Stream 2

Comparative Methodology: the Potential Outcomes Framework in Social Policy Analysis

Stream convenors:
In recent decades the social sciences have witnessed a surge in studies applying the so-called potential outcomes framework of causality (also known as the counterfactual model, the Rubin causal model, or the Neyman-Rubin causal model). In contrast to other methodological developments, the potential outcomes framework does not overtly emphasize advanced econometric models but puts the focus on research design. Based on the "gold standard" of radomized experiments it brings along a distinct way of thinking about how to set up studies and how we can identify causal relationships.

Social policy analysis at heart is interested in identifying causal relationships. We are interested in the reasons for policy changes, we are interested in policy effects, we are interested in the popularity of policies. At base, the questions motivating our research are causal. Yet, social policy analysis has always struggled with the establishment of causal relationships because it has to deal with a special set of problems. We often encounter issues such as collinearity, multiple alternative explanations, and limited variation in our explanatory variables as a consequence of the country-comparative setup of our research. However, with the emergence of further practical tools and methods, more and more analysists of social policies have come to embrace the potential outcomes framework, as it offers a multitude of ways how to tackle these issues and how to identify causal relationships in our research field.

This stream will explore methodological innovations in comparative social policy analysis. We invite contributions that follow a potential outcomes framework of causality. In particular, we encourage papers relying on natural or quasi-natural experiments, survey and framing experiments, matching, instrumental variables, fixed effects panel designs, difference-in-differences-apporaches, and regression discontinuity designs. Paper proposals for the stream should thus not only include the research question, theoretical background, and results, they should provide specific detail on the analytical apporach taken to establish causality.

⟨ List of Stream Themes