History of the NPF
Though the NPF was not officially named until 2010, the theory grew out of debates going back more than two decades over what constitutes legitimate public policy theory (Shanahan, Jones, McBeth & Radaelli, 2017). By 2000, two groups had emerged: “postpositivists, who understand policy as contextualized through narratives and social constructions and more positivist-oriented theorists, whose approach is based on clear concepts and propositions, causal drivers, predictions, and falsification” (Shanahan, et al., 2017, p. 174). The NPF was created to serve as a bridge between the “divergent policy process approaches by holding that narratives both socially construct reality and can be measured empirically” (Shanahan, et al., 2017, p. 174). Since the introduction of the NPF, 35 articles using it as a framework to study public policy have appeared in numerous peer-reviewed academic journals, with the Policy Studies Journal, Social Science Quarterly, Politics & Policy, and the Review of Policy Research to mention only a few. An edited volume, The Science of Stories: Applications of the Narrative Policy Framework in Public Policy Analysis, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014, and over fifty conference presentations have been made testing, expanding, and refining the NPF. While much work has been done, existing scholarship has only just begun to scratch the surface of what the NPF can do to illuminate the role of narrative in public policy. The next sections will lay out the main scaffolding of the framework, to provide both a good introduction to the NPF and (hopefully) entice you to engage with the framework and contribute to its development.
Three Levels of Analysis
As mentioned in assumption 4 of the section entitled “When should I use the NPF?”, the NPF assumes that policy narratives interact simultaneously at three levels of analysis: the micro level, the meso level, and the macro level. The distinction between the three levels of analysis is best highlighted in Shanahan, Jones, & McBeth (2018) when they state:
“At the microlevel the researcher is concerned with the individual and how individuals both inform and are informed by policy narratives. At the mesolevel, the researcher is focused on the policy narratives that policy actors who compose groups and advocacy coalitions deploy over time within a policy subsystem. Finally, at the macrolevel the researcher is interested in how policy narratives embedded in cultures and institutions shape public policy” (p. 179).
These delineations are used to determine the scope of the research and to offer direction related to the units of analysis (Shanahan, et al., 2017). Units of analysis differ from levels of analysis in that the former “refers to specific observation in the study from which or about which data are gathered” (Shanahan, Jones, & McBeth, 2018, p. 334).
The interconnectedness of the three levels of analysis stems from earlier work by McBeth and Shanahan (2004) which argues “there is a lack of theory addressing macro-level driving forces in the political system that influence how [policy narratives] develop among policy actors and the public at large” (p. 319-320; Shanahan, et al., 2017, p. 196). Central to the NPF is specifying how the macrolevel interacts with the mesolevel, and in turn how the mesolevel interacts with the microlevel (Shanahan, et al., 2017).
McBeth, M.K & Shanahan, E.A. (2004). “Public Opinion for Sale: The Role of Policy Marketers in Greater
Yellowstone Policy Conflict”. Policy Sciences 37 (3), 319-338. Doi: 10.1007/s11077-005-8876-4
Shanahan, E.A., Jones, M.D., & McBeth, M.K. (2018). “How to Conduct a Narrative Policy Framework study”.
The Social Science Journal, 55, 332-345. Doi: 10.1016/j.soscij.2017.12.002
Shanahan, E.A., Jones, M.D., McBeth, M.K., & Radaelli, C.M. (2017). The Narrative Policy Framework. In
Weible & Sabatier (Eds.), Theories of the policy process (4th ed., p. 173-213). New York, NY; Routledge.