Policy Narrators During Crisis: A micro-level analysis of the sourcing, synthesizing, and sharing of policy narratives in rural Texas

Supported by a grant from the IC2 Institute, Varun Rai, Megan Morris and I spent the first summer of the Covid-19 pandemic tracking how rural leaders in Texas helped make sense of and respond to change. This paper is under review for publication in Policy Studies Journal.

How do leaders respond to crises? The Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) answers this question by focusing on the contest over policy narratives. This paper focuses on the individuals constructing those policy narratives, conceptualizing them as policy narrators. We build seven case studies of counties located in a major gas formation in Texas, which in early 2020 faced both an oil bust and the onset of COVID-19.

We leverage these case studies to explore four sets of propositions about how policy narrators source, synthesize, and share their policy narratives. We classify eight policy actors as narrators. We find that while their narratives vary, the structure of those narratives is similar; their backgrounds shape how they source narratives; and they match their levels of narrative breach to the action (or inaction) they hope for. They avoid casting other local leaders as villains, place their audience as the hero, and situate themselves as either supporting or a member of that audience, stressing their common ties. From these findings, we put forward a working definition of policy narrators, identify how they fit into the NPF, and discuss how they relate to other types of policy actors, including policy entrepreneurs.

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