A Critical Analysis of Paul Sabatier's Belief System Model of Policy Making




Introduction
By Ozeh Cornelius

The Belief System model of policy making is a brainchild of Prof. Paul Armand Sabatier of the University of California, Davis, a professor of Environmental Science and Policy and his Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) scholars.

Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith (1993) developed the ACF as a theoretical framework to analyze intense conflict in the policy making process (Kweku 2009), and policy change. As a policy framework for explaining policy change, the ACF has been around for a long time and it has been widely applied by scholars to explain policy change mainly in the United States and in Canada (Ibid.).

ACF within this long time of existence from around 1987 has undergone several modifications but “the original version of the ACF sought to make important contributions to the policy process literature by responding to several perceived “needs”: a need to take longer term time perspectives to understand policy change; a need for a more complex view of subsystems to include both researchers and intergovernmental relations; a need for more attention to the role of science and policy analysis in public policy; and a need for a more realistic model of the individual rooted more deeply in psychology rather than microeconomics,” (Weible and et al 2011).

Belief System model of policy making and other analytical constructs were devised by the ACF scholars led by Paul Armand Sabatier to drive home those needs outlined above.

Our interest here is on the belief system construct of Paul Sabatier’s Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) of policy making; but a proper understanding of the subject could not be achieved without demystifying the other analytical constructs of the school.



Clarification of Concepts Associated with the Belief System Model of Policy Making

Belief System
This is simply the policy actors’ values. People engage in politics to translate their beliefs into action, (Cairney 2013).  Also, to simplify events and the world around them, ACF individuals filter perceptions through their belief system (Fischer and Miller, n.d). The ACF assumes that the defining characteristic of individuals is their three-tiered hierarchical belief system (Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith 1993, 1999). On the top tier are deep core beliefs, which are normative/fundamental beliefs that span multiple policy subsystems and are very resistant to change (for example, political conservatism). In the middle tier are policy core beliefs, which are normative/empirical beliefs that span an entire policy subsystem (Weible 2006).

Policy Subsystems
This is defined as groups of formal and informal actors who are actively involved in a substantive policy (Sabatier, 1987). A policy subsystem is defined by its territorial boundary, a substantive topic, and by the hundreds of policy participants from all levels of government, multiple interest groups, the media, and research institutions (Fischer and Miller,Op. Cit.).

Stakeholders specialize in a policy subsystem and maintain their participation over long periods of time in order to foster, among other reasons, the institutionalization and implementation of policy objectives (Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith1993). These stakeholders often carry out several strategies to influence the decisions in several venues. For example, stakeholders might simultaneously pressure political sovereigns, court and the media to consider litigation, and try to convince opponents to support their views in public meetings (Weible 2006). Succinctly put, “Subsystems are issue-specific networks,” (Cairney Op. Cit.).

Advocacy Coalition

A coalition contains, ‘people from a variety of positions (elected and agency officials, interest group leaders, researchers) who share a particular belief system’ and ‘who show a non-trivial degree of coordinated activity over time,’ (ibid.). The ACF assumes that stakeholders are primarily motivated to convert their beliefs into actual policy and thereby seek allies to form advocacy coalitions to accomplish this objective. Advocacy coalitions include actors of similar policy core beliefs who engage in a nontrivial degree of coordination (Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith 1999). Belief systems are the glue that bind advocacy coalitions (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1993).

Policy Learning
Sabatier (1993) defines policy learning as a relatively enduring alteration of thought or behavioural intentions that are concerned with the attainment (or revision) of the precepts of a policy belief system.

To make it more operational and precise it is useful to distinguish between 3 types of policy learning:

Instrumental learning: Technical learning about instruments – about effects how the instruments may be improved to achieve set goals;

Conceptual learning or problem learning: seeing things from a different evaluative viewpoint (in a ‘new light’); this is when the outlook on a ‘problematique’ changes; it is called conceptual learning because it tends to be accompanied with the development or adoption of new concepts, principle and images.

Social learning: learning about values and other ‘higher-order’ properties such as norms, responsibilities, goals, and the framing of issues in terms of causes and effects selected for attention (Clark n.d).

Coalitions learn from policy implementation. Learning takes place through the lens of deeply held beliefs, producing different interpretations of facts and events in different coalitions (Cairney Op. Cit.). They tend to filter or ignore information that challenges their belief and readily accept information that bolster their beliefs. These perceptual filters tend to discount even high quality technical information if it conflicts with their beliefs and accept technical information with high uncertainty if it supports their beliefs (Fischer and Miller, Op. Cit.).


