April 20, 2007

The Intersection of Narrative Policy Analysis and Policy Change Theory

By McBeth, Mark K; Shanahan, Elizabeth A; Arnell, Ruth J; Hathaway, Paul L

Narrative policy analysis and policy change theory rarely intersect in the literature. This research proposes an integration of these approaches through an empirical analysis of the narrative political strategies of two interest groups involved in policy debate and change over an eight-year period in the Greater Yellowstone Area. Three research questions are explored: (i) Is it possible to reconcile these seemingly disparate approaches? (ii) Do policy narrative strategies explain how interest groups expand or contain policy issues despite divergent core policy beliefs? (3) How does this new method of analysis add to the literature? One hundred and five documents from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Blue Ribbon Coalition were content analyzed for policy narrative strategies: identification of winners and losers, diffusion or concentration of costs and benefits, and use of condensation symbols, policy surrogates, and science. Five of seven hypotheses were confirmed while controlling for presidential administration and technical expertise. The results indicate that interest groups do use distinctive narrative strategies in the turbulent policy environment.

KEY WORDS: Advocacy Coalition Framework, Greater Yellowstone Area, interest groups, narrative policy analysis, policy change


Researchers in the field of public policy theory seek to explain the divergent characteristics of policy change, namely equilibrium and radical change. Why does the public undergo alterations in how they understand policy problems and why do policy issues that remain static for many years suddenly become dynamic? Three theories have dominated the literature over the past decade: Kingdon's (1995) "policy streams/' Baumgartner and Jones' (1993) "punctuated equilibrium," and "Advocacy Coalition Framework" (ACF). These authors individually seek to build a theory of policy change that stands up to the rigor of empirical analyses. In this study, we posit a methodological innovation in the area of policy change by introducing an integration of narrative policy analysis (NPA) into the traditional policy change theory. This integration is accomplished through a systematic study of the strategic nature of policy narratives. The results help to further explain policy change and the role that various groups play in prompting policy change or maintenance of the status quo.

During the last two decades, the work of social constructionists in the field of NPA (e.g., Fischer & Forrester, 1993; Roe, 1994; Stone, 2002) has developed concurrently with that of policy change theorists. NPA focuses on the centrality of narratives in understanding policy issues, problems, and definitions and does so without the grand theoretical aspirations of the more traditional policy change works. One of the most developed works in the narrative genre is that of Deborah Stone (2002), whose Policy Paradox is an NPA gold mine of "mini-theories" about agenda setting, issue and problem definition, and policy dynamics. The centerpiece of Stone's work is the use of literary devices such as characters, plots, colorful language, and metaphors to analyze policy narratives. In particular, the storyteller's political tactics are revealed in how they construct who wins and who loses in a policy story (or who reaps the benefits and pays the costs), how they characterize policy issues and their opposition, and how they either entangle policies in larger cultural issues or alternatively try to ground such issues in the certainty of scientifically deduced numbers and facts. Ultimately, Stone (p. 229) asserts that the goal of this strategic problem definition is to portray a political problem so that one's favored course of action appears to be in the broadest public interest

With some exceptions (Baumgartner, 1989; Baumgartner & Jones, 1993, pp. 27-9; Hajer, 1993; Radaelli, 1999; Schneider & Ingram, 2005), NPA and the policy change literature rarely intersect. The exclusion of narratives from the grand theories of policy change is grounded in the belief that narratives are value-based random garble. Sabatier (2000, p. 138), for example, argues that construcrivists "have demonstrated very little concern with being sufficiently clear to be proven wrong" and that their lack of clarity leads him to have "no interest in popularizing their position." We argue that narratives are the lifeblood of politics. Narratives are both the visible outcome of differences in policy beliefs (McBeth, Shanahan, & Jones, 2005) and the equally visible outcome of political strategizing. Both policy beliefs and political strategies, as found in policy narratives, are not random occurrences. Policy beliefs are arguably stable, and political strategies are predictable.

NPA and Policy Change Theory

Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith (1993, p. 16) outline premises for their ACF, for which we assert that narrative theory can serve a methodological role. First, they claim that policy change must be analyzed over time, a decade or longer; narratives are written words that can easily be documented and tracked through a temporal perspective. second, they purport that policy change can be understood through the examination of political subsystems (advocacy coalitions) that seek to influence governmental decisions. Other research (McBeth et al., 2005) has discovered that the narratives generated by political subsystems in the polity at large, not just in the legislative arena, also contain stable core policy beliefs and are a legitimate source of policy change analysis.

