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Research in construction is often confronted with a trade-off of selecting either in-depth studies of small-N cases, which may affect generalization of findings, or statistical large-N studies, which may limit examination of causal links. Qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) provides a middle ground between these options, allowing researchers to analytically determine different combinations of conditions that produce an outcome in comparative studies. QCA has been applied extensively in other fields; however, the method has only recently started to gain traction in construction research. Guidance on the implementation of QCA is provided, including: a description of the method and its variants; stages required for its application; its benefits and critiques; applications in the construction field; and recommendations for scholars employing the method. QCA is a promising approach for probing causal links via investigations between variable-based, large-N analyses and qualitative, case-based, small-N studies. However, researchers must not use the method in haste or simply to obtain quantitative results from qualitative data. It requires significant time and rigour to determine and justify the conditions, outcomes and cases used in its application. QCA is well suited for research where interactions between conditions and outcomes are not well understood and can be used to build theory in the complex environment of construction.

Jordan, E., Gross, M., Javernick-Will, A., and Garvin, M. (2011). “Use and Mis-use of Qualitative Comparative Analysis.” Construction Management and Economics. 29 (11), 159-1173. doi: 10.1080/01446193.2011.640339