New publication - Exploring the dynamics of interest group competition in natural resource governance

New publication – Exploring the dynamics of interest group competition in natural resource governance

Interest groups are important and often influential actors in environmental policy. Although powerful lobby groups are often associated with persistence of status quo policies that favor them, interest groups can also be agents of change, mobilizing in response to policies that threaten their interests or interests of their members and constituents. In attempts to influence policy interest groups employ a variety of strategies, including building coalitions with like-minded groups in order to pool resources and gain the upper hand against competition. While costly and by no means a guarantee of success, building interest coalitions has shown to be an effective strategy in influencing policy (Junk, 2019). In our past case study of the 2013 EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform we found that environmental interest groups used coalition building in response to a perceived crisis (decline of fish stocks) and an opportunity to influence the position of EU Parliament after the recent structural reform that increased its importance in the CFP reform process (Orach et al., 2017). Cooperation has allowed them to achieve success in influencing the reform (e.g. instituting a ban on discarding unwanted fish).

In our most recent publication entitled ‘Sustainable natural resource governance under interest group competition in policy-making‘ we further explore the role of coalition building by interest groups for sustainability of natural resource governance. While the empirical study of the CFP has helped us identify coalition building as an important mechanism of interest group success, we take a step further to explore its role in complex policy dynamics – feedbacks between interest group adaptation, policy output and its social-ecological outcomes. For this purpose agent-based modelling has been the perfect method to capture the emergent nature of policy change that comes about as competing groups (representing industry and environmental interests) respond to changes in policy issue, make strategic decisions and lobby policymakers. The PoliSEA agent-based model developed in our study integrated theory and insights from the empirical study of the  EU CFP about interest group behavior. We integrated the coalitional mechanism of interest group influence into the model, expressing it through interest group agents’ decisions to lobby alone or seek coalitions, based on their concern with the state of the issue or their funding. We also used the empirical study to model how coalition-building and change in public opinion influences interest group lobbying success. In its essence, PoliSEA is a stylized model of a political decision making process, focusing on interactions between and among interest groups and policymakers, embedded in the dynamics of a fishery managed by a catch quota.

Key processes represented in the PoliSEA model (Orach et al., 2020). Icons designed by Jerker Lokranz/Azote

Results of our study show a surprising outcome: in the scenario, where both interest group types were allowed to form coalitions, even despite the industry’s advantage in funding and influence the managed fishery has been able to avoid or delay collapses more often than in the scenario where interest groups only lobbied alone. We find that this outcome results from the ‘tug of war’ dynamic that emerged when competing interest group engaged in ‘on and off’ coalition building, counterbalancing the opposing interest and keeping the quota from undergoing large increases or decreases. If you are interested in learning more about the ‘tug of war’ and other dynamics of interest group competition and the conditions under which they can influence natural resource management outcomes, we invite you to read our paper, published in Nature Human Behaviour, and the recent news article on SRC website!


  1. Junk, W. M. Co-operation as currency: how active coalitions affect lobbying success. Journal of European Public Policy 0, 1–20 (2019).
  2. Orach, K., Schlüter, M. & Österblom, H. Tracing a pathway to success: How competing interest groups influenced the 2013 EU Common Fisheries Policy reform. Environmental Science and Policy 76, 90–102 (2017).

Cover image source: Andrew Rybalko