Evolutionary theory in comparative policy analysis

Adrian Kay*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputChapter


The prospects for evolutionary theory in comparative public policy have attracted recent attention. Central to this endeavour is the potential for explanation-by-consequences: to explain policy phenomena through appeal to their actual consequences rather than their antecedent causes. Such an explanatory strategy is a marked deviation from the ‘causes-of-effects’ approach and co variational research designs employed conventionally in comparative public policy. This chapter considers several methodological issues presented by such an approach. It investigates evolution as a process, as a theory and as a metaphor for use in policy studies. It develops the argument that much institutionalist theory in comparative public policy already relies, often implicitly, on evolutionary metaphors. A greater recognition of this legacy would benefit methodological thinking about research designs for longitudinal analysis of policy processes. In the final section, the chapter offers reflections on the prospects and pitfalls of evolutionary thinking in comparative public policy; in particular, examining issues associated with functionalism, the role of agency and circularity.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Research Methods and Applications in Comparative Policy Analysis
PublisherEdward Elgar
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781788111195
ISBN (Print)9781788111188
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2020


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