Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”


Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription to the ECPR Methods School offers and updates newsletter has been successful.

Discover ECPR's Latest Methods Course Offerings

We use Brevo as our email marketing platform. By clicking below to submit this form, you acknowledge that the information you provided will be transferred to Brevo for processing in accordance with their terms of use.

Introduction to Process Tracing Methodology

Course Dates and Times

Monday 29 July – Friday 2 August

09:00–10:30 and 11:00–12:30


Rasmus Brun Pedersen

Aarhus Universitet

This course introduces you to process tracing (PT) methodology, and aims to give you the methodological tools to use it in your own research.

The relative strength of PT methods is that they enable us to study causal mechanisms – theories that detail how an outcome is produced – in single case studies.

The course introduces the ontological and epistemological foundations of the method. This is followed by a practical introduction to topics such as:

  • how we should conceptualise and operationalise causal mechanisms in a manner that can be studied empirically
  • gathering and evaluating evidence
  • suggestions for case selection strategies.

The aim is to introduce key aspects of a PT study through practical, hands-on advice and techniques in relation to your own research topic.

The course therefore requires active participation, and you’ll get most benefit from it if you can use parts of your own research in the exercises.

To receive ECTS Credits for this course, you must be an active participant, do the readings, submit the assignments, and present a research design on the final day.


Instructor Bio

Rasmus Brun Pedersen is an Associate Professor at Aarhus University. His research areas include foreign policy, european integration and qualitative methods development. He has taught numerous classes on qualitative methodology at BA, MA and PhD level, and has taught classes on process tracing at the ECPR Summer School, 2011–2017. 

Rasmus has published several research articles, books and book chapters. He co-authored Process-Tracing Methods and Causal Case Study Methods, both published by the University of Michigan Press.

twitter @RasmusBrunPeder

This course on Process Tracing gives you the foundations of PT methods and, most importantly, enables you to use PT methods in your own research. You will gain the practical research skills needed to guide you through the steps to construct a PT research design.

In comparison with other research methods, PT as a distinct method involves research where,

‘The cause-effect link that connects independent variable and outcome is unwrapped and divided into smaller steps; then the investigator looks for observable evidence of each step.’ (Van Evera 1997:64).

The promise of PT as a methodological tool is that it enables the researcher to study more-or-less directly the causal mechanism(s) linking an independent variable (or set of variables) and an outcome, allowing us to open up the ‘black box’ of causality itself.

Within political science methodology, PT is arguably the only method that allows us to study causal mechanisms, allowing us to understand how an X (or set of X’s) produces Y instead of simply studying correlations and associations, and therefore is an

‘…invaluable method that should be included in every researcher’s repertoire.’ (George and Bennett 2005:224).

The course starts by differentiating Process Tracing from other methods; including both large-n quantitative, frequentist methods, but also other small-n methods such as analytical narratives, comparative case studies, congruence etc. Here, PT is defined by the interest in studying causal mechanisms in single case studies.

The course will discuss the overall variants of PT designs: theory-testing, theory-building and -revision. It will also explain outcome PT and provide examples of the different methods.

The workshop also offers insights into the recent debate on the role of causal mechanism in political science. Topics include how we should understand causal mechanisms (as intervening variables or systems) and how they can be conceptualised and operationalised.

Conceptualisation deals with translating a causal theory into a theorised causal mechanism that can explain how X produces Y.

Operationalisation relates to how we develop ‘empirical fingerprints’ that allow us to test whether the theorised mechanism can be observed in the empirical material.

The course also provides guidelines for how to work with empirics by utilising Bayesian-inspired inference.

We then turn our attention to how we would focus on questions of case selection and mixed-methods research.

Some background knowledge of qualitative case study methods and research designs would be helpful.

It is particularly useful to know about the debate between scholars who argue that there is only one logic of scientific inquiry and qualitative scholars who contend that there are important differences between quantitative and qualitative methods and how they impact upon the logic of inference and the construction of research designs. 

Each course includes pre-course assignments, including readings and pre-recorded videos, as well as daily live lectures totalling at least two hours. The instructor will conduct live Q&A sessions and offer designated office hours for one-to-one consultations.

Please check your course format before registering.

Online courses

Live classes will be held daily for two hours on a video meeting platform, allowing you to interact with both the instructor and other participants in real-time. To avoid online fatigue, the course employs a pedagogy that includes small-group work, short and focused tasks, as well as troubleshooting exercises that utilise a variety of online applications to facilitate collaboration and engagement with the course content.

In-person courses

In-person courses will consist of daily three-hour classroom sessions, featuring a range of interactive in-class activities including short lectures, peer feedback, group exercises, and presentations.


This course description may be subject to subsequent adaptations (e.g. taking into account new developments in the field, participant demands, group size, etc.). Registered participants will be informed at the time of change.

By registering for this course, you confirm that you possess the knowledge required to follow it. The instructor will not teach these prerequisite items. If in doubt, please contact us before registering.