Policy Broker
We have said earlier that the ACF assumes that stakeholders are primarily motivated to convert their beliefs into actual policy and thereby seek allies to form advocacy coalitions to accomplish this objective. Advocacy coalitions in a policy subsystem compete for dominance.

In competitive policy subsystems, policy disagreements between advocacy coalitions often escalate into intense political conflicts. These conflicts are often mediated by "policy brokers." Policy brokers seek to find reasonable compromise among hostile coalitions (ibid.). Paul Cairney put it in a clear statement when he stated that subsystems contain actors who mediate between coalitions and make authoritative decisions (although policy brokers may be members of coalitions). Many different actors play the policy broker role. Policy brokers include elected officials, high civil servants, and courts (Fischer and Miller, Op. Cit.).

An Overview of Paul Sabatier’s Belief System of Policy Making

Paul Sabatier and his ACF colleagues argue that actors in policy making strive to translate their beliefs into policies. They divided the belief system into three tiers. The structure of belief systems applies both to policy elites and to government programmes, according to Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith (1993).


Deep Core
Policy Core
Secondary Aspects
Defining Characteristics
Fundamental, normative and ontological axioms


Examples:
The nature of man:
inherently evil or socially redeemable; the relative priority of various ultimate values: freedom,
security, health,
knowledge
Fundamental policy positions concerning the basic strategies
for achieving core values within the subsystem


Examples:
Identification of key issues and groups whose welfare is
of greatest concern; proper distribution of authority between government and
market; proper distribution of
authority among levels of government; priority accorded
to policy instruments
(regulation, covenants,
economic instruments);
technological optimism vs.
pessimism
Instrumental decisions
and information searches necessary to implement policy core


Examples
Seriousness of specific aspects of the problem in specific locales; causal links; efficacy of administrative rules, and policies, appropriateness of funding arrangements
and budgets; statutory
interpretation
Scope
Across all policy
subsystems
Specific to a subsystem
Specific to a subsystem or
a sub-subsystem
Susceptibility to Change
Very difficult; akin to a religious conversion
Difficult but can occur if experience reveals serious anomalies
Moderately easy; this is the topic of most
administrative and even legislative policy making
Type of Learning
Social learning
Problem learning, social learning
Instrumental learning

Source: adapted from Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith (1993, p. 221)

Paul Sabatier argues that the expansive set of actors in policy systems have their respective three-tiered belief systems.

The ACF assumes that the defining characteristic of individuals is their three-tiered hierarchical belief system (Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith 1993, 1999). On the top tier are deep core beliefs, which are normative/fundamental beliefs that span multiple policy subsystems and are very resistant to change (for example, political conservatism). In the middle tier are policy core beliefs, which are normative/empirical beliefs that span an entire policy subsystem. Policy core beliefs are still resistant to change but are more pliable than deep core beliefs. On the bottom tier are secondary beliefs, which are empirical beliefs that relate to a subcomponent (either substantively or territorially) of a policy subsystem. Of the three layers of beliefs, secondary beliefs are most susceptible to change in response to new information and events (Weible 2006).

These expansive set of actors involved in policy systems according to Sabatier, “may be aggregated into coalitions; and policy designs are interpreted as translations of coalition beliefs” (Sabatier, 1988). It follows therefore to mean that nothing is a policy but the belief system of the dominant coalitions in policy subsystems.

The anti-gay policy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for instance, is understandable with this belief system model in which the deep core beliefs obviously held by coalitions that dominated the policy subsystem on gay marriage was purely African belief that repudiates same sex marriage. That African belief system shared with like-minded coalitions held sway and produced the policy.

Belief system model of policy making wields a strong explanatory power on virtually all conceivable policies but this paper is not comfortable with its trivialization of some important factors that influence the outcome of policies such as the public opinion and interests.

Criticizing the Belief System Model of Policy Making
The model under discussion highly trivialized public opinion. The concept of public opinion has been employed within the ACF to mean different things which this study argues that they are not befitting to the overwhelming influence of public opinion on policy making.

Jones and Jenkins-Smith (2009) chronicled the evolution of the treatment of the concept of public opinion within the ACF thus: First, public opinion acts as an exogenous constraint outside of the policy subsystem. Second, public opinion can also operate as an internal shock within a subsystem, critically redistributing resources (Sabatier & Weible, 2007). And third, public opinion is a resource that elites within subsystems will tap when possible (Shanahan and et al 2011).

Public opinion just like other actors in policy subsystems is also under the influence of belief systems. It is actually the belief system of the majority of the people that surfaces as the public opinion. One could simply describe public opinion as an aggregate view of persons with the same belief system. The ACF scholars should have elevated public opinion to the status of a coalition so that when other coalitions shop for the “resources,” public opinion, they would actually be seeking alliance with the public opinion coalition.

