Handbook of Research Methods and Applications in Comparative Policy Analysis
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Handbook of Research Methods and Applications in Comparative Policy Analysis

Edited by B. Guy Peters and Guillaume Fontaine

Public policy research has become increasingly comparative over the past several decades, but the methodological issues involved in this research have not been discussed adequately. This Handbook provides a discussion of the fundamental methodological issues in comparative policy research, as well as descriptions and analyses of major techniques used for that research. The techniques discussed are both quantitative and qualitative, and all are embedded in the broader discussion of comparative research design.
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Chapter 19: Using Q methodology in comparative policy analysis

Astrid Molenveld


Most comparative methods are geared towards unravelling the effect of a few independent variables on a certain dependent variable. Q-methodology – an emergent method for comparative policy analysis – uses a dissimilar approach. Whereas conventional statistical analyses use correlations between items to come up with conclusions, Stephenson’s Q-methodology treats individuals as if they were ‘the variables’. By correlating whole answers/patterns of participants, one can distinguish by means of a factor analyses, which frames of reference – or in other words, viewpoints – exist on certain topics. If a scholar wants to get insight into where and how viewpoints on e.g. climate adaptation strategies, refugee integration policies or social innovation significantly differ this is a method to consider. The method adds value to the comparative policy analysis toolbox, since different stakeholders often view policy problems and their solutions in different ways. Unravelling significant patterns, where and how they differ and what dominant and minority viewpoints exist offers a deep insight into the discourses that people use. This chapter explicates the method’s steps and state of play in comparative policy analysis. The approaches, goals and research questions in Q-methodological applications differ, but also show clear similarities. Based on a review of 40 articles, this chapter distinguishes different dimensions on which Q-methodology applications in public policy research vary. The chapter shows the different ideas and approaches, and the subsequent steps necessary to conduct a Q-methodological study, which might be of interest to researchers planning a study based on Q-methodology.

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