Capturing complexity: Mixing methods in the analysis of a European tobacco control policy network

Int J Soc Res Methodol. 2015;18(2):175-192. doi: 10.1080/13645579.2014.897851.


Social network analysis (SNA), a method which can be used to explore networks in various contexts, has received increasing attention. Drawing on the development of European smoke-free policy, this paper explores how a mixed method approach to SNA can be utilised to investigate a complex policy network. Textual data from public documents, consultation submissions and websites were extracted, converted and analysed using plagiarism detection software and quantitative network analysis, and qualitative data from public documents and 35 interviews were thematically analysed. While the quantitative analysis enabled understanding of the network's structure and components, the qualitative analysis provided in-depth information about specific actors' positions, relationships and interactions. The paper establishes that SNA is suited to empirically testing and analysing networks in EU policymaking. It contributes to methodological debates about the antagonism between qualitative and quantitative approaches and demonstrates that qualitative and quantitative network analysis can offer a powerful tool for policy analysis.

Keywords: plagiarism detection software; policy analysis; policy network; social network analysis.