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 16: Process tracing for comparative policy analysis: a realist approach

Guillaume Fontaine


This chapter presents a solution to the problem of alignment between ontology and methods with realist process tracing, and offers a template to conduct a comparative policy analysis allowing the generation of middle-range theories with this method. Realist process tracing is philosophically grounded in scientific realism, according to which causal explanations of the world are possible beyond non-observable but detectable forces. It focuses on the causal mechanism that explains how an event X triggers a process leading to an outcome Y. It aims at opening the black box of causation through deep within-case studies and small-N comparison. The template for using realist process tracing in comparative policy analysis includes: (1) the theorization and operationalization of a causal mechanism, (2) the selection of a typical case on the causal mechanism for theory-building or testing, (3) the design of empirical tests based on the expected observations for each part of the mechanism, (4) evidence gathering and assessment through Bayesian analysis, and (5) cross-case comparison with another typical or a deviant case for confirming or disconfirming evidence. The chapter concludes with a reflection on how realist process tracing serves policy learning by improving transparency and replicability.

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