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NPF Core Assumptions

       The NPF makes five general assumptions about how the world works (Shanahan, Jones, & McBeth, 2018). These assumptions are baked into the theory and it is therefore necessary that a researcher take these assumptions seriously if they wish to effectively utilize the NPF. Shanahan, Jones, and McBeth detail these assumptions (2018, p.2) and we reproduce them here to help scholars determine if the NPF might be a useful or valid framework for their research. Per, Shanahan, Jones, and McBeth (2018), if your research assumptions differ significantly from the assumptions of the NPF, the NPF is likely not right for your research.


Social Construction

Non-trivial aspects of policy are intersubjectively (or socially) constructed. This doesn’t mean that NPF rejects the notion of an objective reality which exists outside of human cognition, only that public policy narratives are efforts by political actors to present a particular point of view in order to advance their preferred policy resolution. In short, public policy is socially constructed.


Generalizable Structure

The NPF recognizes that much of the specific content within policy narratives applicable to specific policy sub-systems, and cannot be expected to easily transfer between policy subsystems. For instance, the characterization of GreenPeace volunteers as dauntless warriors battling greedy whalers to safeguard biodiversity doesn’t mean too much when discussing effective approaches to municipal stormwater management. However, the NPF does hold that there are generalizable structural elements – including (but not limited to) characters, setting, plot, and moral of the story, which can successfully be applied in any policy subsystem, regardless of its content.


Bounded Relativity

While meaning-making in policy narratives is somewhat elastic, it is by no means unfettered. Ideologies, belief systems, and other commitments to ideals, norms, and traditions function to limit the effective variation which policy actors can present in their policy narratives. NPF scholars refer to this as bounded relativity – and rely on this concept to explain why policy proposals are not infinitely malleable.


Three Levels of Analysis

Three interacting levels of analysis – narratives operate at three interacting levels, micro (individual), meso (group), and macro (cultural and institutional). The NPF holds that analysis of public policy formation, adoption, and implementation occurs at multiple levels and must be accounted for by multiple levels of analysis. Specifically, the framework identifies three analytical levels of study the individual, group, and cultural/institution (the micro, meso, and macro, respectively).


Homo narrans model of the individual

The NPF also assumes that the narrative form of communication plays a fundamental role not only in sharing information between people, but in the very construction of the human experience. The NPF has elaborated the Homo narrans model of the individual – and holds that humans are predisposed to speak and think in the form of stories.

For anyone interested in learning more Jones, M.D., & McBeth, M.K. (2010). A Narrative Policy Framework: Clear enough to be wrong? The Policy Studies Journal, 38(2), 329-353. 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. Schattschneider, E.E. (1961) The Semisovereign People, A Realist’s View of Democracy in America. New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston.

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