The work of Baumgartner and Jones (1993) is also essential for a study of narratives and policy change. They point out that, at any particular time, an interest group is part of a winning policy monopoly or they are part of an out-of-power minority coalition. However, with "wicked problems" (Rittel & Webber, 1973), where rationality and science are minimized in importance, winning and losing is more of a perception than necessarily a reality. Wicked problems resist "resolution by appeal to the facts" (Schon & Rein, 1994, p. 4) and beliefs are grounded in competing cultural norms (Wood & Doan, 2003, p. 641). Jenkins-Smith and Sabatier (1993, p. 49) furthermore assert that when core beliefs are at stake, competing sides will defend their own belief systems and attack the belief systems of the opposition. Yet, as later hypothesized by Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith (1999, p. 124), through the development of technical expertise, coalitions move toward policy learning. Because of the intense value-based conflict between competing groups, policy narratives are an important element of study for wicked problems and add to the ability of more traditional policy change theories to understand the strategic representation of values in framing the conflict.

Interest groups attempt to maintain, demonstrate, and increase their political power as they seek to win a favorable policy. Furthermore, whether an interest group perceives themselves as winning or losing on a policy issue greatly influences how they play politics. According to Schattschneider (1960, p. 16), winning groups try to restrict participation (issue containment) in a policy issue by limiting the scope of the conflict whereas losing groups try to widen participation (issue expansion) in a policy issue. Such a conclusion is reinforced in a wide variety of literature (e.g., Baumgartner, 1989; Cobb & Elder, 1983; Baumgartner & Jones, 1993). While Radaelli (1999, p. 674) concludes that narratives are understood within "broader political dynamics," the unanswered questions are how do the policy narratives of interest groups play into the equation of issue containment and issue expansion in wicked policy problems and how do these narratives play into the role of policy change (or lack of change, thus contributing to policy intractability)? Our methodology, drawing on the insights of NPA, Baumgartner, Jones, Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith, allows us to answer these questions.

Primary Beliefs and Political Strategies

We assert that interest group narratives possess both primary beliefs and political strategies. This differs slightly from Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith's (1999, p. 122) view of policy beliefs. They contend that policy beliefs are composed of core beliefs that remain stable and secondary beliefs that are more susceptible to change. The same principle of core beliefs and secondary beliefs can be applied to the study of policy narratives. When we read a policy narrative regarding an environmental issue, part of the narrative consists of underlying beliefs in such issues as federalism, science, and the relationship between humans and nature. These are primary policy beliefs held by interest groups, and narratives reveal that they tend to be stable over time (McBeth et al, 2005).

We argue that narratives also possess political strategies and that these elements are much more dynamic. In contrast to Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith (1993: 30-31), who define secondary beliefs as instrumental decisions of policy implementation, we assert that in a policy narrative, the secondary political strategies (not necessarily beliefs) include \rhetorical devices outlined by Deborah Stone (2002), among others. Political strategies are an important and perhaps underdeveloped element of the ACF. As Brown and Stewart (1993, p. 101) argue, the study of policy change must focus on "tactics employed by policy advocates." As found in narratives, these tactics or strategies shift depending on whether or not the coalition perceives itself as winning. Competing policy narratives incorporate strategies such as identification of winners and losers, framing who benefits and who sustains costs in the policy conflict, the use of condensation symbols, the wrapping of issues in larger policy surrogates, and the use of scientific uncertainty. In turn, the choice of narrative strategy is driven by the group's perception of whether it is winning or losing on the policy issue. The analysis of both primary beliefs as defined by Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith (1999, p. 122) and political strategies (as informed by Stone) is an unexplored area in which the two fields intersect and strengthen each other. While traditional policy change theory can show that groups act strategically, our methodology draws on NPA to show how groups act strategically through narratives.

Political Narrative Strategies

Five narrative strategies are defined in the succeeding discussion. These political strategies are hypothesized to contain the issue if the group is winning or to expand the issue if the group is losing.

1. Identifying Winners and Losers. As part of issue containment and expansion, interest groups will strategically include or exclude mention of specific winners and losers. Interest groups that perceive themselves as winning on a policy issue are more likely to identify specific winners in their policy narratives, whereas interest groups that perceive that they are losing on a policy issue are more likely to identify specific losers. Winning strategies attempt to contain the issue by illustrating that the status quo is positive and no change is necessary. In Baumgartner and Jones's (1993) terminology, these groups attempt to preserve the current image of a policy problem simply because this policy frame has helped to achieve the status of a policy monopoly. The goal is to maintain a "minimum winning coalition" (Riker, 1962); expanding the coalition would necessarily entail compromises in policy beliefs and outcomes, which, in turn, weakens the power of the members of the policy monopoly. On the other hand, losing groups identify losers in the policy conflict in the hope of mobilizing opposition in order to change the status quo. Stone (2002, p. 228) argues that "both sides try to amass the most power" and that it is the loser "who seeks to bring in outside help."

