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date: 25 March 2023

Qualitative Research and Case Studies in Public Administrationlocked

Qualitative Research and Case Studies in Public Administrationlocked

  • Jason L. JensenJason L. JensenInstitute of Policy and Business Analytics, University of North Dakota
  •  and Laura C. HandLaura C. HandCollege of Business and Public Administration, University of North Dakota


Public administration has experienced academic growing pains and longstanding debates related to its identity as a social and administrative science. The field’s evolution toward a narrow definition of empiricism through quantitative measurement has limited knowledge cumulation. Because the goal of all scientific endeavors is to advance by building upon and aggregating knowledge across studies, a field-level point of view eschewing traditional dichotomies such as qualitative/quantitative debates in favor of methodological pluralism allows for examination of both the art and science of public administration.

To accomplish this, traditional notions of quality, namely rigor, must be reconceptualized in a way that is appropriate for the philosophical commitments of a selected methodology. Rigor should focus on the accuracy, exhaustiveness, and systematicity of data collection and analysis. This allows for quality judgments about the degree to which the methods resulted in evidence that addresses the research questions and supports stated conclusions. This is a much broader approach to rigor that addresses multiple types of inquiry and knowledge creation. Once the question of rigor is not limiting the types of research done in the field, attention can be turned to the ways in which high-quality studies can contribute to knowledge cumulation.

Case studies can be used as an example of a field-level point of view, as they have the ability to utilize abductive reasoning to consider both the whole (the entire case) and the particular (factors that contribute to outcomes, processes, or theories). Case studies explore the relationship between context-independent theories and context-dependent factors using different types of data collection and analysis: a triangulation of sorts. They can test theories in multiple ways and create or suggest new theories. Considering field-level questions as a case study and synthesizing findings from multiple related studies, regardless of methodology, can help move the field forward in terms of its connection between theory and practice, art and science.


  • Policy, Administration, and Bureaucracy

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