On the other hand, the role of interests in the determination of actors’ policy choices was utterly disregarded in this ACF model. Weible (2006) came close to discovering this salient factor, “interest” in his An Advocacy Coalition Framework Approach to Stakeholder Analysis: Understanding the Political Context of California Marine Protected Area (MPA) Policy; but he was unable to give it a baptismal name. Belief and interest disagree at times and that was exactly what happened when he observed thus:
Stakeholders from both sides of the debate agree on some aspects of the severity and causes of the problem and on some important uses of MPAs. Unfortunately, there is a mismatch between where they agree on a problem and where they agree on the important uses of MPAs… most stakeholders agree that California fisheries are in trouble but disagree that MPAs are a viable approach to fisheries management…. Weible (2006).

What caused the mismatch was belief-interest disagreement. In the study by Weible, commercial fishers believed that fisheries were in danger (belief system) but insisted that MPAs should not be used (interest); because the implementation of MPAs will affect their income (emphasis mine). Upon disagreement, “interest” takesv precedence over “belief system”.

Conclusions
The belief system model of policy making as propounded by Paul Armand Sabatier and his ACF colleagues is a strong analytical tool of policies. It gives a very clear picture of how policies are simply the crystal reflections of the belief system of the dominant coalitions in policy subsystems. The model however, trivialized public opinion as mere resources to be accessed by coalitions to drive home their policy positions. Public opinion is better treated as a full-fledged coalition. It also disregarded the role of interest in the complex world of policy making. It is observable as in Weible (2006) that “interests” influence coalitions choice even more than the ACF’s prided “belief system.”














References


Cairney, P.  (2013), “Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: The Advocacy Coalition Framework,”

https://paulcairney.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/policy-concepts-in-1000-words-the-advocacy-coalition-framework/

 

Clark, William C. (n.d.), “Social learning” (in environmental dictionary)

Fischer, F. and Miller, G.J. ( n.d.), eds. “Handbook of Public Policy Analysis: Theory, Politics,

and Methods,”       https://books.google.com.ng/books?id=TEbippYQcqMC&pg=PA127&lpg=PA127&dq=acf,+belief+system&source=bl&ots=KB60kGWvPT&sig=aT4gGdSRg9XqWOnpB8sarzZ2fXw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=pn3kVN71LMW6UdfCg4AB&ved=0CEYQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=acf%2C%20belief%20system&f=false accessed 15/02/2015

 


Jones, M. D., and H. C. Jenkins-Smith (2009) “Tran-Subsystem Dynamics: Policy
Topography, Mass Opinion, and Policy Change.” Policy Studies Journal 37 (1): 37–58.

Kweku, A. (2009), “An advocacy coalition approach to water policy change in Ghana: A look at
belief systems and policy oriented,” Journal of African Studies and Development Vol. 1(2) pp. 016-027, December, 2009; http://www.acadjourn.org JASD ©2009 Academic Journals; accesses 16/02/2015

Sabatier P. A. (1987) “Knowledge, Policy-Oriented Learning, and Policy Change.” Knowledge
                        8: 649-692

Sabatier, P. A. (1988) “An Advocacy Coalition Model of Policy Change and the Role of Policy-
                        Oriented Learning Therein.” Policy Sciences 21: 129–68.

Sabatier, P. A., and C. M. Weible (2007) “The Advocacy Coalition Framework: Invitations
and Clarifications.” In Theories of the Policy Process, ed. Paul A. Sabatier. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 189–220.

Sabatier, P. A., and H. C. Jenkins-Smith (1993) eds. “Policy change and learning: An
                        advocacy coalition approach.” Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Sabatier, P. A., and H. C. Jenkins-Smith (1999) “The advocacy coalition framework: An
assessment.” In Theories of the policy process, ed. P. A. Sabatier, 117–68. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Shanahan, E. A. and etal (2011). “Policy Narratives and Policy Processes.” Policy Studies
                        Journal 39 (3): 535–61.

Weible, C.M. (2006), “An Advocacy Coalition Framework Approach to Stakeholder Analysis:
Understanding the Political Context of California Marine Protected Area Policy,” Georgia Institute of Technology; http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/Engineering/research/CenterSustainableUrbanInfrastructure/LowCarbonCities/Documents/Weible/Weible_ACF.pdf  accessed 16/02/15

Weible, C.M. and et al (2011), “A Quarter Century of the Advocacy Coalition Framework: An
Introduction to the Special Issue,” The Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 39, No. 3, 2011; pg 349-360


0 comments:

Post a Comment