Over the past decade, scholars researching the causes, forms and impacts of transitional justice mechanisms have increasingly turned to cross-national databases to document cases, facilitate comparisons and develop causal analyses. Such research has been heralded as having the potential to address significant knowledge gaps in the field. However, to date, database research has produced patchy and contradictory findings. To interrogate why these differences have arisen, this article draws on a new database relating to key elements of research design in 20 databases of transitional justice mechanisms or transitional contexts. The systematic comparative analysis of these databases finds that they are constructed for a range of distinct purposes, which in turn shape different approaches to research design and lead to divergent findings. The article argues that greater reflection on the diverse purposes of databases can help scholars appreciate how different forms of databases can be used in an incremental and complementary manner to build knowledge that is persuasive for scholars and practitioners.
- research design
- impact assessment