2. Construction of Benefits and Costs. Baumgartner and Jones (1993, p. 19) contend that losing groups seek to redefine issues in ways that will mobilize indifferent citizens and groups in the hope that this mobilization will destabilize policy equilibrium. This expansion of an issue to "heightened general attention" is pivotal in policy change (Jones & Baumgartner, 1993, p. 20). In terms of narrative theory, when a competing interest group is losing, they use their policy narratives to attempt to reallocate attention and expand the issue by diffusing costs and concentrating benefits. This strategy makes it appear that only a few (if any) groups are benefiting from the status quo while many groups are paying the costs. This tactic attempts to mobilize the public and bring new players into a coalition. Conversely, when a group is winning, they are much more likely to contain the issue by diffusing benefits and concentrating costs on a small group. This narrative strategy seeks to maintain the status quo and to restrict a wide-scale mobilization.

3. The Use of Condensation Symbols. Jones and Baumgartner (1993, p. 26) argue that "every public policy problem is usually understood, even by the politically sophisticated, in simplified and symbolic terms." Stone (2002, p. 137) asserts more directly that "symbolic representation is the essence of problem definition in politics." Thus, we can hypothesize that interest groups that are winning or losing on a policy issue will use "condensation symbols" or a language that "reduce[s] complicated concepts into simple, manageable, or memorable forms" (Achter, 2004, p. 315). Interest groups will use condensation symbols to define the policy issue and to characterize their opponents. We argue that winning groups have fewer incentives to use condensation symbols because doing so might invoke unintended consequences such as riling of the opposition. Losing groups, however, have tremendous incentives to negatively portray both the issue and their opponents through the use of condensation symbols. Again, their goal is to both rally their troops and call in additional reinforcements by expanding the scope of the conflict

4. The Policy Surrogate. In his discussion of the many causes of wicked resourcebased policy conflict, Nie (2003) suggests that a key cause of conflict is the "policy surrogate." Nie (p. 314) argues that "relatively straightforward policy problems can be turned wicked when they are used by political actors as a surrogate to debate larger and more controversial problems." For environmental policy issues in the Western United States, this means that issues like bison management and snowmobile access are wrapped in larger persistent controversies of Western communities: concerns about federalism, the role of public lands, and the fear of outsiders, to name a few. Our argument is that losing groups strategically entangle policy issues in larger, emotionally charged debates in an effort to gain a competitive advantage by expanding the scope of the policy issue. In short, these policy surrogates are used to ignite the larger controversies already simmering in the political culture and to mobilize opposition.

5. Scientific Certainty and Disagreement. Nie (2003, p. 323) argues that scientific disagreement is also a major cause of intractable natural resource-based political conflict Furthermore, Nie (p. 323) notes that environmental policies have increasingly become disputes over science and concludes that political actors "frame value and interest based political conflict as scientific ones" and that they "escape responsibility for making the tough choices required of them." Thus, this driver, contradictory to the policy surrogate driver, suggests that policy actors intentionally reduce the scope of policy issues, ignoring the larger normative and cultural issues that invariably surround resource-based environmental conflict We argue that groups that are winning in a policy issue are likely to define the issue in terms of scientific certainty, thus ignoring the larger normative issues involved in the controversy. Such a certainty attempts to bring closure to debates surrounding policy issues, maintains the status quo and the minimum winning coalition, and simultaneously hopes to demobilize the opposition. Conversely, losing groups attack scientific results and present a scientific disagreement in an attempt to open up the issue for a continued deliberation.

Research Questions

This study addresses three research questions. First, we attempt to methodologically demonstrate the useful intersection of NPA and policy change theory. Can such ontologically opposing theories be legitimately brought together in the study of policy change? second, we operationalize NPA into measurable tools to examine how groups expand or contain policy issues, not just that they do. Do policy narrative strategies of interest groups explain how these groups expand or contain policy issues despite divergent core policy beliefs? Third, how does this new method of analysis add to the existing literature on policy change?

The case Study

The systematic analysis of different interest groups' narrative political strategies is conducted as a case study in the turbulent policy arena of the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA). The 19 million acres of the GYA, with Yellowstone National Park (YNP) comprising 2.2 million acres of the region, are not only a world famous area for geysers, wildlife, and scenic wonders but a well documented hotbed of political conflict (e.g., Cawley & Freemuth, 1993; Tierney & Erasure, 1998; Wilson, 1997). In fact, environmental policymaking in the region is often intractable or wicked (Rittel & Webber, 1973). To use the terminology of Jenkins-Smith and Sabatier (1993, p. 49), the conflict is intense and highly political since core policy beliefs (e.g., federalism, the relationship between humans and nature, science) are disputed and competing sides ground their arguments in myth (Tierney & Frasure, 1998).

