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ECPR 50th Anniversary Fund

SB109B - Process Tracing Methodology II – Evidence and Empirical Testing in Practice

Instructor Details

Instructor Photo

Hilde van Meegdenburg

Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden

Instructor Bio

Hilde van Meegdenburg is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Institute of Political Science, Leiden University. Her research focuses on international security and state foreign policy-making with a particular focus on the organisation of foreign aid and military interventions. 

Hilde has taught numerous advanced and introductory courses on process tracing and qualitative case studies throughout Europe. 

She is currently co-authoring a book with Patrick A. Mello on how to combine Process Tracing methods with Qualitative Comparative Analysis, under contract with Palgrave Macmillan.

Twitter  @Hildemeeg

Course Dates and Times

Monday 7 - Friday 11 August


Please see Timetable for full details.

Building: N13 Room: 517
Prerequisite Knowledge

Considering this is a second week/advanced course the course requires that one has already had an introduction to Process Tracing. Either by taking the week 1 course 'Process Tracing Methodology I', the course 'Introduction to Process Tracing' at the ECPR Winter School, or another introductory course on PT.

We will start from the assumption that you know what causal mechanisms are---defined as entities engaging in activities---and that you have a good understanding of the set-theoretic logic and assumptions that underlie PT.

Short Outline

This course is a more practical, hands-on course in using Process Tracing (PT) methods in one’s own research. It complements the theoretical PT I Summer School course held in the first week, as well as the introductory course taught at the Winter School in Bamberg.

This course focuses on how we can use within-case evidence to make causal inferences about mechanisms. The course starts with an introduction to how we can make causal inferences using Bayesian logic, i.e. when we have no variation upon which to make inferences. We then turn to the practicalities of empirical testing and making causal inferences in days 2 and 3, focusing on how we can strengthen the inferences we can make by improving the empirical tests that we employ in our research. We will work on this topic using a combination of analysis of existing work and tests developed based on your own research. Day 4 discusses inductive theory-building using PT. The final day discusses how we can utilize PT in practical case study research.

The course requires active participation. It is expected that participants are able to use parts of their own research in the exercises and group work during the course.

Long Course Outline

This course is a more practical, hands-on course in using Process Tracing (PT) methods in one’s own research, complementing the more theoretical PT I ECPR Summer School course held in the first week, which focuses on the research design aspects of the method. The course requires that one has already had some form of introduction to PT, either by taking the week 1 course, the course at the ECPR Winter School, or another introductory course on PT.

The promise of process-tracing as a methodological tool is that it enables the researcher to study more-or-less directly the causal mechanism(s) linking a cause or trigger (commonly known, but not the same as independent variables) to an outcome, allowing us to open up the ‘black box’ of causality. Within political science methodology PT is arguably the only method that allows us to study causal mechanisms giving us an understanding of how an X (or set of X’s) produces Y. It is therefore an ‘…invaluable method that should be included in every researcher’s repertoire.’ (George and Bennett 2005:224).

In this second week (or advanced course for those who only join for the second week) we look specifically at how to study that causal link in practice. In comparison to other research methods such as large-N correlation-based analysis and comparative methods process-tracing as a distinct method involves research where ‘The cause-effect link that connects independent variable [trigger] and outcome is unwrapped and divided into smaller steps; then the investigator looks for observable evidence of each step.’ (Van Evera 1997:64, italics added). This course will thus focus on turning 'empirical observations'  into evidence in support of a causal mechanism (the trigger, the steps, the outcome). To do so will follow the Bayesian logic of inference.

The first day introduces the Bayesian logic of inference. We look at Bayes Theorem and show how it allows us to draw a causal inference without variation by prioritising finding new and different evidence in relation to our theory. Taking a practical approach this introduction is followed by an exercise that will illustrate and make explicit how we can draw a causal inference on the basis of a single case: the case of Silver Blaze solved by Sherlock Holmes.

Day 2 introduces contemporary debates on empirical tests in PT and case studies. In line with the Bayesian logic of inference we focus on the inferential strength of (a) piece(s) of evidence in relation to our theory in terms of its certainty and uniqueness (or confirming or dis-confirming power). After a more theoretical introduction of the strength of evidence we analyse Schimmelfennig's article on the EU Eastern enlargement process to look at the inferential power of the evidence he provides for his causal mechanism. Can he really draw the conclusion he draws based on the evidence he presents?

Day 3 introduces source criticism and the practical challenges in working with empirical evidence in PT. Arguing that whether a piece of evidence allows us to make a strong causal inference is not only related to what it tell us about our theory but also depends on the 'trustworthiness' and accuracy of the source we will question the 'accuracy' of evidence. We focus upon archival material, elite interviews and secondary historical sources. This includes questions such as how we should evaluate bias, what a ‘good’ source is, and how we deal with bias in secondary historical material. We will use a compilation of sources and observations regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis to discuss the challenges relating to evidence in PT.

Day 4 turns to a discussion of how we can use empirical material to build theorized causal mechanisms.  In relation to empirical tests we will have largely followed a theory-testing logic which assumes we have an hypothesised causal mechanism before we go out and test it. Rather than following this deductive logic, today we will look at the challenges and possibilities of induction for process tracing using Janis’ study of Groupthink as an example.

The course concludes with a discussion of practical challenges in using PT. This discussion will be based on your own research projects and the assignments made during the week. In short; after presentations of your own work we will discuss the particular pit-falls that may come with your research designs and ideas.

Day-to-Day Schedule

Day-to-Day Reading List

Software Requirements


Hardware Requirements


The following other ECPR Methods School courses could be useful in combination with this one in a ‘training track .
Recommended Courses Before

Winter School

Introduction to Process Tracing

Summer School

Process Tracing Methodology I – Foundations and Guidelines

Case Study Research: Method and Practice


Recommended Courses After

Winter School

Advanced Mixed-methods

Summer School

Qualitative Comparative Analysis

Additional Information


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 in due time.

Note from the Academic Convenors

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, contact the instructor before registering.

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