A new article by Georg Wenzelburger and Carsten Jensen has just been published in Politische Vierteljahresschrift. In the article, the authors discuss blind spots of the blooming field of comparative public policy analysis and outline how a closer integration of policy process theories can lead to more fruitful research in the future.
Wenzelburger and Jensen state that cross-country comparisons have been taking front stage in analyzing public policy whichheavily rely on quantitative data. The authors identify four key weaknesses of this research, namely the obsession with covariance, the lack of agency, the unclear universe of cases, and the focus on outputs. Explaining these problems further, they illuminate the obsession with minor differences, opening the black box of collective actors, issues with enlarging the number of cases and the consequences of setting the focus on policy outputs.
After having discussed those limitations, they examine whether policy process theories may accommodate for these blind spots. They highlight that when it comes to the obsession with variance, a keener awareness of processes would be helpful. Additionally, an increased focus on actors and their actions, i.e., within-unit analysis of actions in context, can significantly enhance knowledge since actor preferences are not simply assumed but investigated qualitatively. Regarding the universe of cases, policy process theories might not be helpful on first sight, but there are advantages in gaining “internal validity” in single-case studies. Finally, the weakness of a strong focus on policy outputs in existing research can be tackled by applying policy process theories which have a greater focus on policy processes instead of outputs.
Wenzelburger and Jensen (2022, p. 14) conclude that “some of the weaknesses of existing comparative public policy research are not carved in stone but can indeed be remedied by carefully integrating policy process theories into the theoretical arguments and the empirical research design of comparative policy research”.