RESEARCH TALK ▼

 

QCA IS REALLY GAINING TRACTION IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES.

AN INTERVIEW WITH LASSE GERRITS | by Madalena dos Reis Gonçalves

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SHORT PROFILE

Name: Lasse Gerrits
Field:
Political Science
Country:
Netherlands
Occupation:
Professor of Political Science, especially Governance of Innovative and Complex Technological Systems
Research Interests:
characteristics and functionality of complex socio-technological systems



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▐  Lasse Gerrits, one of our faculty members, recently published a book about the evaluation of complex infrastructure projects using Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) together with Stefan Verweij from the University of Groningen. With their book Lasse Gerrits and Stefan Verweij aim to show researchers how the method could be used in practical situations.

 

In an interview, Lasse Gerrits tells us about his inspiration and motivation behind writing this book, the value of it and the challenges they faced during the writing process.

 

What drew you to the field of Governance of Innovative and Complex Technological Systems?

L.G. The realization that the social sciences have a lot to say about what technology is and how it works, the profound understanding that your average politician or policy maker knows very little about technology, and a healthy obsession for everything complex.

 

What inspired you to write a book about the usage of Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) in the evaluation of complex infrastructure projects?

L.G. Two things, really. First of all, we’ve met a lot of practitioners from the world of policy evaluation and they all seem to recognize that the classic methods they use are more or less obsolete. At the very least, those methods can highlight what went wrong but fail to explain why it went wrong. So, those people may evaluate a bunch of long-running infrastructure projects that have gone off the rails, and the minister gets fired. There is absolutely no connection between the actual causes for the problems with those projects and the solution. Part of that is a political game, of course. But it is also due to crude methods that can’t explain much of what is going on. So that was the first thing. The second thing is that Stefan and I had been granted a research project to tailor QCA for infrastructure evaluation so we had ample time to tease out how QCA could be put to work. Mind you, this was not a theoretical exercise. We used the method in various ways in actual evaluation research to find out what would work. And we found that it is a method that can do more justice to the complexity of infrastructure projects than more common methods. So, taking these two things together, writing a book was a no-brainer.


How did you know you had an idea with the potential to make an important contribution to your scientific field?

L.G. Did I? I’m not sure. I think that the value of the book is, first of all, in the way we show researchers and evaluators alike how the method could be used in practical situations. Our intended audience is the person sitting in front of a heap of raw data going ‘now what?’ This book is there to help this person. The one thing we stressed in the book is how QCA addresses complexity, which is often mentioned but rarely explained. On top of that, we have made the argument for using qualitative data and have shown how such data can be processed. This is not an entirely novel argument but it is a counter-voice to the current trend in QCA to use the method exclusively for quantitative data. We sure hope that more researchers will be convinced of our argument and will also start using qualitative data. 

 

What difficulties did you come across?

L.G. I guess that the biggest challenge was to present everything in an accessible manner to a broad audience. The literature on QCA is often loaded with jargon, especially the jargon from set theory, which most newcomers will find daunting. So we wanted to avoid that as much as possible. We put the practical examples front and center and tried our best to keep things traceable. We even established a reading panel to make sure that that we wouldn’t get caught up in the jargon. They did a great job in keeping us on track. 

 

Do you already have plans for further research using QCA?

L.G. Certainly. There is much scope for that and QCA is really gaining traction in the social sciences. We are proud to be able to contribute a bit to that rise.

 

// Interview:  Madalena dos Reis Gonçalves

 

 

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