Day Topic Details
1 What is process tracing: Foundations and principles for case based research
2 Working with causal mechanisms: Conceptualizing causes, outcomes and causal mechanisms
3 Operationalization of empirical tests and working with empirics
4 Process tracing research designs in practice
5 Presentation of research designs and introduction to case selection and mixed methods research designs
Day Readings

What is process tracing? Foundations and principles for case-based research

  • Beach and Pedersen (2019) Process-tracing methods. 2nd Edition, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Chapter 1 on causation, Chapters 8-10 on process-tracing.
  • King, Keohane and Verba (1994) Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 208-230.
  • Bennett and Checkel (2014) Process Tracing: From Philosophical Roots to Best Practices in Bennett and Checkel (eds) Process Tracing in the Social Sciences: From Metaphor to Analytic Tool. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Working with causal mechanisms: Conceptualising causes, outcomes and causal mechanisms

  • Beach and Pedersen (2019) Process-tracing methods. 2nd Edition, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Chapters 2 and 3.
  • Hedström and Ylikoski (2010) ‘Causal Mechanisms in the Social Sciences.’, Annual Review of Sociology, 36: 49-67.
  • Gerring (2010) ‘Causal Mechanisms: Yes, But...’, Comparative Political Studies, 43(11): 1499-1526.

Operationalisation of empirical tests and working with empirics

  • Beach and Pedersen (2019) Process-tracing methods. 2nd Edition, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Chapter 5, 6, 7 and appendix pp. 289-294
  • Doyle, Arthur Connan (1894) Silver Blaze (free download)



Process tracing research designs in practice

  • Ziblatt, Daniel. 2009. Shaping Democratic Practice and the Causes of Electoral Fraud: The Case of Nineteenth-Century Germany. American Political Science Review 103(1): 1-21.
  • Löblova, Olga (2018) When Epistemic Communities Fail: Exploring the Mechanism of Policy Influence Policy Studies Journal 46(1) August 2017 DOI: 10.1111/psj.12213
  • Smith, Nicholas Ross (2016) ‘The EU under a realist scope: Employing a neoclassical realist framework for the analysis of the EU’s Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement offer to Ukraine’, International Relations, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 29-48.
  • Janis, Irving L. 1983. Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Tannenwald, Nina. 1999. The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Normative Basis of Nuclear Non-Use. International Organization 53(3):433-468

Presentation of research designs and introduction to case selection and mixed methods research designs

  • Lieberman (2005) ‘Nested Analysis as a Mixed-Method Strategy for Comparative Research.’, American Political Science Review, Vol. 99, No. 3, pp. 435-451.
  • Beach and Rohlfing (2018) 'Integrating Cross-case Analyses and Process Tracing in Set-Theoretic Research.', Sociological Methods and Research. 47(1): 3-36.
  • Beach and Pedersen (2019) Process-tracing methods. 2nd Edition, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Chapter 4.

Software Requirements


Hardware Requirements



See daily schedule.


Brady, Henry E. and David Collier (eds) 2010
Rethinking Social Inquiry: Diverse Tools Shared Standards
2nd Edition. Lanham MD: Rowman Littlefield

Bunge, Mario, 2004
How Does It Work? The Search for Explanatory Mechanisms
Philosophy of the Social Sciences 34(2): 182-210

Cartwright, Nancy, 2007
Hunting Causes and Using Them: Approaches in Philosophy and Economics
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Craver and Darden, 2013
In Search of Mechanisms
Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Fairfield, Tasha and Andrew E. Charman, 2017
Explicit Bayesian Analysis for Process Tracing: Guidelines, Opportunities, and Caveats
Political Analysis, 25: 363-380

Gerring, John, 2006
Single-Outcome Studies: A Methodological Primer
International Sociology Vol. 21(5): 707-734

Gerring, 2007
Case Study Research
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Glennan, Stuart S, 2002
Rethinking mechanistic explanation
Philosophy of Science 69: 342-353

Groff, Ruth, 2011
'Getting past Hume in the philosophy of social science'
In Causality in the Sciences, edited by Phyllis McKay Illari, Federica Russo and Jon Williamson
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 296-316

Gross, Neil, 2009
A Pragmatist Theory of Social Mechanisms
American Sociological Review 74 (3): 358–79

Grzymala-Busse, Anna, 2011
Time Will Tell? Temporality and the Analysis of Causal Mechanisms and Processes
Comparative Political Studies 44 (9): 1267–97

Hedström, Peter and Richard, Swedberg (ed), 1998
Social Mechanisms: An Analytical Approach to Social Theory
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Illari, Phyllis and Federica Russo, 2014
Causality: Philosophical Theory meets Scientific Practice
Oxford: Oxford University Press

King, Keohane and Verba, 1994
Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research
Princeton: Princeton University Press

Mayntz, Renate, 2004
Mechanisms in the Analysis of Social Macro-Phenomena
Philosophy of the Social Sciences 34(2): 237-259

Pierson, Paul, 2003
Big, Slow-Moving, and…Invisible: Macrosocial Processes in the Study of Comparative Politics
In Comparative historical analysis in the social sciences. Ed. Mahoney, James and D. Rueschemayer, 177-207
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Roberts, Clayton, 1996
The Logic of Historical Explanation
University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press

Rueschmeyer, Dietrich, 2003
Can One or a Few Cases Yield Theoretical Gains?
In Comparative historical analysis in the social sciences. Ed. Mahoney, James and D. Rueschemayer, 305-337
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


Recommended Courses to Cover Before this One

Summer School

Case Study Research: Method and Practice

Introduction to Historical Methods


Recommended Courses to Cover After this One

Summer School

Qualitative Comparative Analysis and Fuzzy Sets

Introduction to Historical Methods

Comparative Research Designs