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Comparative public policy research has enormous promise for improving our understanding – not only of policy-making and implementation in other countries, but also of domestic public policy. However, as with many research strategies, comparative public policy research requires scholars to give careful consideration to a number of difficult choices, and to face up to a range of challenges which threaten the validity and reliability of findings. How this can be done is the focus of this chapter. Some authors have suggested that comparative research is methodologically identical to other forms of research (Smelser, 1976). This is trivially the case if one assumes that all research is comparative. This text, however, argues that comparative public policy research canbe distinguished from other forms of research, not necessarily because of its content (the study of policy processes, outputs and outcomes), but because of the characteristics of the comparative approach itself. This is evident, first, from the particular choicesthat comparativists need to make when designing any research project. This chapter considers how different cases are selected for investigation, and how conclusions are drawn from such research. In so doing, it examines different approaches to comparative research and how they relate to each other. The comparative research strategies examined here include the ‘method of agreement’ (or ‘most different systems analysis’), the ‘method of difference’ (or ‘most similar systems analysis’), combinatorial analysis, and case studies using process tracing.
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