Interviewing policy experts – a research trip to Spain

As part of the project “The Political Economy of Private Security” I spent the last five days in Madrid and Barcelona interviewing policy experts on how the 2014 reform of Spanish private security regulation came about. This detailed tracing of the “Ley 5/2014 de seguridad privada” is one of six case studies of my project. These detailed case studies of single policy processes are intended to show whether and – more importantly – how the factors, analyzed on the macro-level and via quantitative methods, play out in terms of specific causal mechanisms.

Congreso de los Diputados – lower house of the Spanish parliament

Analyzing these policy processes in the abstract and theoretical terms of causal mechanisms, which I model via an updated version of John Kingdon’s Multiple Streams Framework, requires a detailed knowledge of the policy process itself. A central source of this policy process knowledge are for me the persons who have actually taken part in the process. Academic literature, newspaper articles, policy reports, committee documents, or Parliamentary debates are other valuable sources, yet talking to the very people who have “made” the policy offers unique insight knowledge.

And indeed, the interviews of the past week showed once again that policy-making is often an long-term endeavor of dedicated people seizing the opportunity of the moment: Spanish private security regulation, enshrined in an act of 1992, became over the years in need of revision and a wide coalition of actors across industry, unions, administrators, and the police were ready for change. In 2011 the victory of the Popular Party, sympathetic to the idea of private security regulation reform, was an ideal “window of opportunity” actively seized by policy experts engaged with the issue.

A sign of the private security company “Prosegur” in the streets of Madrid

The technique of semi-structured expert interviews is a common and often used method of data collection in qualitative research and I can only encourage  especially students to just give it a try (for an early but very insightful guide to expert interviews, see Dexter [1969] 2006). Over the next weeks I will transcribe and analyze the interviews more carefully, collect further data on the process via various sources, compare and thus “triangulate” the data in order to get a full picture of the process. Only on this basis I can in the next step truly relate the data to my hypothesized causal mechanisms. Thus, this research trip to Spain was only one but an important step in the case study and the overall dissertation project “The Political Economy of Private Security”.

Helge Staff