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Institutional Memory as Storytelling

How Networked Government Remembers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 December 2020

Jack Corbett
University of Southampton
Dennis Christian Grube
University of Cambridge
Heather Caroline Lovell
University of Tasmania
Rodney James Scott
University of New South Wales, Sydney


How do bureaucracies remember? The conventional view is that institutional memory is static and singular, the sum of recorded files and learned procedures. There is a growing body of scholarship that suggests contemporary bureaucracies are failing at this core task. This Element argues that this diagnosis misses that memories are essentially dynamic stories. They reside with people and are thus dispersed across the array of actors that make up the differentiated polity. Drawing on four policy examples from four sectors (housing, energy, family violence and justice) in three countries (the UK, Australia and New Zealand), this Element argues that treating the way institutions remember as storytelling is both empirically salient and normatively desirable. It is concluded that the current conceptualisation of institutional memory needs to be recalibrated to fit the types of policy learning practices required by modern collaborative governance.
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Online ISBN: 9781108780001
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication: 24 December 2020
© Jack Corbett, Dennis C. Grube, Heather Caroline Lovell and Rodney James Scott 2020

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