Process Tracing - Between Broadening and Deepening

Hybrid event

Over the past decade, process tracing has come into its own as method and is taught regularly at all the major methods schools in Europe and North America. There is also growing research literature on the method, which goes well beyond the introductory ‘this is how you do it’ flavour of the textbooks published in the 2010s.

With these pedagogic and publication trends in mind, this paper argues for a mid-course correction to the research agenda of process tracing. Fundamentally, the method is about the collection and analysis of data on processes and dynamics, the stuff that put the social world into motion. In recent years, there has been important advances in the analysis part, most clearly seen in the growing literature on Bayesian process tracing, which has provided a deeper, ‘getting closer to the truth’ method. Yet, to do those analytics well requires rich, high-quality data.

Process tracing thus needs to think harder about this data collection, i.e. the front-end of the method. Most importantly, this means a greater focus, as data is collected, on within-process-tracing methods and research ethics. It also means a broadening of research transparency to consider it during data collection, especially a researcher’s positionality. Finally, there needs to be a broadening of how data is collected and analysed by developing a robust interpretive form of process tracing.

This agenda will give process tracing a richer, more ethically grounded, meta-theoretically plural set of tools for measuring and accessing the social world.


This seminar is part of the Department of Social Policy and Intervention Modern Methods in Social Policy and Intervention Research Seminar Series.

Booking required for people outside of the Department of Social Policy and Intervention (DSPI). DSPI Members do not need to register.