Environmental groups and scientists have sought to redefine Yellowstone's image from that of an isolated national park with definitive boundaries to that of the only intact ecosystem left in the continental United States (Clark & Minta, 1994). To use the theory of Baumgartner and Jones (1993), environmental groups have sought to redefine the image of the area from "Yellowstone as zoo" to "Yellowstone as an open ecological system." Such an effort at image redefinition has intensified the political conflict in the past decade. Two interest groups have dominated efforts by competing advocacy coalitions to define the policy images of GYA. The Blue Ribbon Coalition (BRC) represents motorized recreation users (wise use coalition) and is based in Pocatello, Idaho.1 The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC), based in Bozeman, Montana, represents the environmental coalition.2 These two groups are "purposive" interest groups, for those who join pursue ideological and issue- oriented goals without material rewards (Berry, 1989, p. 47). This is important given the Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith (1999, p. 134) hypothesis that purposive groups are more constrained in their willingne\ss to compromise beliefs and policy positions.

From 1997 through 2004, the politics of the GYA have been characterized by continuous changes in public policy, instability, and policy wickedness. Policy monopolies have collapsed for short periods of time only to find resurgence and an ability to regain political power. During the years of the Clinton administration, environmental groups pushed large policy initiatives into effect The policy issues that demonstrated newfound environmental power in the GYA included wolf rintroduction in 1995, regulations that ended snowmobiling inside YNP in 2000, and a national roadless initiative in national forests in 1999.

There is one exception to the wave of Clinton GYA environmental policy success, where the wise use coalition retained their monopoly: the management of freeranging bison. In the winter of 1996- 97, over 1,100 bison were killed by the Montana State Livestock Department with assistance from the National Park Service because of concern over the potential role of bison in brucellosis transmission to cattle. Efforts by the Clinton administration and environmentalists to end the killing failed as a powerful subsystem of ranchers, federal and state elected officials, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal, Plant, Health, Inspection Services retained its historic hegemonic stance.

Yet again, with the exception of the bison controversy, the policy changes in the 1990s were overwhelmingly in the direction of the GYA environmental advocacy coalition. The election of George W. Bush in 2000, however, led to a large-scale resurgence of the wise use coalition in at least two policy areas. Bush's first term saw the dramatic reversal of the Clinton era snowmobile ban in YNP. The president's second term saw the overturning of the roadless rule in favor of state control over the use of national forests. It is in the context of this turbulent policy arena from 1997 through 2004 that the BRC and the GYC both generated strategic political narratives.

Research Methodology

A content analysis was performed on one hundred five documents produced by the GYC (52 documents) and the BRC (53 documents) over eight years (January 1, 1997 through December 31,2004). The documents address one of three policy issues in the GYA: (i) bison and brucellosis (14 documents); (ii) snowmobile access in YNP (70 documents); and (iii) the roadless initiative (21 documents). Our choice of content analysis was straightforward. Content analysis is unobtrusive, allows for a reliability analysis, permits a longitudinal analysis, and is efficient and inexpensive. The documents analyzed were readily archived and complete, thereby avoiding some of the disadvantages of using content analysis (Johnson & Reynolds, 2005, pp. 232-34). Based on NPA and policy change theory, we propose seven hypotheses predicting an association between use of a winning or losing narrative frame (independent variable, see Table 1) and seven different narrative political strategies (dependent variables, see Table 1).


For the following seven alternative hypotheses, each has a null hypothesis that asserts no association between winning or losing policy narrative frames and the attending narrative political strategy. Because these are nominal-level variables, no direction is predicted.

Hypothesis Ia: There is an association between winning policy narrative frames and identification of winners in the narrative.

Hypothesis Ib: There is an association between losing policy narrative frames and identification of losers in the narrative.

Hypothesis 2: There is an association between winning policy narrative frames and the diffusion of benefits in the narrative; similarly, there is an association between losing policy narrative frames and concentration of benefits in the narrative.3

Hypothesis 3: There is an association between winning policy narrative frames and the concentration of costs in the narrative; similarly, there is an association between losing policy narrative frames and diffusion of costs in the narrative.

Hypothesis 4: There is an association between losing policy narrative frames and use of condensation symbols.

Hypothesis 5: There is an association between losing policy narrative frames and use of policy surrogates.

Hypothesis 6: There is an association between winning policy narrative frames and the use of scientific certainty in the narrative; similarly, there is an association between losing policy narrative frames and the use of scientific uncertainty in the nanative.

Dependent Variables

Temporally, whether the policy narrative is winning or losing precedes the political strategies used; thus, the dependent variables in this study are the political strategies (see Table 1). Using content analysis, a series of questions was developed to operationalize the dependent variables for the seven hypotheses (see Appendix A, questions 1-8 on the codebook).

