Policy Mechanisms

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-31816-5_3377-1



Causal mechanisms are an explanatory rather than predictive tool used to unpack the “black boxes” defined by empirical generalizations common in policy research. Specifically, mechanisms can be frequently occurring and easily recognizable causal patterns that are triggered under generally unknown conditions and usually with indeterminate consequences. This approach is appropriate for public administration, public policy, and governance research because it is often based on small N between-case and within-case studies. In testing hypotheses associated with causal mechanism, process-tracing methods are often used.


Issues of causality are infrequently discussed within the public policy and public management disciplines. Positivism and interpretivism are the two most popular approaches. The underlying notion of causality underpinning positivism is one of simple event regularities; that is, there are...

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social SciencesMichigan Technological UniversityHoughtonUSA
  2. 2.Division of History and PoliticsUniversity of StirlingStirlingUK
  3. 3.London School of Hygiene & Tropical MedicineLondonUK