Expert Perspectives

Qualitative Analysis to Support Long-Term Strategies

The LTS context

Under Article 4 of the Paris Agreement, countries were invited to design long-term strategies (LTSs) that support development-focused low carbon transformation.1 Countries are considering LTSs for several reasons, including to bring diverse stakeholders together to create a shared vision for low carbon development, to manage transitions and address potential disruptions, to align long-term planning with critical near-term decisions and actions, and to support leadership and innovation and inspire others regional and globally.

With these motivations in mind, different approaches can be taken to develop LTSs depending on unique country circumstances. Three common approaches include (1) developing economy-wide climate-driven frameworks (focused primarily on climate change objectives), (2) integrating long-term climate visions within existing development planning processes and goals, and (3) designing sectoral climate and development LTS approaches.2 Further, in relation to these approaches, different types of methods and analysis can be used to develop country-tailored LTSs. Often, countries use some mix of both quantitative and qualitative methods to support climate planning. Quantitative methods typically include use of various data sets and software models to develop pathways for long-term development, assess impacts, and inform prioritization of actions. Qualitative methods often include stakeholder processes and focus group discussions, expert input, and literature review of case studies and other relevant publications to inform various aspects of LTSs. Qualitative methods can be particularly useful in developing common visions, pathways, and scenarios; engaging stakeholders; addressing data gaps; and validating/ground-truthing quantitative analysis. They are often an important aspect of the process to create robust country-driven plans.

The role of qualitative methods for low carbon strategies

Based on the experience in various countries, I list and describe below key areas where qualitative methods or a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods can support long-term strategies and other climate and development plans. To date, most countries have used both qualitative and quantitative methods to develop low carbon strategies, and the two can be highly mutually reinforcing, as we will see in examples below.

  • Visioning and low carbon development pathway development: Exercises to develop low carbon development visions and pathways are often qualitative, bringing in a diverse set of stakeholders from across government, technical institutions, civil society, and the private sector. These stakeholder processes can be used to chart out broader transformative visions for the country as well as more granular potential pathways (e.g., cross-sectoral and sectoral low carbon development pathways, technology pathways, etc.) to feed into scenarios, modeling, and other quantitative and qualitative analysis, including key assumptions and drivers. These high-level visions may also be used to support mainstreaming with national development plans through using the country’s development goals as the foundation for the vision. For example, Kenya used the country’s Vision 2030 as the foundation for climate visioning and pathway development for Kenya’s National Climate Change Action Plan.3 Qualitative visioning can lay the groundwork for strategies that are transformative, focused on crucial socioeconomic development goals, aligned with priorities across sectors, and collectively owned.
  • Data collection and analysis: High-level goals, data availability, and technical capacity of local institutions may inform choice of qualitative, quantitative, or a mix of analysis methods for low carbon strategies. In some cases, countries may choose to pursue a more qualitative analysis process focused on stakeholder consultations, focus group discussions at workshops, expert input, literature review of case studies and other relevant publications, as well as other methods. For example, in Zambia, Ghana, and Kenya, an analysis approach that used both qualitative stakeholder processes and expert judgement, as well as a literature review, was used to support development impact assessment of key actions under various climate plans.4 In addition, work in some of these countries integrated results from quantitative analyses (e.g., macroeconomic analysis) to provide a more robust picture of possible development impacts. Below I further detail the work in Zambia, which used both quantitative and qualitative methods.
  • Iterating on analytic methods and initial analysis results: Plans for quantitative and/or qualitative analysis and initial results can be shared with experts and stakeholders under a qualitative process to ensure that information brings in practical experience, policy-relevant information, appropriate assumptions, and so on. For example, in South Africa, under the Long-Term Mitigation Scenarios (LTMS) process, stakeholders were consulted after initial scenario modeling runs were completed. These consultations led directly to improvements of the analysis, including revising key assumptions for some technologies considered.5 This provides a valuable example of ways qualitative and quantitative approaches can be mutually reinforcing under low carbon development processes.
  • Selecting pathways and identifying policies and near-term actions: Based on qualitative and/or quantitative analysis, stakeholders can be convened through a qualitative process to discuss and prioritize low carbon pathways. For example, in the energy sector, stakeholders may choose a pathway focused on a more distributed energy future and enabling them to qualitatively assess actions (through case studies and expert opinion, etc.) to achieve that future. Key near-term actions might include developing robust interconnection policies for distributed generation, designing standards for minigrids, and demonstration projects for grid-edge digital technologies, among many others. In the United States, these types of processes have been undertaken in states such as California.6
  • Communicating results: In all cases, analytic methods used should be clearly documented and presented to stakeholders. In cases where quantitative and qualitative analysis are pursued, frameworks can be used to bring the information together in a clear way and provide a comprehensive view of priority policy options as they relate to climate and development impacts.

