The Narrative Uses of Evidence
When scientific evidence is used in policy controversies, it is always embedded in narrative stories.
The Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) is an empirical framework used to study the role of
narratives in public policy. While the NPF has considered the relationship between evidence and
narratives from different angles, it has not used a consistent approach in examining how evidence is
embedded in narratives. This article develops a categorization of narrative uses of evidence. A
narrative use of evidence is defined by the different roles that evidence plays in the plot of a narrative
depending on which narrative element is addressed by a given piece of evidence. To distinguish
different narrative uses of evidence, the article examines how competing coalitions use the Program
for International Student Assessment (PISA) study in Swiss direct-democratic campaigns on school
policy. Quantitative and qualitative content analyses of newspaper articles and governmental
documents show how evidence may relate to all main narrative elements and may play different roles
in the plot of a narrative. The findings demonstrate significant differences in the narrative uses of
PISA between coalitions related to the story types and narrative strategies that each coalition uses.
Finally, the implications for future NPF research are discussed.
KEY WORDS: narrative policy framework, evidence, PISA
The Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) is a systematic empirical framework for
the study of the role of stories or narratives in public policy. The NPF draws on post-
positivist scholars to assert that socially constructed narratives matter in public poli-
cy, but the NPF, unlike its postpositivist precursors, studies narratives through an
examination of structural narrative elements. One of the central claims of the NPF is
that narratives have a greater influence on the opinions of policymakers and citizens
than does scientific information (Jones & McBeth, 2010, pp. 343–44; Jones, McBeth, &
Shanahan, 2014, p. 14; Shanahan, Jones, & McBeth, 2011, p. 553).
This central claim has been challenged by Jones (2014a), who showed that narra-
tives might not always be more persuasive than “just the facts” and his results raised
new questions about how scientific evidence and policy narratives relate to each
2016 Policy Studies Organization
The Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 46, No. 1, 2018