Case Studies: Conceptual and methodological frameworks

One of the RECIPES project’s aims is to understand and explain the differences in the application of the precautionary principle in 9 different case topics, in a way that reflects the particular context of the case and the arguments for invoking the precautionary principle.

In this video, Joe Rini, Research Associate at the IASS Potsdam and coordinator of the nine case studies, explains how the principle is applied in different contexts and thematic areas.

The Conceptual framework for comparative multiple case study analysis, part of the “Multiple case-study analysis” module, focuses on how the case study component fits into the overall RECIPES project, on the results of a literature review, on the case study methodology, and on the key risk properties of complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity. Together with the case study methodology, this report lays the foundation for carrying out the case study research, as well as the comparative analysis of the 9 case studies and transitioning these findings into the rest of the RECIPES project.

The goal of the “Multiple case-study analysis” is to perform 9 case studies and a comparison of the different cases in order to develop scenarios on the future application of the precautionary principle. This will feed into the design of new tools and guidelines for the precautionary principle in respect of reconciling precaution and innovation.

Each case study topic consists of different technological risks, at different stages of development and deployment, and with completely different legal frameworks. As a result, the project team developed a flexible methodological framework that allows the research teams to learn as much as possible about the case topic using the appropriate and relevant sources. The comparative case analysis employs a number of strategies including pair-wise peer review, iterating the analysis against case study researchers, and remaining open to the best way to compare and contrast the cases.

In this project phase, researchers seek to link the precautionary principle and innovation considerations to the key risk properties of complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity, which represent challenges for the understanding and the ability to communicate effectively about risk and innovation.

Complexity refers to the difficulty of identifying and quantifying causal links between a multitude of potential candidates and specific adverse effects. It includes the interplay of human agency within the context of regulation, innovation, legal decision-making, changing societal values, and vested interests, which result in higher-level complexity than the technological system alone.

Uncertainty is the key risk property in invoking the Precautionary Principle, as its purpose is to allow decision-makers to act despite scientific uncertainty (lack of knowledge about the outcomes or likelihoods, or both, of an event or process). In contrast, risk describes situations where possible outcomes are known, and the likelihoods of those outcomes can be described. Given the subjective complexity faced by decision-makers in the case study topics, the project highlights the functional uncertainty that emerges from highly complex technologies and societal processes.

Ambiguity refers to the fact that outcomes are potentially uncertain, and that different groups will value these outcomes differently. It is present in how scientists and risk specialists evaluate the same evidence, and in how outcomes as risks are evaluated. It implies the need to engage societal stakeholders in the discussion about the harms and benefits of technological innovations and other risks.

Part of this report also concentrates on innovation, as a crucial element for human and societal improvement, which must be regulated to prevent harm, thus leading to a complex interplay between regulation and innovation.

The Methodological framework for the case study analysis details the methodological framework for carrying out the case study research foreseen by the RECIPES project. The document serves both as a methodological framework – an explanation of what to consider in each section – and as a template for delivering the final analysis at the end of the case study research.



Dino Trescher


With thanks to: Project coordination by Maastricht University

Valuable input provided by the RECIPES research partners at Maastricht University, DBT, Rathenau Institute, and Humboldt University

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