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Narratives, Media, and Issue Framing in Environmental Policymaking

Deserai Anderson Crow

Addressing public policy problems in an increasingly complex world relies heavily on communication, interpretation, and use of information. Media are one primary source through which information is disseminated, consumed, and framed. Media are frequently referenced in the policy literature as important mechanisms for policy change, a tool through which stakeholders influence policy outcomes, or a measure of policy agendas. In the mass communication literature, there is ample focus on media influence over politics and public opinion. However, the literature neglects the development of a comprehensive understanding of public policy influence by mass media. Scholars often argue that media do have important influences on individuals, institutions, and collective outcomes such as public policy. Policy scholars simply have not fully integrated the disciplinary ideas that other fields have developed into a single framework of media influence on policy outcomes. This broad project seeks to integrate these contributions from public policy, political science, mass communication, and journalism studies to present what we know and do not know about media influence in the policy process.

As part of this umbrella of studies, we are investigating stakeholder strategies and effectiveness as key components in a complete analysis of policy change and policy coalition dynamics. Using a comparative study of stakeholder coalitions in environmental policymaking, researchers are analyzing stakeholder narrative strategy, effectiveness, and framing of winners and losers by policy actors. Additionally, we are evaluating the difference between narratives used in direct stakeholder outreach and those used in and through media sources, in an attempt to understand the variation in narratives used in different communication channels. This project will contribute to the methodological conversations related to narratives in policymaking as well as expanding our understanding of the role of these narratives. Researchers are using Colorado water and energy case studies to compare the use of narratives by advocates across time and subject areas.