An Angel on the Wind: How Heroic Policy Narratives Shape Policy Realities


  • Elizabeth A. Shanahan,

  • Michael D. Jones,

  • Mark K. McBeth,

  • Ross R. Lane


Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) is a new and maturing theory of the policy process that takes a systematic, scientific approach to understanding the social construction of policy realities. As such, NPF serves as a bridge between postpositivists, who assert that public policymaking is contextualized through narratives and social construction, and positivists, who contend that legitimacy is grounded in falsifiable claims. The central questions of NPF are: What is the empirical role of policy narratives in the policy process and do policy narratives influence policy outcomes? First, the contributions of NPF scholarship at three levels of analysis—micro, meso, and macro—are examined. Next, necessary conditions of a policy narrative are specified, accompanied by detailed discussion of the narrative components: narrative elements, narrative strategies, and policy beliefs. Finally, an empirical illustration of NPF—a case study of Cape Wind's proposal to install wind turbines off Nantucket—is presented. Although intercoalitional differences have long been studied in the NPF scholarship, this is the first study to examine intracoalitional cohesion or the extent to which a coalition tells the same story across narrative elements, narrative strategies, and policy beliefs. NPF is a new approach to the study of the policy process that offers empirical pathways to better speculating the role of narrative in the policy process.