A more comparative approach is needed in order to facilitate theoretical progress in street-level bureaucracy research. Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) is a method that allows for systematic yet context-sensitive comparisons of intermediate to large numbers of cases. It accounts for the causes-of-effects types of research questions and the complexity facing implementation research. Using an empirical example, this chapter illustrates the possibilities for applying QCA to the study of street-level organizations and familiarizes the reader with the different steps of a QCA analysis. Street-level bureaucracy scholars using QCA in their research face challenges relating to limited empirical diversity, skewed data and robustness. They have innovative tools at their disposal to address these challenges in order to contribute to theory, ensure internal validity and engage in a rich dialogue with empirical cases.
This chapter discusses different research approaches to Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) and their application to comparative public policy analysis. QCA is a case-sensitive, set-theoretic method that allows researchers to model complexity in order to answer causes-of-effects types of research questions. There seems to be a preferential connection between QCA and public policy analysis in terms of research design and the actual needs and goals of policy-oriented research. Moreover, both small-N and large-N, as well as exploratory and theory-led approaches to QCA have developed, which prioritize either the parsimony of the results, or their substantive interpretability. Through a selective review of recent applications, this chapter illustrates the usefulness and limitations of different QCA approaches in analysing important research questions at all stages of the policy process. Key to a successful QCA application is coherence in methodological choices. The chapter helps policy researchers identify the most useful QCA approach for a given analytic goal in order to capitalize on the remarkable flexibility of the QCA technique. While the case-oriented approach achieves in-depth descriptions, explanations, or evaluations, condition-oriented QCA enables policy researchers to identify complex patterns across a range of cases, or a broad understanding of different types of cases. Exploratory QCA analyses are attractive for public policy scholars who want to comprehensively understand why some hitherto unexplored outcome occurs. Conversely, more theory-led QCA applications allow scholars to assess and refine the various theories of the policy process or to evaluate policy intervention models. Finally, limited empirical diversity can cause QCA results to err in different directions. Policy scholars and practitioners face a trade-off between ensuring the completeness of sufficient configurations at the cost of including causally irrelevant conditions, and ensuring causal relevance of identified conditions, at the cost of potentially incomplete configurations. Intermediate solutions are designed to avoid both over- and under-simplification.
Eva Lieberherr and Eva Thomann
In this chapter, the authors consider how in the public policy and public administration literature, accountability has typically been addressed as a hierarchical concept. Using this as a point of departure, they assess how scholars have applied a more nuanced understanding of accountability that includes informal aspects and social relations and hone in on the extended accountability regimes framework as a promising solution. Beyond political-administrative means, it includes customer/shareholder-oriented, vocational and participatory accountability. The authors then demonstrate what can be gained by addressing accountability beyond hierarchy. In doing so, they apply the extended accountability regimes framework to two illustrative cases: for-profit street-level bureaucrats in Swiss food safety policy as well as subnational governments and private street-level organizations in Swiss forest policy. In doing so, the authors shed light onto accountability dilemmas, where particularly political-administrative accountability conflicts with other accountabilities. The analysis shows how professional norms seem to play a key role for explaining action, regardless of whether the actors at the street level stem from the public or private sector.