Policy Narratives

A memorable story sticks in the mind. Narratives may have roles in the stabilization, translation and transformation of public policy. One idea is that narratives help form or maintain coalitions supporting or opposing policy change. Narratives may also appeal to emotions in a way that arguments and statistics do not to influence policy preferences.

Bangkok Floods 2011
Photo: Philip Roeland

Our studies of flood management in Thailand suggest that multiple narratives play an important role in maintaining institutional ‘traps’ like fragmentation and crisis management.  Policy narratives sometimes seem to be shared by several countries and are important to maintain support for large-scale, international, transport infrastructure projects. They do their work in this case by focusing on benefits and heroes and ignoring costs and risks. In another study of water-energy-food nexus narratives we found evidence of only very modest influence on decisions or practices.

We are interested in learning more about the conditions in which narratives make a difference (and when they do not), and how?

Selected Publications

  • Road to shared prosperity: the elaboration and influence of a transboundary narrative for regional economic integration (in review)
  • Thomalla F, Lebel L. et al. (2017). Long-term recovery narratives following major disasters in Southeast Asia. Regional Environmental Change, 1-12. (Abstract)
  • Lebel L, & Lebel P. (2017). Policy narratives help maintain institutional traps in the governance of floods in Thailand. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 1-16. (Abstract)
  • Lebel L, & Lebel B. (2017). Nexus narratives and resource insecurities in the Mekong Region. Environmental Science & Policy. (Abstract)