T08P13 - Policy Narratives: Frameworks, Methods and Case Studies

Topic : Policy Discourse and Critical Policy Research

Panel Chair : Farhad Mukhtarov - fmukhtarov@gmail.com

Panel Second Chair : Ching Leong - ching@nus.edu.sg

Panel Third Chair : Raul Lejano - lejano@nyu.edu

Objectives and Scientific Relevance of the panel

Call for papers

Session 1 Policy Narratives: Bringing Narratives to Policy Research


Farhad Mukhtarov - fmukhtarov@gmail.com - Utrecht University, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development - Netherlands

Raul Lejano - lejano@nyu.edu - New York University - United States

The Power of Narratives: Explaining Inaction on Gender Mainstreaming in Uganda´s Climate Change Policy

MARIOLA ACOSTA FRANCES - M.Acosta@cgiar.org - International Institute of Tropical Agriculture & Wageningen University - Uganda

Margit Van Wessel - margit.vanwessel@wur.nl - Wageningen University - Netherlands

Severine van Bommel - severine.vanbommel@wur.nl - Wageningen University - Netherlands

Peter Feindt - peter.feindt@wur.nl - Wageningen University and Research Centre - Netherlands

The integration of gender issues into climate change adaptation and mitigation policies has progressed steadily in contemporary sub-Saharan Africa. However, expectations that gender-mainstreaming efforts would usher in a more gender equitable society have been partially fulfilled at best. Examining the causes for this apparent disconnect, we focus on the narratives through which policy-makers engage with, and relate to, gender issues in climate change. Following an interpretative approach to policy analysis we develop an interactional conceptualization of policy narrative. We identify and reconstruct the gender and climate change adaptation narratives that policy-makers use in Uganda to explore the embedded discursive power. The study presents a novel analytical strategy in narrative policy analysis: We first identify story episodes from interviews and multi-stakeholder meetings, abed on which we reconstruct stories and narratives. The study reveals a complex narrative landscape populated by twenty-two different stories, which cluster around five main narratives. Most stories on gender issues unfold a feminist narrative, but four competing gender narratives, emerge. Shifts during conversations from the feminist to one of the other narratives betray tensions between a superficial dominance of gender mainstreaming (from a feminist standpoint) and a co-present resistance, deconstruction or even revocation.  As a result, policy-makers are able adopters of the official feminist gender mainstreaming narrative, but frequently use competing narratives to express skepticism and create distance. Such micro-processes are likely to maintain the marginalization of gender issues in policy-making spheres not only in this case, but more generally. We therefore argue that gender mainstreaming policymaking needs to take into account micro-processes of narration that express doubt and resistance in order to improve the conditions for change.    

Nexus narratives and resource insecurities in the Mekong Region


Rationale: Several distinct waves of global discourse around water security have reached the Mekong Region.  In the latest reincarnation, academics, bankers and business persons have called for greater attention to a water-food-energy nexus. It is not clear however, that they are talking about the same thing, with the same purpose, or that decision-makers are listening.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to identify the key features of nexus discourses and analyze how they are being used and critiqued by different actors.


Study Design: As rhetoric around the nexus often includes story-like elements we opted to use the Policy Narratives Framework to guide analysis. To understand the role of different policy beliefs, or biases, we drew on the contrasts suggested by Culture Theory. The main dataset included 285 texts of which 167 referred to the Mekong or countries in the Region.  Texts included printed reports, journal articles, newspaper articles, magazine articles, presentation slides, and press releases.


Findings: Increasing resource scarcity which undermines security was a shared setting in all five nexus narratives (with Culture Theory associations) identified: neo-liberal (individualist), technocrat (hierarchist), environmentalist (hierarchist-egalitarian), local justice (egalitarian), and skeptical (fatalist). Technocrat and neo-liberal narratives work to de-politicize nexus security issues, whereas local justice narratives identify victims and villains.  Environmentalist and technocrat narratives assign heroic roles for experts and bureaucrats, while in neo-liberal narratives business takes the lead in developing solutions. Fatalist narratives believe efforts to manage the nexus are not new and like their predecessors will often fail. Neoliberal narratives were articulated by big business and banks, sometimes in partnership with NGOs or academics. Technocrat narratives were the purview of bureaucrats and academics. Local justice and skeptical narratives were largely articulated by academics from the social sciences. 


Evidence of impacts on decisions was not found, but at the level of discourse the different policy narratives were sometimes used to support a stance on, for example, hydropower development, irrigation expansion, or bioenergy crop expansion.  Neo-liberal narratives, in particular, were strongly pro-resource exploitation and development, whereas technocrat narratives called for ‘balance’.  Local justice narratives highlighted insecurities at local scales, whereas most other narratives zoomed out to express concerns about insecurities at national or even planetary scales.