Independent Variable

Whether a policy narrative is winning or losing explains what political strategies are employed. The problem of how to operationalize whether an interest group was winning or losing invoked much discussion among research team members. At one point, an objective measure was going to be utilized. In other words, based on executive, judicial, and administrative decisions, the interest group would be determined to be winning or not Interestingly, this proved difficult because of the volatility of Yellowstone policy issues during the time period under study. No interest group could be said to enjoy a true policy monopoly throughout the period (the bison issue is the most likely exception) because governmental decisions on these issues rarely achieved a permanent or stable status. Thus, the team decided that what was important in narrative terms was not objective winning or losing, but rather the perceptions of the interest group on whether they were winning on an issue (the group supported the status quo) or losing (the group felt that they were under attack in the policy environment). Question 9 of the code book in Appendix A measures this perception of winning and losing.

Control Variables

ACF controls of coalitional resources (i.e., presidential administration) and coalitional policy learning (i.e., whether or not scientific evidence was used) were used. The ACF theory asserts that over time, policy change is, in part, a function of changing governing coalitions (affecting coalitional resources) and coalitional technical expertise (impacting policy learning). To better assess the relationship between political strategies and winning-losing narrative frames, each Chi-square test (in succeeding discussions) was subsequently controlled for presidential administration and whether or not the narrative used science.

The content analysis was conducted by three coders. Ten documents were pretested using an initial codebook. The documents were coded independently by the coders who then met periodically after coding every 25-35 documents. At their meetings, the coders discussed their results, redefined and narrowed rules, and ultimately reconciled their disagreements. The reliability of the three coders was evaluated by comparing them in three pairs on their coding of all questions. The reliability ratings range from a low of 78 percent to a high of 93 percent, with an average of agreeing 84 percent of the time (see Appendix B), thus reasonably establishing intercoder reliability.

Given that the narrative strategies were operationalized as nominal-level variables, a Chi-square test of significance was conducted for each hypothesis to investigate the statistical difference between the occurrence of narrative frame (winning- losing) and that of political narrative strategy or if the strategies utilized are attributed to chance alone. A continuity correction was applied with the occurrence of small cells (n s 5); a Fisher's Exact Test was used to determine the statistical significance (Ramsey & Schafer, 1997, pp. 547-51). The magnitude of the Chi-square results was assessed with a Cramr's V, the preferred Chi-square measure of association (McClendon, 2004, p. 455). Odds ratios (ORs) were calculated as a cross-product ratio (Knoke, Bohrnstedt, & Mee, 2002, p. 161) and were used to indicate the odds of a specific political strategy occurring with a winning or losing narrative.

Research Results

Table 2 provides descriptive statistics of the one hundred five narratives coded. Note that of the winning and losing narratives, 71 of the 105 documents (68 percent) were coded as losing narratives, whereas only 34 (32 percent) were coded as winning. There are at least two reasons for this. First, groups may well be more likely to articulate and distribute a policy narrative when they are losing as their goal is to change the status quo, and their narrative is a form of both political defense and attack. second, as discussed earlier, there were no clear policy monopolies in this time period. Instead, both interest groups experienced back-and-forth short-term wins and losses characteristic of wicked problems. Thus, both interest groups felt under attack consistently from nonfriendly forces. This is evidenced by the fact that both groups produced more losing policy narratives than winning across all three policy issues regardless of presidential administration.

Hypotheses Ia and b: Identification of Winners and Losers

Table 3 indicates statistically significant associations between winning narrative frames and the identification of a specific winner (χ^sup 2^[d-f. = 1] = 13.049, p

The strategy of winning narratives is to maintain the status quo; the BRC often cites local communities and small business owners as winners while the GYC cites Yellowstone visitors. Interestingly, the BRC and the GYC see the maintenance of the status quo in the hands of local vs. national constituencies, respectively. Yet their strategy is keenly predictable here. Losing narratives identify losers in an attempt to grow a coalition and change the status quo. The BRC invokes a wide coalition of potential losers in trying to debunk what they view as environmental propaganda: the public, visitors to YNP, snowmobile riders, and the snowmobile industry (Eggers, 1999). Similarly, in arguing for snowmobile regulation, the GYC identifies wildlife, park employees, public safety, American families, and the taxpayer as losers in the status quo of YNP snowmobile use (Catton & Buffington, 2002). The political strategy is the same despite divergent policy beliefs.

