Panel Paper: Who Gets Things Done? Applying Advocacy Coalition and Narrative Policy Frameworks to U.S. Agriculture Policy

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Wilson C - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Rich S. Takacs and Wallis Romzek, American University


This research assesses the combined effects of narrative frameworks and coalition networks on policy processes in federal agriculture legislation in the United States. The current Agriculture Act of 2014 is a 5-year, $489 billion appropriation with a diverse set of policy objectives ranging from private sector subsidies incentivizing the installation of rural high-speed internet infrastructure to nutrition programs targeting lower income populations. We leverage the scope and revision schedules of omnibus agriculture bills in a mixed-methods research design to examine policy processes from 2008 and 2018.

The complexities of policy process research have generated multiple overarching - yet often mutually exclusive - theories to explain the interactions and impacts of diverse stakeholders. This research combines supporting elements of the Narrative Policy (NPF) and Advocacy Coalition (ACF) Frameworks to examine two substantively diverse subsystems within agriculture policy: revisions to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant programs designed to offset private sector costs in the development of rural high-speed internet infrastructure and efforts to revise work requirements and purchasing limitations within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Within these subsystems we test two core assertions of the NPF and ACF. The NPF emphasizes that major shifts in the core beliefs of policy advocates are rare. Meanwhile, the ACF argues that alterations to the primary objectives of a core policy are constrained by the persistence and effectiveness of coalitions responsible for original implementation design. We evaluate the NPF assertion using qualitative text analytics and topic modeling to examine the development of coalition narratives within these policy subsystems between 2008 and 2018. Research focuses on identification of enduring narrative elements as well as the frequencies with which policy influencers utilize different NPF narratives. We also map changes to narrative strategies through time-series topic modeling and automated sentiment analysis. The ACF assertion is tested using quantitative social network analysis to map relationships within networks of policy influencers. Network capacities are quantified with density metrics, clustering coefficients, attribute-based community structures, key actor centrality, and network information propagation patterns. Data for both analyses are derived from social networking platforms and publicly available application programming interfaces (APIs).

This research contributes to existing scholarship by offering a more comprehensive assessment of coalition development, network persistence, actor behaviors, and narrative strategies through the application of complementary policy process frameworks to an environment defined by regularly scheduled revision. Our methods incorporate open-source communications platforms into the study of policy venues and model techniques to assess the impact of policy influencer networks and the objectives of coalition narratives within a single integrated framework.