Significance: Overall, nexus narratives were shown to have had a measurable influence on stakeholder discourses in the Mekong Region. But as of yet, there is little evidence of impacts on policy, plans or operations on the ground. There is still a long way to go to convince policy elites of the significance of the nexus concept, let alone how it should be steered.

From meaning to action: The power of narratives upon collaborative implementation of Integrated Water Management in Colombia

Gustavo Valdivieso - g.e.valdiviesocervera@utwente.nl - University of Twente/Universidad Externado de Colombia - Colombia

Following up on the results of earlier analyses that found agreement on the problem (problem structuredness, Hoppe, 2010; Valdivieso 2016) significantly linked to collaborative implementation results for a series of IWRM projects in Colombia, this paper takes a step further in analysing the possible role of narratives in explaining different levels of problem structuredness and, through them, the easiness of collaboration.


Of the six projects analysed in the initial research of the implementation of Colombia’s Integrated Water Management policy for the period 2012-2014, the paper focuses on one, the Rio Cauca flood control project. This happened to be the most successful project, and also the one with the highest agreement on problems to be solved, yet not all the measures proposed were approved by key actors on whom implementation depends and at least one key initiative had to be abandoned by project leaders to be able to move on with the project. Why? The analysis looks at both the most contested -and finally abandoned- initiative within the project and also at the least contested of them, studying how the narratives of key actors could have affected collaborative decision making inside what was conceived as a “governance network” (Klijn&Koppenjan, 2012).


In both cases, the creation of (permanent) “conservation corridors” for animal species and the designation of small areas as optionally floodable in a controlled fashion in the event of floods that might occur every 25 years, the key actors were the same, yet the permanent corridors faced significantly less resistance than the temporarily floodable areas, especially from the sugar cane growers organizations economically affected by both measures.


A thematic narrative analysis (Feldman et al., 2004; Riessman, 2008 but also Lejano and Leong (2012) is used to identify common, but also complementary narratives between actors. The analysis includes coding narrative interviews to eight of those actors as well as their separate “verbal protocols” (Isenberg, 1986; Payne, 1994) for solving a proposed problem and documents produced by them during the period studied. In all cases, the narrative interviews are about “what happened” during the discussion of both the conservation corridor and the floodable areas. Also in all cases, the verbal protocol is the answer to the following question: Given the following problem, Rio Cauca, a) how would you define it? b) how would you solve it, stepwise if possible?.


The thematic analysis is complemented -and its results triangulated with- a structural narrative analysis (Riessman, 2008) of the responses of the four key actors, using Labov’s (1972) categories of abstract, orientation, complicating action, evaluation and resolution to search for common/different patterns in the form of their stories, and for possible differences of form in each one’s stories of the supported and the not-supported measure. The triangulation of methods allows for robust conclusions on the narratives of these key actors, that will then be linked back to their actions during the discussion process as recorded in project accounts and their own stories.


The hypothesis is that narrative commonalities/differences will be identifiable not only regarding themes, but also regarding forms of storytelling (Labov, 1972; Riessman, 1989; Riessman, 2008) used as proxies of intensity, telling us not just how different groups of actors understood themes differently but also how important a given theme of difference/coincidence was for them, therefore connecting narrative theme/form (meaning) to likelihood of collaboration (action), both directly through common/uncommon approaches to problems and indirectly through perceived interdependence between actors.






Feldman, M. S., Sköldberg, K., Brown, R. N., & Horner, D. (2004). Making Sense of Stories: A Rhetorical Approach to Narrative Analysis. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 14(2), 147-170. doi:10.1093/jopart/muh010


Hoppe, R. (2010). The Governance of Problems. Bristol, UK: The Policy Press.


Isenberg, D. J. (1986). Thinking and Managing: A Verbal Protocol Analysis of Managerial Problem Solving. The Academy of Management Journal, 29(4), 775-788. doi:10.2307/255944


Klijn, E. H., & Koppenjan, J. (2012). Governance network theory: past, present and future. Policy & Politics, 40(4), 587-606.


Labov, W. (1972). The transformation of experience in narrative syntax. Language in the inner city, 354, 96.


Lejano, R. P., & Leong, C. (2012). A Hermeneutic Approach to Explaining and Understanding Public Controversies. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 22(4), 793-814. doi:10.1093/jopart/mus001


Payne, J. W. (1994). Thinking Aloud: Insights Into Information Processing. Psychological Science (0956-7976), 5(5), 241-248.


Riessman, C. K. (1989). Life events, meaning and narrative: The case of infidelity and divorce. Social Science & Medicine, 29(6), 743-751. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0277-9536(89)90154-8


Riessman, C. K. (2008). Narrative methods for the human sciences: Sage.


Valdivieso, G.E (2016). Frames, decision rules and concerted action: within-and between systems challenges to Integrated Water Resources Management in Colombia. Paper presented at the Netherlands’ Institute of Government Annual Work Conference in Antwerp, 24 November 2016.  


