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Does storytelling matter in public policy?

A little lesson from how stories behind policies are created and told

Photo by Mark Hang Fung So on Unsplash

Often, I assume that environmental issues aren’t tempting enough to gain voters. They tend to be seen as entities that should be prioritized the least compared to the ones that are more familiar to people’s lives in a practical context, such as food, job, and healthcare.

There might be only a small number of people who want to save the turtles in the ocean from nasty plastic straws if access to food remains insecure. Or, perhaps nobody aspires to ban soaps made from oil palm if the substitution item costs higher than an average daily meal.

In 2015, along with other countries, Indonesia adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which remarks on a new breeze of the country’s direction of development. The consequence of becoming a part of this agreement has impacted widely the nation’s program, at least as discourses narrated in the national and sub-national policies.

Campaigns are organized countrywide, involving state and non-state actors and also utilizing as many channels as possible to reach individuals from various groups of identities. Along with its implementation, many programs that are targeted to youth brought the SGDs tagline.

Interestingly, some recent discussions about green deals reflect the notion that environmental-oriented development could be a hot deal as long as entities that are perceived as determinators of life and death are offered on the cover.

For instance, in the US version of the Green New Deal, the creation of green jobs is heavily promoted since it is highly demanded. Similarly, the European Council embeds individual benefits, i.e. improved air quality, healthier food, greener transportation, etc., that could be gained through its European Green Deal.

The cases above simply illustrate the importance of narrative in policies, especially in the realm of environmental policy. Citing Villegas-Cho et al. (n.d.), “narrative can help individuals interpret complex social and political events”. Indeed, using captivating stories to gather sympathy or votes from the public is nothing new.

A study by Clemons et al. (2012) suggests that reshaping opinion to create a better habit is possible, as long as the story is relevant. Yet, we should take into account that the way local mobilizations are formed is a mirror of transnational environmentalism (Rosset, 2007).

Speaking about relevancy per se, it makes sense why the rise of the green party is still hard to attain. Green parties around the world are no longer a group of strange entities, but they remain alienated besides the limitation that comes from the political system.

In the case of the United States, the discussion of environmental issues only blow up if it is catered by its two major parties, the Republic and Democrat because the system is most likely far from giving a third lane (Urlaub 2016). Meanwhile, in South Korea where the bipartisan system also runs, the Green Party received 0.8% percent of the vote in its 2016 election, which resulted in not being represented in the parliament (Kalinowski 2020).

So, what to expect when you’re not expecting? While hoping for a green revolution that fits nearly everybody’s expectations might sound utterly utopian, the situation that has been revolving around now is a great moment to improve our understanding of how stories behind policies are created and told.

Clemons RS, McBeth MK, Kusko E. 2012. Understanding the Role of Policy Narratives and the Public Policy Arena: Obesity as a Lesson in Public Policy Development. World Medical & Health Policy. https://doi.org/10.1515/1948-4682.1220
Government of Canada. n.d. Behavioral insight brief: The role of narrative in public policy. Kalinowski. 2020. The politics of climate change in a neo-developmental state: The case of South Korea. International Political Science Review. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0192512120924741Urlaub, Per. 2016. Why is the US Green Party so irrelevant? The Conversation. Accessed 20 November 2020. https://theconversation.com/why-is-the-us-green-party-so-irrelevant-66185Rosset C. 2007. Acting locally: The character, contexts and significance of local environmental mobilisations. Environmental Politics 16:5. https://doi.org/10.1080/09644010701640460




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Jennie Yuwono

Jennie Yuwono

reader, writer.

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