use qualitative analysis methods. Quantitative methods are less prevalent, used in less than 25% of ACF applications.
  • Some ACF applications model clear and compelling approaches consistent with theoretical conceptualization.
  • High-quality ACF applications use multiple data sources, such as a combination of cross-sectional and longitudinal data.
  • Exemplary ACF applications employ sophisticated analytic methods, such as network analysis or cluster analysis.
  • Model ACF applications use explicit strategies to demonstrate causal inference, such as exploration of rival explanations.

The Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) is a theoretical framework widely applied by public policy scholars to study advocacy. Since its inception in 1986 by Paul Sabatier, the framework has been applied hundreds of times across the globe to various policy issues. One side effect of this growth and diversification is a lack of common methodological approaches. Inspired by historic calls to balance generalizable knowledge-of-policy process with contextualized knowledge-in-policy, as well as more recent calls for comprehensive accounting of trends in studies with such a diversity of application, this research supports social science dialogue and knowledge-building by offering a better understanding of the methods used in ACF applications and by highlighting model approaches. We used content analysis to categorize data sources and analytic methods of 161 English language peer-reviewed journal articles applying the ACF published between 2007 and 2014. We found that most ACF applications relied on qualitative analysis of interviews and documents, and analytic method varied according to theoretical focus. Multiple ACF applications modeled clear, compelling and varied data collection and analytic approaches consistent with theoretical conceptualization. Overall, this research provides a more detailed accounting and understanding of what methods social science scholars around the world use to study public advocacy and discusses some exemplary methods for theory testing.

Short TitleThe Social Science Journal