Friday, July 26, 2013

A reverse QCA?

I have been talking to a project manager who needed some help clarifying their Theory of Change (and maybe the project design itself). The project aims to improve the working relationships between a particular organisation (A) and a number of organisations they work with (B). There is already a provisonal scale that could be used to measure the baseline state of relationships, and changes in those relationships thereafter. Project activities designed to help improve the relationships have already been identified and should be reasonably easy to monitor. But the expected impacts of the improved relationships on what B's do elsewhere via their other relationships have not been clarified or agreed to, and in all likelihood they could be many and varied. It will probably be easier to identify and categorise after the activities have been carried out, rather than during at any planning stage.

I have been considering the possible usefullness of QCA as a means of analysing the effectiveness of the project. The cases will be the various relationships between A and Bs that are assisted in different ways. The conditions will be different forms of assistance provided as well as differences in the context of these relationships (e.g. the people, organisations and communities involved). The outcome of interest will be the types of changes in the relationships between A and Bs. Not especially problematic, I hope.

Then I thought..., perhaps one could do a reverse QCA analysis to identify associations between specific types of relationship changes and the many different kinds of impacts that were subsequently observed on other relationships. The conditions in this analysis would be various categories of observed change (with data on their presence and absence). The configurations of conditions identified by the QCA analysis would in effect be a succinct typology of impact configurations associated with each kind of relationship change. As distinct from causal configurations sought via a conventional QCA.

This reversal of the usual QCA analysis should be possible and legitimate because relations between conditons and outcomes are set theoretic relations, not temporal relationships. My next step, will be to find out if someone has already tried to do this elsewhere (that I could learn from). These days this is highly likely.

Postscript 1: The same sort of reverse analyses could be done with Decision Tree algorithms, whose potential for use in evaluations has been discussed in earlier postings on this blog and elsewhere.

Postscript 2: I am slowly working my way through this comprehensive account of QCA, published last year:
Schneider, Carsten Q., and Claudius Wagemann. 2012. Set-Theoretic Methods for the Social Sciences: A Guide to Qualitative Comparative Analysis. Cambridge University Press.