Can implementation narratives help with political persuasion?
What exactly are 'implementation narratives' and why do we need them?
An implementation narrative is a story. It could be true or, if you are amoral, false. But it's one that seeks to explain how a policy is going to be made a reality.
It could be an excellent policy for education or healthcare or jobs or something else. The problem is many perceive politics as being broken because they just don't believe that the policy proposals being offered to them will actually be implemented. Whilst this may not matter for principle-free power-seekers, it is a big problem for progressive campaigners and governments who need to persuade the public about their policies.
An implementation narrative doesn't, shouldn't cover every action that will be needed, but it should flesh out the solutions to at least some of the key hurdles that will be faced. But what makes a successful implementation narrative? The first step is to overcome the scepticism - to make the 'how' believable.The main take away is that a believable narrative needs to be an easily understandable one. Put it simply, it needs to be simple.
Reactionary and populist causes have understood this for a long time. Remember the promise that the funding crisis in the UK's National Health Service will be solved by Brexit? Or that the lack of job opportunities in the mid-US will be solved by putting up trade barriers?
These were very simple policy prescriptions. Many would regard them as missing the mark in terms of achieving their stated aims, but they 'won' in the sense that they were quickly and easily understood and accepted by large swathes of their target populations.
The trick for progressive policy advocates is to both devise the detailed policy solutions that will work and to produce simple implementation narratives that can start to gain public and decision-maker support.
As Drew Westen (pictured) and others have pointed out, the problem is often that those on the non-reactionary side of the aisle are often highly logical, detailed and even intellectual.
These attributes work well in terms of devising policies can work, but less well in terms of summarising their 'how' into something that is easily understood and thus usable to persuade others with.
Many aspects of the full 'how' will be too technical or obscure to be useful for an implementation narrative. But you only need to find and pull out one or two important points. Just make sure they can be simply described and that they are popular too, of course.
There are many ways to test a proposed policy's popularity. Most are no better than tossing a coin but a few can provide genuinely accurate insights. We will cover these in a future post.