Hypothesis 2: Concentration or Diffusion of Benefits

Table 4 also reveals a statistically significant association between the occurrence of concentration or diffusion of benefits in policy narrative frames (χ^sup 2^[d-f. = 1] = 6.959, p

The association between (i) winning narratives and diffusing benefits and (ii) losing narratives and concentrating benefits is a political strategy used by interest groups to influence policy outcome. For example, the GYC applauded the success of the Clinton era snowmobile reductions by citing the improved National Park Service employees' health as well as that of all visitors (Scott, 2004); thus, they diffused the benefits of the ban to many people. Similarly, the BRC presented the diffuse distribution of the benefits of snowmobile use to local economies, residents, and snowmobile riders (Collins, 1998). Examples of concentrating benefits when losing are found as a political strategy in both the BRC and the GYC narratives. In a time when snowmobiling was under attack in the courts, the BRC contended that the only beneficiary from snowmobile regulation was the environmental group Fund for Animals (Cook, 1997). Similarly, the GYC concentrated benefits by claiming that President Bush was ignoring larger national interests and instead was "bowing to intense lobbying by the snowmobile industry and the park's border towns" (GYC, 2002). Concentrating or diffusing the benefits of a policy proposal is a political narrative strategy employed to influence policy outcome.

Hypothesis 3: Concentration and Diffusion of Costs

Table 4 also indicates a statistically significant association between the concentration and diffusion of costs of the narrative frame (χ^sup 2^[d.f. = 1] = 11.683, p

Losing narratives are thought to diffuse costs of the proposed policy as a way to expand the issue, whereas winning narratives contain the issue by concentrating the costs on a few. When losing, the BRC tended to diffuse costs by focusing on how snowmobile riders and the snowmobile community would pay the costs in time, enjoyment, and recreational access, which would negatively impact tourism and gateway communities. Similarly, the GYC diffused costs over stressed wildlife, human health, visitor enjoyment, deteriorating ecosystems, nonmotorized recreationists, and public safety. Finally, when concentrating costs, winning narratives construct narrow entities to endure costs, such as "commercial logging" (GYC, 200Ia) or narrow special interest groups (Welch, 2000).

Hypothesis 4: Use of Condensation Symbols

There is a statistically significant association between the use of condensation symbols and narrative frames (χ^sup 2^[d-f. = 1] = 3.490, p

The effect of condensation symbols is to heighten emotions and create a Hobson's choice in policy preference. Interestingly, the BRC was more likely to use characterization symbols (n = 9 for the BRC or 17 percent of the time; n = 4 for the GYC or 7.7 percent of the time), whereas the GYC was much more likely to use issue symbols (n = 19 for GYC or 36.5 percent of the time; n = 9 for the BRC or 17 percent of the time). For example, while on the losing end of policy disputes, the BRC characterized their opponents as "school yard bullies" with "hit lists" and "hate mail" (Collins, 1998) and "out in left field" (Eggers, 1999), while the GYC refers to a Yellowstone with snowmobiling as a "noisy speedway" (GYC, 2001b).

Hypothesis 5: Use of Surrogates

Table 5 reveals a statistically significant association between use of policy surrogates and narrative frames (χ^sup 2^[df. = 1] = 5.122, p

In political narratives, losing groups are more likely to strategically wrap the issue in the larger contentious cultural context by using policy surrogates. This use of a policy surrogate is again consistent with Baumgartner's and Jones (1993) theory of issue expansion when a group is losing and with the research of Nie (2003) on environmental policy conflict The BRC's policy surrogates tend to focus on either federalism or environmental elitism, arguing, "we can't rely on the federal government to represent the public's interest" (Cook, 1997). Furthermore, the BRC argued that policy was needed to "see our natural resources protected FOR the people instead of FROM the people" (Eggers, 1999). The GYC almost exclusively used surrogates when they were losing, only using a surrogate once when they were winning on an issue. Their surrogates focused on corruption by special interests, as exemplified in this statement from one of their articles: "National interest is being sacrificed to the special interest of the snowmobile industry in of all places, America's first national park" (Sieck, 2002).

Hypothesis 6: Scientific Certainty or Uncertainty

As revealed in Table 6, there is no statistical association between winning-losing narrative frames and how science is used, either to show certainty or uncertainty. We reject hypothesis 6. Approximately 50 percent of both winning and losing narratives use science in their narratives; of those, both narrative frames used scientific certainty at high rates, 89.5 and 85.7 percent, respectively.

When both interest groups used science regardless of whether they were winning or losing, they tended to use it in terms of scientific certainty to back up their policy preference. Nie (2003, p. 323) concludes that competing groups in environmental policy controversies use science to "forward their preferred policy objectives." The focus of science used in the two groups' narratives is different; the GYC uses a conservation biology approach whereas the BRC uses a more technological approach (McBeth et al., 2005, p. 422). In general, the conflict over science between competing interest groups is usually a battle over the stable policy core beliefs embedded in the science rather than \part of a dynamic narrative political strategy.