A framework to consider qualitative and quantitative data and information for low carbon development analysis

From an analysis perspective, qualitative approaches can be particularly important in countries with data constraints that limit quantitative modeling options. As one example of work in this area, the Low Emission Development Strategies (LEDS) Global Partnership developed a framework that can be used in countries with limited data to assess development impacts of LEDSs7 (often with a time horizon out to 2030 and beyond), LTSs (often with a time horizon out to 2050), and other climate actions using both qualitative and quantitative methods.8 This enables data-constrained countries to develop climate plans closely aligned with key socioeconomic development goals through a stakeholder process that integrates both qualitative and quantitative information.

The development impact assessment (DIA) framework (presented in Figure 1) supports a development-focused vision for the future through explicit consideration of the social, environmental, and economic impacts of LEDSs, LTSs, and other climate actions. The framework allows countries to tailor their analysis to development areas of most interest and enables countries to include development areas—such as gender, energy access, and health—that may be overlooked by more traditional quantitative tools (e.g., macroeconomic modeling tools). Further, the flexible framework can bring in both qualitative (e.g., expert opinion and case studies) and quantitative information (e.g., outputs from macroeconomic modeling) to provide a more holistic view of development impacts across climate actions and to inform prioritization of options through a stakeholder-driven process.

Figure 1: Development impact assessment framework

The Zambia experience

Various lessons related to qualitative analysis can be drawn from use of the DIA framework in Zambia, Kenya, Ghana, and Montenegro. Zambia provides a particularly rich example of how the framework was used to support high-level (e.g., nationally determined contribution) and local (e.g., small-scale energy) decisions, bringing together both qualitative and quantitative information through a stakeholder-driven process.

Beginning in 2016, the Government of Zambia and the Center for Energy, Environment and Engineering of Zambia (CEEEZ) collaborated with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to tailor the DIA framework to inform the country’s nationally determined contribution and analysis of small-scale renewable energy projects. Zambia used a stakeholder-driven process to qualitatively and quantitatively assess development impacts of climate actions. A technical institution in country (the CEEEZ) led this process and built the capacity of stakeholders and others to feed into the process. The CEEEZ first brought together stakeholders across the government, academia, and the private sector to develop a guiding vision for the analysis, which focused on energy technologies. Through this process, stakeholders determined that three high-level development goals would serve as the foundation for the analysis: health, education, and food security. The CEEEZ then used a literature review process to determine potential connections between these goals and the energy actions under consideration and developed concepts that presented these potential connections to inform stakeholder discussions. A stakeholder workshop was then held to discuss the potential impacts of these energy actions in relation to the high-level goals, focusing on the information in the concept notes, expert judgment, and knowledge of the participants. During the workshop, the DIA framework was used as the organizing structure for the information discussed and to present potential health, education, and food security impacts of the energy technologies. Ultimately this framework was used to put forth actions in the country’s intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) and four nationally appropriate mitigation actions.

Lessons from development impact assessment approaches

Based on DIA work in Zambia and other countries, several lessons can be drawn to inform qualitative assessment for long-term strategies and other climate plans.

Stakeholder engagement lessons:

  • It is essential to have a diverse set of local stakeholders and experts engaged with qualitative impact assessments and LTS processes more broadly. Beyond those just engaged at the sector level, it is important to also have stakeholders focused on the impact areas of interest (e.g., health, education, and food security stakeholders and experts in the case of Zambia). Having a diverse group of local stakeholders with cross-cutting and unique areas of expertise at the country level can support a more robust analysis. As one example, in Ghana, when an initial DIA assessment performed by a group of outside energy-sector experts was compared with the in-country stakeholder-driven DIA assessment, there were fewer areas of uncertainty in relation to the connections across energy actions and impacts based on the local and diverse expert input.9
  • Building the capacity of stakeholders to engage with qualitative assessments is a critical first step. In the cases of both Zambia and Ghana, the lead technical institution provided training and/or bilateral meetings with stakeholders before the development impacts workshop was held to ensure a common understanding of technologies, indicators, and the framework overall. These meetings and trainings also provided an opportunity to refine the framework and receive input on indicators and the like in advance of the workshop. This allowed the workshop to be highly focused on receiving critical qualitative information through expert input and so on. In addition, in both countries, key information resources (e.g., primers, summaries, and background information on each type of impact and technology) were developed and provided to stakeholders in advance of the workshops to ensure an appropriate level of understanding across technologies and impacts.
  • Smaller focus group discussions were important during the qualitative workshop process to ensure stakeholders were not overwhelmed with the amount of information to be covered and could focus on specific areas aligned with their expertise.
  • Engaging stakeholders across sectors early and regularly is critical to ensuring that the value of a qualitative and/or quantitative analysis process is understood, ownership is created, and silos are broken down. It is also important to identify a champion institution to lead the process overall, such as the CEEEZ in Zambia.
  • Government buy-in and participation across ministries is critical to ensuring qualitative assessment processes inform actual decisions. In the case of Zambia, the Ministry of Environment was absolutely critical to ensuring that the analysis informed the country’s INDC and other climate actions.

