Panel overview

Political Advocacy in Multi-Level Governance

Panel 7: Political Advocacy in Multi-Level Governance: How Societal Stakeholders Strategize for Influence

Chaired by: dr. Caelesta Braun (VU), prof.dr. Arco Timmermans (UL-CDH) &

Organized stakeholders such as labor unions, professional associations, citizen groups, consultancy or public affairs bureaus and think tanks are indispensable to advanced western democracies. Many organizations take up political roles throughout the policy process. We observe companies voicing concerns in the news media, local citizen groups engaging in public consultations, and think tanks providing new frames on existing policies. This long-standing practice is reflected in different approaches of policy making: network governance, interest group politics, the study of social movement and citizen participation, and corporate political behavior in political economy. Findings emerging from these approaches repeatedly indicate an imbalance in the number and type of stakeholders involved in decision making on public policies. Business groups tend to vastly outnumber civil society organizations, in particular citizen groups. This ‘mobilization bias’ has been a remarkably persistent phenomenon across time, government venues and political systems (Lowery et al 2005; Messer et al 2010; Olson 1965; Schattschneider 1960). Such a persistent mobilization bias has serious implications for the quality of public policy and for democratic accountability as uneven interest representation may translate into biased policy outcomes. Furthermore, the involvement of societal actors tends to be spread unevenly across policy domains, rendering some areas more prone to policy influence or a democratic deficit than others. Thus, from a democratic viewpoint, we must care about the lobbying agenda (Kimball et al 2012).

Mobilization bias and uneven representation across policy domains are likely to be affected by the multi-level governance system as it has evolved (Beyers and Kerremans 2007; Hanegraaff et al 2011, 2013; Kohler-Koch and Quittkat 2013). Multi-level governance entails a vertical and horizontal labor division and fragmentation of policy-making competencies and, as such, puts significant pressure on stakeholders in society. Not only the national government reaches out more or less successfully to civil society organizations, also local governments and supranational institutions increasingly involve societal stakeholders to address accountability and legitimacy problems (Bexell et al 2010; Buchanan and Keohane 2006; Poppelaars 2007). As a consequence, societal stakeholders must strategically prioritize their policy involvement across multiple government venues. They may engage in ‘venue shopping’ at the different levels of governance, but their resources and access points for influence always are limited.

To date, we have limited knowledge of this process of selection and prioritization in interest representation at different levels of governnance and its consequences for policy decisions. Does multi-level governance in real world policy processes reinforce bias in interest representation, or does it facilitate countervailing powers to such bias? Why do some organizations succeed in the ongoing multi-level balancing act and why do others fail? How do organizations with material or vocational stakes adapt to the changing policy environment and develop strategies for targeting policy-makers in multi-level governance? These questions not only are relevant to the study of stakeholder involvement in public policy making, they also are crucial for obtaining a better view of the policy process and how existing and repetitive biases in interest representation and advocacy may be counterbalanced in order to enhance the democratic basis of public policy making. For this, it is necessary to position the study of political advocacy squarely into the study of public policy.

This aim of this panel is to address these questions and discuss the way to further integrate the study of political advocacy and analysis of multi-level governance. We welcome papers addressing one of the following topics:

1)The way stakeholders target policy makers in multi-level governance

Papers may go into questions about how and why different societal stakeholders are involved in public policy in a disjointed way. Often, individual firms and public affairs consultancies work alongside traditional NGOs and business associations, with policy makers relying on different sources of expertise and information. In this information processing, the relationship is two-directional: stakeholders approach policy makers with their agendas, and policy makers outreach to private and public organizations to be responsive and write their views and preferences into proposals. Opening up the study of lobbying to this broad array of societal interests can help to better contextualize the role of traditional NGOs, and to understand how public affairs as implemented by individual firms contributes or works parallel to traditional interest representation. Further, contributions to this panel may focus on the study of organizational form as it is leads to a better understanding of strategic adaptation in processes of political advocacy. Existing studies often deal with either political strategies and policy impact, or analyze founding and disbanding rates in organizational ecology studies. A necessary step in between these research objectives is to consider systematically how traditional interest groups and lobbying organizations or groups with newer strategic repertoires respond to a changing environment. How do they adapt, via organizational reform, by creating or strengthening internal positions or other ways of internal processing, in order to secure their external functioning and political representation?

2)Policy networks and affiliations in multi-level political advocacy

Another line of research fitting the panel concerns embeddedness of interest groups and lobbyists in private and public networks (see for example: Carpenter et al 2004, Beyers and Braun 2014). Such affiliations and the alliances made with them are becoming a more important aspect of interest represention in a multi-level setting. Recent work suggests that analyzing organizational network patterns can contribute significantly to explaining the overall levels of stakeholder involvement (Baumgartner and La Pira 2013; Baumgartner et al 2009). Demonstrating the importance of such embeddedness for public policy making has been the crucial tenet of network governance studies. Relating studies of policy networks and network governance explicitly to political advocacy thus is a step forward.


  • Baumgartner, F.R. , LaPira, T. and Thomas, Herschel F. (2013). Washington lobbyists in the core and on the pheriphery’, paper prepared for presentation at the American Political Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL, Aug 29- Sept 1, 2013.
  • Baumgartner F. R., Berry J. M., Hojnacki M., Kimball D. C. and Leech B. L. (2009) Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Bexell, M., J. Tallberg and A. Uhlin (2010) ‘Democracy in global governance’ : the promises and pitfalls of transnational actors’, in: Global Governance, 16, 81-101.
  • Beyers, J. and Braun, C. (2014). ‘Ties that Count. Explaining interest group access to policy makers’, Journal of Public Policy, 1-29.
  • Beyers, J., and Kerremans, B. (2007). Critical Resource Dependencies and the Europeanization of Domestic Interest Groups. Journal of European Public Policy, 14(3), 460-481.
  • Carpenter et al (2004), ‘Friends, Brokers, and Transitivity. Who informs whom in Washington Politics’,The Journal of Politics 66(1): 224-246.
  • Hanegraaff, M., Beyers, J. and Braun, C. (2011), ‘Open the door to more of the same? The development of interest representation at the WTO’, World Trade Review, 10(4): 447-472.
  • Kimball, David C., Frank R. Baumgartner, Jeffrey M. Berry, Marie Hojnacki, Beth L. Leech and Bryce Summary (2012). ‘Who cares about the lobbying agenda?’, Interest Groups & Advocacy 1(1): 5-25.
  • Kohler-Koch, B. and Quittkat, C. (2013), Demystification of participatory democracy, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Lowery, D., Gray, V. and Fellowes, M. (2005), ‘Sisyphus meets the Borg. Economic scale and inequalities in interest representation’, Journal of Theoretical Politics, 17(1):41-74.
  • Messer, A., Berkhout, J. and Lowery, D. (2010), ‘The density of the EU interest system: a test of the ESA Mode’, British Journal of Political Science, 41: 161-190.
  • Olson, M. 1965. The Logic of Collective Action. Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Poppelaars, C. (2007), Resource exchange in urban governance. On the means that matter. Urban Affairs Review, 43(1): 3-27.
  • Schattschneider, E.E. 1970[1960]. The Semi-Sovereign People. Hinsdale (Illinois): The Dryden Press.