Katya Drozdova is an associate professor of political science in the School of Business, Government, and Economics at Seattle Pacific University. Dr. Drozdova used information theory to lay out a systematic approach to comparative case studies, drawing on her recent book titled Quantifying the Qualitative: Information Theory for Comparative Case Analysis (SAGE, 2016).
What Does Information Theory Add to the Social Sciences
Drozdova introduced her approach as a synthesis between information theory and political science. Contrary to the usual statistical analysis – running regression models based on large-N data for the purpose of generalization – the information theory approach is to make research with small-n data more rigorous, specifically by quantifying results of qualitative analysis.
Drozdova explained that a lot of qualitative works dealing with small-n, but significant cases, faces difficulties in being replicated, tested against different data sets, and interpreted in a systematic way. Her approach suggests that by adopting information theory methods, we can add more to a qualitative in-depth analysis by interpreting such work in a more rigorous and effective way. Quantifying qualitative small-n case studies provides a way to evaluate the different weights of significance between factors. This is made possible by measuring the uncertainty based on the information given in the small-n cases, and to calculating such quantified data for gaining useful and additional insight.
Improving decision making – calculating the probability of each factor for an outcome
Drozdova presented an example for applying information theory approach to qualitative research. She showed how she quantified the results of a qualitative case study in “The Limits of Coercive Diplomacy” (George, Simons & Hall, 1994). First, she figured out the threshold to determine whether the outcome of the research – in this case, the success of coercive diplomacy – was successful or not. The in-depth qualitative analysis informs a researcher where to draw a line for such a threshold. Once the threshold is established, the outcome can be recorded in the form of binary code, 0 and 1 (0 a code for failure, 1 for success.) In the same manner, she continued quantifying the factors that are influencing the outcome. With quantified information of both independent and dependent variables, a researcher can calculate and retrieve the needed information.
This new methodology requires minimal quantitative skills while helping students, educators, researchers, and decision makers learn more from comparative case studies than has been possible before. The approach bypasses the limitations of traditional statistics in small-n contexts, enabling analysts to systematically assess and compare the impact of a set of factors on case outcomes. This method empowers researchers with easy-to-use analytics that will reduce uncertainty and improve knowledge gained from case studies. It also provides straightforward yet rigorous information metrics that will hone research design – and help more effectively communicate the research findings to diverse audiences of scholars and practitioners.