Process Tracing

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A major challenge for empirical analysis of deliberative processes is to establish causal relationships between the context or design of these processes (e.g. access to information or the inclusion of marginalized participants) and desired outcomes (e.g. decisions that have higher epistemic or deliberative quality or are more reflective of citizens’ values). While some of these causal relationships can be tested in experimental settings or through large-N quantitative analysis, others are much harder to test in this way, particularly when it comes to complex causal relationships operating in large-scale deliberative systems or in long-term deliberative processes. Even at a small scale, experimental methods may not be able to yield nuanced answers to how and why a deliberative forum yielded a particular outcome. Process tracing offers a promising method for structuring qualitative, explanatory case-study analysis of deliberative processes. Process tracing aims to identify causal mechanisms that connect the causes of events or phenomena to their outcomes, drawing evidence from a wide array of sources associated with a single case or a small number of cases. Many empirical studies in political science have employed process tracing in a fairly loose manner, and it is only more recently that political scientists have made a concerted effort to develop a more systematic approach. This chapter shows how scholars of deliberative democracy can employ process tracing to assess deliberation within and beyond mini-publics, building on a review of related work that employs this method and highlighting areas for future research.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch Methods in Deliberative Democracy
EditorsSelen A. Ercan, Hans Asenbaum, Nicole Curato, Ricardo F. Mendonça
Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780192848925
ISBN (Print)9780192848925
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2022


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