Policy Sciences

, Volume 49, Issue 4, pp 421–444 | Cite as

Do stakeholders analyze their audience? The communication switch and stakeholder personal versus public communication choices

  • Mark K. McBethEmail author
  • Donna L. Lybecker
  • James W. Stoutenborough
Research Article


In the spirit of the policy sciences, knowledge should be used to improve the practice of democracy. In today’s policy world, communication is a key element of policy making. Too often groups become trapped in promoting their own narrative rather than building bridges to other groups by adopting alternative narratives. In this study, we ask, when involved in a public policy issue, do stakeholders analyze their audience? In other words, do stakeholders consider larger values and beliefs in an attempt to help orient a problem or issues when they move from discussing the issue with like-minded groups to discussing the issue with the general public? Our study uses a survey to examine how stakeholders involved in a river restoration issue switched or did not switch from their own personal message choice to what they believed was the best communication choice for talking about river restoration with the public. Overall, 47% of stakeholders switched their preference when asked how river restoration should be discussed with the public. We examine how attitudinal indicators, background information, and demographics related to which stakeholders switch and which did not switch their choices. The implications of these findings for democracy and policy analysis along with the ethical considerations of the research are discussed.


Public policy Policy narratives Policy communication 



The project described was supported by NSF award number IIA-1301792 from the NSF Idaho EPSCoR Program and by the National Science Foundation. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of NSF.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark K. McBeth
    • 1
    Email author
  • Donna L. Lybecker
    • 1
  • James W. Stoutenborough
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceIdaho State UniversityPocatelloUSA

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