Public Policy

Policy memo 2: Problem formulation and “call to action” narrative


Building off your previous memo, which overviewed a policy-relevant issue, this memo will formulate a particular understanding of an associated public problem. The memo will be structured as a “call to action” narrative.  In other words, the “moral of the story,” per the Crow and Jones reading, should be that public action is needed. The memo should not include recommendations for any particular policy action or solution. Use the Narrative Policy Framework and below class reading as a guide:

Crow, Deserai and Michael Jones. 2018. “Narratives as Tools for Influencing Policy Change.” Policy & Politics 46(2): 217-34.

In your first memo, you “determined the staging materials” by selecting and researching an issue.  Now, you will establish the setting for your narrative by “arranging the props on stage” or selecting “the most important information–from the vast array collected–to include in the story” (Crow and Jones 2018, p 220). After doing this proceed through the other key components of the NPF by establishing a plot (i.e. defining the problem), casting characters, and specifying the moral of the story.

Your narrative should strategically appeal to the values of your audience.  As such, in addition to and separate from your memo, please provide a one paragraph “audience assessment.”  In it, describe your audience, whether a group or an individual, and make attempt to identify their motivating beliefs or values as they relate to your issue. Although you may not be able to assess their motivations definitively, you should be able to make an educated guess based on their position, political affiliation, past public statements and/or who they are accountable to. Explain your reasoning. Make sure that the content of your narrative reflects your assessment of its recipient(s).  

Note that although you will be writing using a narrative style, you are still assuming the role of a policy expert.  As such your writing should adhere to scientific and professional standards and not be overly rhetorical. To further quote Crow and Jones “The trick…is to faithfully narrate the best assessments of the empirical reality of the policy environment–leveraging science, evidence and best practices–but doing so in a way that inspires people to feel something about the policy narrative, while simultaneously avoiding the pitfalls of knowledge and empathy fallacies” (p. 222). In sum, keep your writing fact-based and aim to tell a compelling story while avoiding hyperbole, political rhetoric, or overly emotional appeals. It’s a balance.

Memo Organization and Style

  • Use a to/from/date/subject heading.
  • Begin with a summary paragraph. The summary is the most important part of the entire memo.  It should be comprehensive and concise, polished and strong.
  • Use the Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) as a guide for this memo, but be nuanced with it.  For example, although you should identify “heroes, victims, and villains” in your narrative, avoid explicitly labeling them as such (e.g. do not say “…the hero in this narrative is…”)
  • Be thoughtful about your organization structure and use of headings. 
  • This memo should not exceed 2 single-spaced pages with 11 or 12 point font. For references use endnotes and APA style.

 Grading Rubric

 Very goodGoodFairUnsatisfactory
Audience assessment and narrative framing (20)The memo’s recipient is introduced and their likely perspectives and motivating beliefs and values are logically described and have face-validity. The narrative reflects careful framing so to resonate with the recipient as described. (20)The memo’s recipient is introduced and their likely perspectives and motivating beliefs and values are logically described. The narrative is loosely tailored to recipient as described.  (18-19)The memo’s recipient is assessed in a manner that is poorly explained and/or appears inaccurate. There is some disconnect between the narrative and recipient, as described. (15-17)Either the memo’s recipient is not reasonably assessed OR there is a significant disconnect between the narrative and its intended audience. (<14)
Summary (15)Summary clearly links to and coherently communicates the main conclusions of full memo (15)Summary identifies most key points from full memo (13-14)Summary presents a tangential picture of the larger  memo points or is more of an introduction (11-12)Summary not present or fails to offer any meaningful overview of the memo’s content (<10)
Define the problem/ “Establish the plot” (15)The problem is defined in a compelling, data informed, and accurate manner. It clearly indicates a cause for the problem, which reflects consideration of your intended audience (15)The problem and its cause are defined clearly and accurately. (13-14)The problem and its caused are defined but lack specifics. (11-12)The problem and its caused are unclearly or inaccurately defined. (<10)
“Cast the characters”* (20)  “Heroes, victims and villains” are introduced in a compelling yet nuanced manner to advance the plot/support the  problem definition being advanced (20)“Heroes, victims and villains” are introduced in a manner that advances the plot, but feels clumsy and/or is not compelling (18-19)Characters are introduced, but in a manner that does not meaningfully add to the narrative of the memo (15-17) Characters are not all introduced and or are done so in a manner that detracts from the larger manner (<14)
“Establish moral of the story” (5) The memo contains a clear, compelling and reasonable “call to action” to address the problem described. The call to action reflects consideration of the recipient (5)The call to action is present but not compelling and/or not tailored to the memo recipient (4) There is a disconnect between the moral of the story and the problem presented (3) The moral of the story is either not presented or is presented as a particular policy recommendation (<2)
Writing clarity/ organization (15)Language is clear, precise, well-edited, and to the point.  The memo’s organization is effective, making it easy to follow and interpret. (15)Language is mostly clear with no more than a few awkward sentences.  Organization is logical. (13-14)There are several instances of unclear or imprecise language making the memo difficult to follow at times OR the memo’s organization does not proceed in a logical manner (11-12).Both the language and organization are difficult to follow.  Understanding the memo’s content is a challenge. (<10)
Format and style (10)Memo format increases clarity and ease of reading. All instruction re citations, length are followed (10)Memo format increases clarity. Stylistic instructions are largely followed(9)Several noticeable violations of stylistic instructions are observed in memo (7-8)Stylistic instruction are consistently not followed. Little evidence they were consulted (<6)

* Characters do not have to be people or even animate objects.

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