Analysis lessons:

  • Analytical processes must be tailored to specific country circumstances (e.g., in relation to development priorities, key technologies/actions/sectors, and data availability) and this tailoring can inform the use of qualitative and/or quantitative analytic methods. For example, priorities such as gender and education may require a more qualitative analysis of impacts, including expert judgement, case studies, and stakeholder processes. In many cases, countries can use both quantitative tools (e.g., to look at job impacts of climate technologies) and qualitative tools (e.g., to assess gender impacts) when performing a development impact assessment. Qualitative and quantitative approaches can be combined under different processes and frameworks, such as the DIA framework.
  • For approaches that combine qualitative and quantitative methods and data, it is important to have an overarching (and easily understood) structure to summarize and bring together available analytical information, expert opinions, and other data with clear traceability back to the information justifying a score (in cases where scoring or prioritization is used, such as with the DIA framework).
  • Addressing data limitations can be one motivation for pursuing qualitative analysis. Expert judgement, focus group discussions, case studies, and literature review can be used to effectively fill gaps in data on impacts of climate actions. These methods can also be applied to ground-truth or validate quantitative information on impacts, especially in cases where international or data from other countries have been used to inform the analysis.
  • Supporting iterative and sustained engagement with the qualitative process will help to ensure a "living analytical approach" that can change or be updated as data are collected and made available or goals and priorities shift.

Both qualitative and quantitative methods are integral to development of LTSs and other climate plans. In some cases, the qualitative aspect of the process will be focused most significantly during the visioning phase, while in other cases, qualitative methods will be an important aspect of the analysis phase, especially in circumstances where data may be limited. There is significant value in both methods, and qualitative methods are, in many cases, highly important in ground-truthing quantitative analysis. These is no "one size fits all" approach for LTSs, and countries can consider using and combining various types of quantitative and qualitative methods based on their unique country circumstances.

1 UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), "Communication of Long-Term Strategies," 2018,

2 A forthcoming LEDS Global Partnership paper on three common LTS approaches will provide more information.

3 Republic of Kenya, National Climate Change Action Plan, 2013–2017 (Nairobi: Government of Kenya, 2013),

4 S. Cox, J. Katz, and Laura Würtenberger, "Assessing Development Impacts Associated with Low Emission Development Strategies: Lessons Learned from Pilot Efforts in Kenya and Montenegro," National Renewable Energy Laboratory, January 2014,

5 H Winkler, "Long Term Mitigation Scenarios Technical Report," Energy Research Centre for Department of Environment Affairs and Tourism, 2007.

6 California ISO (Independent System Operator), "Stakeholder Engagement Opportunities," 2018,

7 LEDSs were first mentioned in the context of the UNFCCC in 2008 and were noted as "indispensable to sustainable development" in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. LEDSs do not have a set definition but are often considered development plans that simultaneously enable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, increased resilience to climate change impacts and achievement of social, economic and environmental development goals. These strategies can include national climate change laws, green growth strategies and plans, and cross-sectoral and sectoral plans for low emission development. The timeframe for LEDSs is often out to 2030 and beyond.

8 Shannon Cowlin, Jaquelin Cochran, Sadie Cox, Carolyn Davidson, and Wytze van der Gaast, "Broadening the Appeal of Marginal Abatement Cost Curves: Capturing Both Carbon Mitigation and Development Benefits of Clean Energy Technologies," paper presented at World Renewable Energy Forum, Denver, May 13–17, 2012,

9 GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), Assessing Development Impacts: Lessons from a Case Study in Ghana (Bonn: GIZ, 2013),

All the interpretations and findings set forth in this expert perspective are those of the author alone