I am reminded of the urban planner Christopher Alexander and his beautiful A Pattern Language: social science is not about rules, but rather about sets of principles which can guide decisionmaking. That is, social science is about finding general patterns which help us think about specific situations. This, as I like to discuss on this site, is very different from the scientific method of the hard sciences.
Ostrom’s empirical method strikes me as the right one. Empirics do not tell us which theory to develop. Theory does not tell us which empirics to examine. Rather, theory and data develop together, feeding back on each other, in order to help us find the patterns above.
That is from a discussion of Elinor Ostrom's career, and especially her expanded Nobel lecture published in the June AER, at A Fine Theorem. There is more at the link.