Collaborative comparisons: a pragmatist approach towards designing large-scale, comparative qualitative research

Hendrik Wagenaar, Katharina Kieslich, Nora Hangel, Bettina Zimmermann, Barbara Prainsack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
28 Downloads (Pure)


This article draws lessons for organizing and designing large-scale qualitative comparative research in turbulent, rapidly evolving, real-world settings. The challenge to the researcher is that such studies need to meet conflicting requirements of rigor, relevance, and responsiveness. Recognizing that in such settings scientific research cannot be insulated from its environment, the article discusses a pragmatist approach to comparative research design. Using the case of the SolPan project (Solidarity in Times of a Pandemic), a large-scale and longitudinal qualitative comparative study of people's experiences during the Covid pandemic, the article presents basic principles of pragmatist research design, such as problem-orientation, design-in-action, and the use of a plurality of evidence. It then argues that interpretation is at the heart of all comparison, and that large-scale qualitative comparative research combines the detailed contextual richness of interpretive explanation, the systematicity, robustness and transparency of large-N comparative analysis, and the flexibility of emergent design. We describe the design and methodology of SolPan and illustrate this with an empirical example. First, we argue that research design and project organization are continuous and reframe comparative research design as generative organization. Second, we describe the use of computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software to assist in analysing large amounts of interview data. In the final section we describe some of the limitations of this large-scale qualitative comparative research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100172
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalSSM - Qualitative Research in Health
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


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