Controlling for Presidential Administration and Use of Science

The ACF theory asserts that changes in governing coalitions affect policy change in that coalitional resources expand or contract, depending on whether the administration aligns itself with a group's core beliefs or not For example, the Bush administration's shared policy beliefs added resources (power) to the BRC. Not surprisingly, controlling for presidential administration resulted in additive relationships among all six statistically significant political strategies. The relationship between political strategies and narrative frame persisted in direction and varied only somewhat in each control table. Thus, in understanding policy change, changes in governing coalitions and political strategies are critical.

Additionally, the ACF theory differentiates between policy learning within a belief system and across belief systems (Jenkins- Smith & Sabatier, 1993, p. 48). In the former, science is used to bolster a group's core beliefs; in the latter, scientific evidence and coalitional technical expertise can alter core beliefs over time. Given the wicked-problem nature of the GYA, when groups use science, it is used within a belief system to reify a group's policy beliefs. In controlling for those narratives that used science, five of the six political strategies remained virtually unchanged; thus, use of science is not related to winning or losing strategies. However, controlling for use of science led to the evaporation of any relationship between condensation symbols and narrative frame, thus weakening the interpretation of the use of condensation symbols as a narrative political strategy.


In this study, we seek to present a new methodological approach to the understanding of the policy change process by integrating NPA and policy change theory while upholding the standards of traditional social science research. Our first research question- whether or not NPA can be used appropriately within the context of traditional policy change theory-is answered affirmatively. In this study, issue expansion and containment in the turbulent GYA policy arena is empirically tested through coding interest group narratives. We systematically test whether or not winning narrative frames attempt to contain the issue with predictable narrative strategies (identification of winners, diffusion of benefits and concentration of costs of policy success, and use of scientific certainty) and whether or not losing narrative frames attempt to expand the issue with predictable narrative strategies (identification of losers, concentration of benefits and diffusion of costs of policy failure, use of condensation symbols and policy surrogates, and use of scientific uncertainty). While advocacy coalitions embed stable policy core beliefs in narratives, they also use those narratives to further dynamic political strategies.

Our second research question-whether or not operationalized narrative strategies reflect how groups attempt to contain or expand the policy issue-is also answered affirmatively. When using the ACF controls, five of the seven hypotheses are supported. The data provide evidence for the notion that interest group narratives are indicators of a group's political strategies and tactics and are tied to whether a group is winning (and trying to contain an issue) or losing (and trying to expand an issue). Importantly, these strategies are not tied to core beliefs, nor are they ideologically based or reflective of writing ability or style. These strategies cut across ideological lines, are used by both sides in the policy dispute, and are connected to how a group perceives its position in the policy battle. Thus, narratives as a source of study are strategic, predictable, and testable and are an appropriate unit of analysis for scholars interested in studying policy change.

Finally, our third research question explores the additions to the literature. This method of analysis integrates NPA with policy change theory and adds to the existing literature. The contribution here addresses Brown and Stewart's (1993, p. 101) criticism of the ACF. We argue that narratives as political strategies are a valuable source of study for researchers. The activity in the GYA occurred in periods of alternating victories and losses. Although several external subsystem events (e.g., court opinions, well-publicized media events, changes in presidential administrations) could have swung the policy battles toward one group or another by producing shifts in coalitional resources, the two interest groups consistently perceived themselves as losing 67.6 percent of the time. Losing narratives, as we have seen, are more confrontational and seek to expand conflict to additional parties. In wicked policy problems, interest group narratives only reinforce and exacerbate policy intractability. Short-term wins are quickly replaced by the perception of losing and the need to retaliate. The effect is that the narratives almost continually expand the scope of the conflict, thus drawing in more groups to the policy dispute. As seen in the eight-year course of this study, the result is long periods of protracted conflict The GYA policymaking meets the conditions of what Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith (1999, p. 132) call the "devil shift" or the situation where opposing coalitions "remember losses more than victories" and inflate the evilness and power of opposing groups. In addition, this research involved two purposive interest groups, and these groups, as hypothesized by Sabatier and Jenkins- Smith (1999, p. 134), maintain a tight script and thus resist alterations to their scripts that would move dialogues toward policy learning.

In policy environments where there is both a clear policy monopoly and a clear out-of-power coalition, we would assume that the minimal coalition of a policy monopoly would rarely perceive that they are losing and that their narratives would consistently reflect the theory of issue containment Research on narratives in stable policy environments might provide initial signs for policy researchers that the policy equilibrium had been punctuated.


This work has used a case study of environmental policy making in the GYA to examine the interest group use of narrative political strategies in defending existing policies or advocating new policies. Grounded in the theories of Sabatier, JenkinsSmith, Baumgartner, Jones, Schattschneider, Stone, and others, the methodological model is generalizable to any policy subsystem in such policy areas as economic development, energy, crime, and foreign policy. The intersection of policy change theory and NPA prompts theory building.

