Authors: Sandford Borins
January 14, 2011
Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory

Though the use of narrative has become widespread through many disciplines, it has yet to establish a strong footing in public administration. The article first explains why narrative analysis has not been incorporated into mainstream public administration as the latter has become increasingly empirical, quantitative, and hypothesis driven. The article then outlines a number of key narratological concepts that could readily be applied to the field. Demonstrating the possibilities they offer, the concepts are applied to the analysis of the 31 finalists in the 2008 and 2009 Innovations in American Government Awards to identify a dominant innovation fable incorporating incremental problem-solving and interorganizational cooperation. Because the Awards application process results in three distinct narratives—a detailed article application, a site visit report, and an oral presentation to the selection panel—the analysis focuses on the differences among them, 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 article concludes with suggestions for further narratological research about public management innovation, taking advantage of the new application form to the Innovation Awards that was designed to elicit more explicit narratives. More generally, it raises possibilities for public administration scholars to incorporate narratological concepts and methods into their research.