An iterative approach to case study analysis: Insights from qualitative analysis of quantitative inconsistencies

Allain J. Barnett, Jacopo A. Baggio, Hoon C. Shin, David J. Yu, Irene Perez-Ibarra, Cathy Rubiños, Ute Brady, Elicia Ratajczyk, Nathan Rollins, Rimjhim Aggarwal, John M. Anderies, Marco A. Janssen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle in a journalpeer-review

16 Scopus citations


All rights reserved. Large-N comparative studies have helped common pool resource scholars gain general insights into the factors that influence collective action and governance outcomes. However, these studies are often limited by missing data, and suffer from the methodological limitation that important information is lost when we reduce textual information to quantitative data. This study was motivated by nine case studies that appeared to be inconsistent with the expectation that the presence of Ostrom’s Design Principles increases the likelihood of successful common pool resource governance. These cases highlight the limitations of coding and analysing large-N case studies. We examine two issues: 1) the challenge of missing data and 2) potential approaches that rely on context (which is often lost in the coding process) to address inconsistencies between empirical observations and theoretical predictions. For the latter, we conduct a post-hoc qualitative analysis of a large-N comparative study to explore 2 types of inconsistencies: 1) cases where evidence for nearly all design principles was found, but available evidence led to the assessment that the CPR system was unsuccessful and 2) cases where the CPR system was deemed successful despite finding limited or no evidence for design principles. We describe inherent challenges to large-N comparative analysis and to coding complex and dynamically changing common pool resource systems for the presence or absence of design principles and the determination of “success”. Finally, we illustrate how, in some cases, our qualitative analysis revealed that the identity of absent design principles explained inconsistencies, and hence reconciled such apparent inconsistencies with theoretical predictions. This analysis demonstrates the value of combining quantitative and qualitative analysis, and using mixed-methods approaches iteratively to build comprehensive methodological and theoretical approaches to understanding common pool resource governance in a dynamically changing context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467-494
Number of pages28
JournalInternational Journal of the Commons
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Case study analysis
  • Common pool resources
  • Coupled infrastructure systems
  • Design principles
  • Institutional analysis
  • Large-N
  • Mixed methods


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