In determining the extent to which our work contributes to this theory building, we turn to Sabatier (1999, pp. 266-70), who argues that there are seven guidelines for theory development First, our analysis is empirical with testable hypotheses. second, our method allows for testing of our hypotheses in a variety of policy settings. Third, we found a causal relationship between perception of winning and losing and policy narrative strategies and have accounted for some ACF controls. Fourth, our study suggests that individuals are political, seek to win, and intentionally and strategically use narratives to either contain or diffuse a policy issue. Fifth, we have shown a consistency among five of our seven hypotheses. Sixth, our aim is to build a long-term research agenda and invite others to build upon our methodology. Finally, our research uses principles from the ACF, punctuated equilibrium, and three streams of policy change and enhances these works with NPA. We conclude that narrative political strategies are a vital source for analyzing policy change in a complex political environment.


A different version of this paper was presented at the 2005 Western Political Science Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The authors wish to thank Teri Peterson for her statistical consultations.

1. The BRC is part of a larger advocacy coalition (the wise use coalition) that includes ranchers, local business elites, snowmobile, ATV, and motorcycle manufacturers, elected officials, and scientists.

2. The GYC is part of a larger advocacy coalition (the environmental coalition) that includes national environmental groups, local business elites, elected officials, and scientists.

3. The identification of benefits as diffuse or concentrated resulted in mutually exclusive coded responses; in other words, when benefits were coded, they were either concentrated or diffused. Hence, they are included in the same hypothesis. The same is true for concentrated-diffuse costs (hypothesis 3) and uncertainty- certainty in use of science (hypothesis 6).


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Mark K. McBeth is a professor of political science at Idaho State University.

Elizabeth A. Shanahan is an assistant professor of political science at Montana State University.

Ruth J. Arnell is a doctoral student in political science at Idaho State University.

Paul L. Hathaway is a doctoral student in political science at Idaho State University.

Appendix A: Abbreviated Code Book

1. Does the narrative identify a specific winner (entity that benefits) of a policy decision or potential decision? For example, "anti-recreationists will rejoice over this policy decision" or "the snowmobile industry is clearly rooting for this lawsuit to be thrown out of court"

A-Yes (go to question #2) B-No (skip to question #3)

2. What best describes how the narrative constructs the benefits of the policy decision?

A-The narrative is constructed as providing concentrated benefits (a few gain). For example, "the wealthy environmentalists will have YNP as their personal playground" or "this decision benefits the snowmobile industry."

Paragraph number(s) and group:

B-Irie narrative is constructed as providing diffused benefits (many gain). For example, "the American people will benefit from the closing of YNP to snowmobiles" or "snowmobile enthusiasts from throughout the country applauded this decision."

Paragraph number(s) and group:

3. Does the narrative identify a specific loser (entity that pays the costs) of a policy decision? For example, "the American people are the losers when industry controls government" or "local businesses are hurt by these actions of the NPS."

A-Yes (go to question #4) B-No (skip to question #5)

4. What best describes how the narrative constructs the costs of the policy decision?

A-The narrative is constructed as providing concentrated costs (a few pay). For example, "This regulation will harm only a small number of greedy business owners who fail to adapt to changing times" or "The throwing out of this policy will only harm the sensibilities of a few extremists."

Paragraph number(s) and group:

B-The narrative is constructed as providing diffused costs (the many pay). For example, "this plan protects bison while projecting costs over many differing groups" or "this plan protects snowmobiling with only minor adjustments required of business owners who must now be licensed guides and use cleaner machines."

Paragraph number(s) and group:

5. Does the narrative contain at least one condensation symbol? The definition of a condensation symbol is a word or phrase that "shrinks and reduces complicated concepts into simple, manageable, or memorable forms."

A-Yes, list and identify paragraph(s) B-No

6. Does this narrative use a policy surrogate? For example, policy surrogate = "greedy snowmobile corporations exploit Yellowstone for their own purposes while the pollution gets worse and worse" or "this issue is all about people in Washington, DC telling people in our small towns about how to live their lives."

A-Yes, list and identify paragraph(s) B-No

7. Does the narrative use science to define a problem, counter a problem definition, or justify a policy approach?

A-Yes, (go to question #8) B-No (go to question #9)

8. Is the mention of science used in the context of:

A-Disputing science B-Establishing scientific certainty

9. What is the stance of the narrative towards the policy being discussed?

A. Winning (supports the policy environment and actions discussed in the narrative)

B. Losing (the group is under attack even if they are partially winning)

Copyright Policy Studies Organization Feb 2007

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