Update 2 // In the thick of it

Some forms of research involve opportunities for groundbreaking discoveries along the way. Mine is not among them – the information I’m collecting is all publicly available on websites run by the Virginia state government.

The novel aspects of my project are the assemblage of and analysis of the dataset. Putting together the dataset is, by definition, not done until I’ve finished collecting data. My research is focused on uncovering patterns in Virginia reproductive health legislation. Analysis, therefore, also relies on the dataset being complete.

This is further complicated by the way in which I’m collecting data. Keyword searches are the easiest way to access particular pieces of legislation in Virginia’s Legislative Information System. Such searches produce a list of the 300 most recently introduced pieces of legislation that contain the searched word or phrase. That means it’s much faster to code a keyword at a time than a legislative session at a time – the former involves a single search per keyword, the latter a search per keyword per legislative session.

With that in mind, I’ve been searching for a single keyword and then coding all legislation pertaining to that keyword that fits into the constraints I outlined in my last blog post. This means I won’t have a full set for a single legislative session until I’ve finished my last keyword search.

All this goes to say: I have little new information to share, but that shouldn’t be the case next time I update this blog.

In recent weeks, I’ve also been considering potential extensions for this research. Despite the best efforts of legislative effectiveness scholars, some factors in the legislative process don’t lend themselves well to being quantified or subjected to regression analysis. The quantitative work that’s been my focus this summer would be greatly strengthened by the consideration of qualitative data.

Legislators, former legislators, and activists are all valuable sources of information on the nature of debate and advocacy surrounding individual bills. I’d love to make use of their expertise, any documents they’ve retained from bills’ legislative processes, and newspaper articles. Even evaluating a few case studies would add nuance to my quantitative analysis and reduce the chance that I’ve missed key factors. Such work would require a significant time investment (and IRB approval for the interviews) and so is better suited as an extension to this project than as a component of it.

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