Using the Advocacy Coalition Framework and Multiple Streams policy theories to examine the role of evidence, research and other types of knowledge in drug policy

Alison Ritter, Caitlin Elizabeth Hughes, Kari Lancaster, Robert Hoppe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Background and aims: The prevailing ‘evidence-based policy’ paradigm emphasizes a technical–rational relationship between alcohol and drug research evidence and subsequent policy action. However, policy process theories do not start with this premise, and hence provide an opportunity to consider anew the ways in which evidence, research and other types of knowledge impact upon policy. This paper presents a case study, the police deployment of drug detection dogs, to highlight how two prominent policy theories [the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) and the Multiple Streams (MS) approach] explicate the relationship between evidence and policy.

Methods: The two theories were interrogated with reference to their descriptions and framings of evidence, research and other types of knowledge. The case study methodology was employed to extract data concerned with evidence and other types of knowledge from a previous detailed historical account and analysis of drug detection dogs in one Australian state (New South Wales). Different types of knowledge employed across the case study were identified and coded, and then analysed with reference to each theory. A detailed analysis of one key ‘evidence event’ within the case study was also undertaken.

Results: Five types of knowledge were apparent in the case study: quantitative program data; practitioner knowledge; legal knowledge; academic research; and lay knowledge. The ACF highlights how these various types of knowledge are only influential inasmuch as they provide the opportunity to alter the beliefs of decision-makers. The MS highlights how multiple types of knowledge may or may not form part of the strategy of policy entrepreneurs to forge the confluence of problems, solutions and politics.

Conclusions: Neither the Advocacy Coalition Framework nor the Multiple Streams approach presents an uncomplicated linear relationship between evidence and policy action, nor do they preference any one type of knowledge. The implications for research and practice include the contestation of evidence through beliefs (Advocacy Coalition Framework), the importance of venues for debate (Advocacy Coalition Framework), the way in which data and indicators are transformed into problem specification (Multiple Streams) and the importance of the policy (‘alternatives’) stream (Multiple Streams).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1539-1547
Number of pages9
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Advocacy Coalition Framework
  • drug detection dogs
  • evidence-based policy
  • Multiple Streams
  • policing
  • policy process


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