Workshop “Policy advocacy and the media in non-democracies”

Organizer: Max Grömping, Institute of Political Science, Heidelberg University
When: Friday, 02 August 2019 – Saturday, 03 August 2019
Where: Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, Centre for Asian and Transcultural Studies (CATS), Room 010.01.05, Voßstraße 2, 69115 Heidelberg, GERMANY


In advanced democracies, where press freedom is guaranteed and electoral mechanisms motivate and constrain policymakers, certain assumptions of advocacy by interest organizations – such as trade unions, business lobbyists, professional associations, social movements, NGOs, or citizen groups – are often met. Most critically, that the media are permeable to the articulation of diverse societal voices and thereby serve as an open arena for issue proponents. And second, that inside actors in the policy process, such as legislators or bureaucrats, are amenable to information provided by outside sources – either information about constituent interests or expert knowledge about policy issues.

Moreover advocacy by interest organizations have long been considered a crucial ‘transmission’ belt connecting citizens to political elites and policymaking. To achieve influence, advocates may combine the pursuit of direct interactions with policymakers (‘inside lobbying’) with the mobilization of public opinion via news media and public actions (‘outside lobbying’) in complementary ways. The pluralist view of the political process holds that this group-media-policy interface serves to translate citizen wishes into government action.

Yet, almost half of the countries today are under non-democratic political regimes, where elections are either severely curtailed or no multi-party competition takes place at all, and where liberal practices such as freedom of the press are disregarded. It is highly questionable whether the basic assumptions of a transmission belt for outside voices hold in such contexts. While a policy process does certainly exist in non-democracies, priorities are formulated, options weighed, decisions made, and policies implemented, what role – if any – does policy advocacy by interest organizations play in this process?

To date, we know little about this simple question. While scholarly research on advocacy in established democracies abounds – examining, for instance, when and why groups form, what strategies they choose, how they use the media, or under which conditions they achieve policy success – research on policy advocacy under authoritarianism not only lacks a cohesive story, but also remains disjointed and under-theorized.

The aim of this workshop is to connect the disparate research programs on interest intermediation and on comparative authoritarianism to address a central puzzle: Under what conditions is policy advocacy by civil society pressure groups successful under non-democratic political regimes? In answering this question, a particular focus will be placed on advocacy activities via the media (‘outside lobbying’).

The workshop seeks to tackle several related questions:

  1. Why and how do pressure groups form and organize in non-democracies? (group ecology and group strategies)
  2. What drives public attention to pressure groups in non-democracies? (media agenda)
  3. Under what conditions do pressure groups gain access to policymakers or bureaucracies in non-democracies? (political agenda)
  4. How do international influences affect policy advocacy in non-democracies? (transnational advocacy networks and policy diffusion)
  5. What structures institutional openings or restrictions for policy advocacy in non-democracies? (legitimation, co-optation, and repression)
From L-R: Aurel Croissant (Heidelberg University), Bert Fraussen (Leiden University), Khoo Ying Hooi (University of Malaya), Sanja Hajdinjak (University of Vienna), Florian Weiler (University of Basel), Emina Popovic (Charles University, Prague), Max Grömping (Heidelberg University), Angelo Vito Panaro (Scuola Normale Superiore), Jessica Teets (Middlebury College), Orion Lewis (Middlebury College), T. Murat Yildirim (University of Stavanger), Eleanor Bindman (Manchester Metropolitan University), Huil Li (University of Hong Kong), Eda Keremoglu (University of Konstanz)



Friday, 02 August 2019

09:00 – 09:15
09:15 – 10:00
Welcome & Opening
10:00 – 12:00



Panel 1: Policymaking in non-democracies

Chair: Eleanor Bindman (Manchester Metropolitan University)

 –      Dynamics of Agenda Setting and the Policymaking Process in Military Dictatorships, T. Murat Yildirim (University of Stavanger)

–      Policy Innovation: Why Some Local Officials Are More Open to Citizen Participation in Policymaking, Orion Lewis (Middlebury College)

–      Establishing Institutions in Autocracies in Times of Economic Distress: Autocrat’s Interest or Opportunity for Marginalized Groups?, Angelo Vito Panaro (Scuola Normale Superiore)

Discussant: Aurel Croissant (Heidelberg University)

12:00 – 13:30
13:30 – 15:30
Panel 2: The organization of pressure groups in non-democracies

Chair: T. Murat Yildirim (University of Stavanger)

–       CSOs as Social Entrepreneurs: Strategic Rebranding or Evolution? Jessica Teets (Middlebury College)

–       Environmental NGOs’ Engagement in Policy Advocacy in Authoritarian China: Strategies, Venues, and Impact, Hui Li (The University of Hong Kong)

–       When to go public? The calibration of electoral reform advocacy strategies, Max Grömping (Heidelberg University)

Discussant: Bert Fraussen (Leiden University)

15:30 – 16:00
Tea and coffee break
16:00 – 18:00
Panel 3:  Advocacy in the media in non-democracies

Chair: Florian Weiler (University of Basel)

–       Interference at Different Layers: How Dictators Control the Internet, Eda Keremoğlu(University of Konstanz)

–       Social Media Framing and the Policy Advocacy of Malaysia’s Electoral Reform Movement, Khoo Ying Hooi (University of Malaya)

–       Social media and transnational activism in Cambodia: An entanglement, Sokphea Young (University College London)

Discussant: Orion Lewis (Middlebury College)


Saturday, 03 August 2019


10:00 – 12:00



Panel 4: Accessing the policy agenda in non-democracies

Chair: Bert Fraussen (Leiden University)

–       Post-Soviet Policy Entrepreneurs? Non-State Actors and Social Service Reform in Russia and Belarus, Eleanor Bindman (Manchester Metropolitan University)

–       Advocacy Success in an Authoritarian State: Getting far by Going Public, Emina Popović (Charles University Prague)

–       Legitimation and pressure group success in Montenegro, Sanja Hajdinjak (University of Vienna)

Discussant: Florian Weiler (University of Basel)

12:00 – 13:30
13:30 – 15:00


Roundtable “Towards a theory of outside lobbying in non-democracies”

Chair: Max Grömping (Heidelberg University)

–       Aurel Croissant (Heidelberg University)

–       Jessica Teets (Middlebury College)

–       Bert Fraussen (Leiden University)

–       Florian Weiler (University of Basel)

15:00 – 15:30
Wrap-up session


Please direct any queries to max.groemping [at]