Using Qualitative Comparative Analysis to understand complex policy problems

Blackman, Tim; Wistow, Jonathan and Byrne, Dave (2013). Using Qualitative Comparative Analysis to understand complex policy problems. Evaluation, 19(2) pp. 126–140.




This article shows how Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) can be used to understand what works to address complex policy problems at a local level, using the example of tackling high rates of teenage conceptions in England’s most deprived local authority areas. QCA is a promising method for providing evidence in situations where interventions interact with contexts, enabling causal pathways to be discerned from how sets of conditions combine with particular outcomes: in this instance, whether inequalities in conception rates do or do not narrow, compared with the England average. A wide range of survey and secondary data, sourced in collaboration with practitioners, was explored to identify conditions that might show a relationship with the outcome. Applying QCA’s process of logical reduction enabled identification of sets of cases. Two narrowing sets and three not-narrowing sets are presented, showing how there are different pathways to narrowing and not-narrowing outcomes, and how conditions often combine to have causal effect. Although based on systematic cross-case comparison, the article also demonstrates the importance of judgement and interpretation in QCA.

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