Qualitative comparative analysis for analyzing spatial planning processes

Using a complexity lens has not gained widespread attention for explaining why certain planning processes succeed and others fail. This chapter responds by proposing Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) as a method for analyzing the performance of spatial planning processes, taking into account the perceived complexity of the contextual environments encountered. This proposal is rooted in a contingency perspective. Contingency perspectives assume that, for spatial planning approaches and organizational formats to perform well, they should be adapted to the environment in which they intend to operate; i.e., a degree of ‘fit’ is required. The perceived complexity of the contextual environments is among the key arguments contingency studies propose as informing fit. QCA follows this argument, but also responds to some of its main critiques. First, QCA can help avoid a deterministic perspective on complexity informing fit, as it assumes complexity as being conceptualized by stakeholders involved in the planning process. Second, QCA can help overcome a reductionist perspective and its simplistic reliance on a pairwise analysis of relations between isolated environmental variables and isolated organizational or decision-making variables. QCA approaches ‘fit’ from a more holistic perspective, by analyzing the performance of spatial planning processes as configurations of alternative spatial planning approaches, organizational forms, and contextual environments. The result is an understanding of ‘fit’ following what QCA considers ‘complex causality’, which is manifested in configurations of various interacting and interdependent conditions. Next to being able to analyze relationships between the performance of spatial planning processes and the perceived complexity of the contextual environment, by using the notion of ‘complex causality’ QCA also allows for analyzing spatial planning processes as complex adaptive systems.

Publication | Verweij, S. & Zuidema, C. (2020). Qualitative comparative analysis for analyzing spatial planning processes. In: G. de Roo, C. Zuidema & C. Yamu (eds), Handbook on Planning and Complexity (pp. 334-352). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.