Challenging the insider outsider approach to advocacy: how collaboration networks and belief similarities shape strategy choices

By Paul Wagner, Edinburgh Napier University, Petr Ocelík, Masaryk University, Antti Gronow, Helsinki University, Tuomas Ylä-Anttila, Helsinki University, Florence Metz, University of Twente

Policymaking is a complex process that involves a variety of stakeholders and interest groups that cooperate and compete to influence decisions made to solve societal problems. Since many such decisions redistribute money and other resources, participating policy actors use various advocacy strategies to influence these processes. Anti-gun control lobbying, abortion rights marches, Brexit media campaigns or direct actions of Extinction Rebellion are cases in point. As the use of such strategies is fast growing, an understanding of policy actors’ strategy choices is of great importance. This was the topic of our research in our recent Policy & Politics article.

Previous research has distinguished between insider and outsider strategies. Insider strategies include lobbying, participation in policy forums, and providing expertise. They are employed mainly by resourceful actors, such as major companies and scientific organisations, with direct access to those with decision-making power in government. Outsider strategies include media campaigns, petitions, and demonstrations. They are usually used by less resourceful actors, such as social movements, that lack direct access to those making decisions. Correspondingly, organisations such as major companies or business interest groups are usually considered insiders, whereas civil society organisations are considered to be outsiders.      

Our research finds that the type of policy actor does not dictate the choice of advocacy strategies, and that both insider and outsider strategies are employed by different kinds of actors. For instance, environmental non-governmental organisations (ENGOs), such as Greenpeace, engage in both lobbying (usually considered an insider strategy) and demonstrations (usually considered an outsider strategy), while fossil fuel companies use lobbying as well as media campaigns. 

Importantly, our findings hold for climate policymaking processes in all four of the countries that we have studied – Czechia, Finland, Ireland, and Sweden, which are markedly different in the degree of competition over access to decision-making.

Given that categorising organisations as insiders or outsiders does not predict their advocacy behaviour, what then explains these advocacy actors’ strategy choices? Our research goes beyond the insider-outsider dichotomy by looking at the use of advocacy strategies as an interdependent phenomenon. 

First, we find that actors usually employ the same strategies as their collaborators. This might be because they pool their resources or because they coordinate to use a strategy jointly. An example would be a street protest organised jointly by various environmental non-governmental organisations.

Second, it matters what like-minded actors do. We find that advocacy actors’ strategy choices depend on what strategies are used by those with similar policy views as their own. Such like-minded actors serve as role models from whom they learn what strategy to use. For instance, actors with fewer resources might learn how to increase their visibility via media campaigns or direct action from someone more experienced. 

Through these findings, this article makes an important contribution to the literature by elucidating the influence of collaboration networks and belief systems on advocacy tactics and advancing the debate on the strategies that advocacy actors employ to influence policy making.

You can read the original research in Policy & Politics:

Wagner, P. M., Ocelík, P., Gronow, A., Ylä-Anttila, T., & Metz, F. (2023). Challenging the insider outsider approach to advocacy: how collaboration networks and belief similarities shape strategy choices, Policy & Politics51(1), 47-70.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Policy & Politics, the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

Heinmiller, B. T. (2023). Advocacy coalitions, power and policy change, Policy & Politics51(1), 28-46

Osei-Kojo, A. (2023). Analysing the stability of advocacy coalitions and policy frames in Ghana’s oil and gas governance, Policy & Politics

Sewerin, S., Cashore, B., & Howlett, M. (2022). New pathways to paradigm change in public policy: combining insights from policy design, mix and feedback, Policy & Politics50(3), 442-459.

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