The Case for Hope: Good Storytelling in Foresight and Public Policy

Ian Roberge - iroberge@glendon.yorku.ca - Glendon College, York University - Canada

This paper is interested in the relationship between foresight, narratives and storytelling. How do narratives and storytelling strengthen foresight to increase its appeal in policymaking? Foresight is the scientific study of futures. From a public policy perspective, foresight provides an opportunity to strategically plan long-term for desirable futures, or to look to avoid less attractive ones. Foresight can be particularly useful for crisis planning and management by considering the ‘unimaginable’. Yet, foresight is under-used in public policy. Foresight scholars have long sought to make their field more applicable for policymakers; they have had limited success. Proponents of foresight emphasize its strategic benefits, as well as its scientific credentials as a basis for legitimacy. Foresight as science, however, has distinct limitations. Foresight is not about predicting the future – it is about analyzing futures – but, the perception is that too often it simply gets it wrong. Foresight needs to surmount its own limitations in order to become more policy relevant. In this paper, I argue that foresight to be useful, and to be viewed as such, needs to construct more developed and full narratives about futures via better stories. What are the characteristics of a good foresight story? At a minimum, foresight is pertinent insofar as it can provide hope. When it fails to do so and when the purported image is of a dreary future, foresight has difficulty gaining traction. Foresight stories need to remain anchored in scientific analysis; however, compelling narratives and stories to have influence ought to provide images of preferable futures.


This paper uses the developing and competing narratives about the Fourth Industrial Revolution to support its arguments. Undoubtedly, the Fourth Industrial Revolution creates major political, economic, social, cultural and ethical challenges. Foresight is an important instrument for policy relevant research relating to these developments. The Fourth Industrial Revolution’s current and prospective impacts are, however, subject to debate. On the one hand, the Fourth Industrial Revolution promises that artificial intelligence, robotics. Biogenetics and other new technologies and discoveries are to fundamentally transform human existence to everyone’s benefit. Alternatively, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is argued, will challenge our very humanness. By participating in the construction of a confident narrative that lays out policy options using good storytelling, foresight can be effective in bringing about positive policy change. Foresight that uses better stories, therefore, can assist in identifying a discernible path in ‘unpredictable times’ to a more progressive and inclusive future.              

Narratives, discursive imaginaries and cultural codes: healthcare in post-communist societies

Karel Cada - kcada1@gmail.com - Institute of Sociological Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University in Prague - Czech Republic

Karel Cada - kcada1@gmail.com - Institute of Sociological Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University in Prague - Czech Republic

The paper explores the relationship between discourses, narratives and institutional change in the post-communist transformation of the Czech health care. In the paper, based on discourse analysis of the Czech health care since 1990, two dominant discursive imaginaries are identified: (1) the discursive imaginary of health hopes connected with promises of better care, medical innovations, shifting away from an outdated and inefficient care, and increasing life expectancy and quality of life and  (2) the discursive imaginary of fiscal fears connected with concepts such as increasing government debt, healthcare spending, insecure fiscal future and economic responsibility. With respect to Laclau, these imaginaries can be defined as a horizon or an absolute limit which structures the field of intelligibility. Both discursive imaginaries can produce different narratives based upon their relation to broader cultural systems of rules and values of community solidarity.

Narrative perspective is ideal for studying the dynamic of health policy, which is characterised by a tension between citizens’ rising expectations, on the one hand, and the imperative of permanent austerity, on the other hand. Using the cultural theory developed by Mary Douglas, narratives can be defined according to how they articulate societal constraints for individual members and how they defy or circumvent the rules and boundaries of their particular social environment. Different regulatory codes construct different types of disorder. Whereas crisis in the individualist code is connected with lack of incentives, crisis in the hierarchist code is associated with lack of reputation.

After 1989, the first period of transformation was characterised by a dominant individualist code, focusing mostly on basic market-oriented reforms such as a pluralistic health insurance model to guarantee up-to-date treatments. It resulted in a growth of total health care expenditure. In the context of accession to the EU in 2004, as reforms of public administration and transposition of European norms were being conducted, a hierarchist code stressing the need to consolidate rules prevailed. The last complex reform was proposed after the parliamentary elections in 2006. The reform plan corresponded with a global shift towards a neoliberal paradigm in health care, focusing on consumer-oriented services obtained in the market and patients as responsible and rational actors.

In the Czech context, the individualist code served predominantly to articulate a combination of the health hopes imaginary and the fiscal fears imaginary. On the contrary, the hierarchist code was often employed to express the fiscal fears imaginary. This historical configuration marked significantly the character of post-socialist welfare, because the positive imaginary of modernisation of health care was always associated with the individualist discourses of market-driven reforms. Efforts to strengthen rules and hierarchies, on the contrary, were much more underscored by fiscal doomsday scenarios.

Export PDF