Authors: Sandford Borins
February 2010
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School

Executive Summary

This paper begins by outlining a number of key narratological concepts, such as the distinction between narrative—the events represented—and one or more narrators’ presentations of the events, implied author and implied reader, and structural analysis of narrative genres. It then applies these concepts to the three narrations (detailed written application, site visit report, and oral presentation to the selection panel) of the 31 finalists in the 2008 and 2009 Innovations in American Government Awards. An archetypal narrative incorporating incremental problem solving and inter-organizational cooperation is developed, and it is also presented as a set of hypotheses. The paper shows how the three narrations of the innovations differ, with the application form representing an insider’s story written by experts for an expert audience, the site visit report often incorporating a counter-narrative that points out the innovation’s unresolved conflicts or uncertainties, and the oral presentation functioning as an advocacy narrative directed at a generalist audience. The paper concludes with suggestions for how public management scholars could incorporate narratological insights into their analysis, how innovation awards could ask applicants to develop more explicit narratives, and how innovators could make more effective use of narrative in communicating their achievements.

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