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Case Study Research Design

What is a Case Study?

❶The purpose of this paper is to guide the novice researcher in identifying the key elements for designing and implementing qualitative case study research projects. According to BROWN , Merriam's style brings forth a practical application of pluralistic strategies that guide pragmatic constructivist research to derive knowledge about an area of inquiry.

This article is a part of the guide:

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The Case Study as a Research Method
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On the other hand, it is argued that a case study provides more realistic responses than a purely statistical survey. The truth probably lies between the two and it is probably best to try and synergize the two approaches.

It is valid to conduct case studies but they should be tied in with more general statistical processes. For example, a statistical survey might show how much time people spend talking on mobile phones, but it is case studies of a narrow group that will determine why this is so. The other main thing to remember during case studies is their flexibility. Whilst a pure scientist is trying to prove or disprove a hypothesis , a case study might introduce new and unexpected results during its course, and lead to research taking new directions.

The argument between case study and statistical method also appears to be one of scale. Whilst many 'physical' scientists avoid case studies, for psychology, anthropology and ecology they are an essential tool. It is important to ensure that you realize that a case study cannot be generalized to fit a whole population or ecosystem.

Finally, one peripheral point is that, when informing others of your results, case studies make more interesting topics than purely statistical surveys, something that has been realized by teachers and magazine editors for many years. The general public has little interest in pages of statistical calculations but some well placed case studies can have a strong impact. The advantage of the case study research design is that you can focus on specific and interesting cases.

This may be an attempt to test a theory with a typical case or it can be a specific topic that is of interest. Research should be thorough and note taking should be meticulous and systematic. The first foundation of the case study is the subject and relevance. In a case study, you are deliberately trying to isolate a small study group, one individual case or one particular population.

For example, statistical analysis may have shown that birthrates in African countries are increasing. A case study on one or two specific countries becomes a powerful and focused tool for determining the social and economic pressures driving this. In the design of a case study, it is important to plan and design how you are going to address the study and make sure that all collected data is relevant.

Unlike a scientific report, there is no strict set of rules so the most important part is making sure that the study is focused and concise; otherwise you will end up having to wade through a lot of irrelevant information.

It is best if you make yourself a short list of 4 or 5 bullet points that you are going to try and address during the study. If you make sure that all research refers back to these then you will not be far wrong.

With a case study, even more than a questionnaire or survey , it is important to be passive in your research. You are much more of an observer than an experimenter and you must remember that, even in a multi-subject case, each case must be treated individually and then cross case conclusions can be drawn. Analyzing results for a case study tends to be more opinion based than statistical methods. The usual idea is to try and collate your data into a manageable form and construct a narrative around it.

Use examples in your narrative whilst keeping things concise and interesting. It is useful to show some numerical data but remember that you are only trying to judge trends and not analyze every last piece of data. Constantly refer back to your bullet points so that you do not lose focus. It is always a good idea to assume that a person reading your research may not possess a lot of knowledge of the subject so try to write accordingly.

In addition, unlike a scientific study which deals with facts, a case study is based on opinion and is very much designed to provoke reasoned debate. There really is no right or wrong answer in a case study. Check out our quiz-page with tests about:. Martyn Shuttleworth Apr 1, Case Study Research Design.

Retrieved Sep 11, from Explorable. Here, anthropologists practiced their methods on university cultures or by conducting lengthy case studies involving field-based observations of groups with the aim of understanding their social and cultural lives CRESWELL et al. According to JOHANSSON , Robert YIN followed this progress, and drawing on scientific approaches to research gained from his background in the social sciences, applied experimental logic to naturalistic inquiry, and blended this with qualitative methods, further bridging the methodological gap and strengthening the methodological quality of case study research.

He presented a structured process for undertaking case study research where formal propositions or theories guide the research process and are tested as part of the outcome, highlighting his realist approach to qualitative case study research.

While still qualitative and inductive, it was deterministic in nature with an emphasis on cause and effect, testing theories, and an apprehension of the truth BROWN, ; YIN, The integration of formal, statistical, and narrative methods in a single study, combined with the use of empirical methods for case selection and causal inference, demonstrated the versatility of case study design and made a significant contribution to its methodological evolution ibid.

The continued use of case study to understand the complexities of institutions, practices, processes, and relations in politics, has demonstrated the utility of case study for researching complex issues, and testing causal mechanisms that can be applied across varied disciplines. Methods were required that could be used to explore factors such as participants' perspectives and the influence of socio-political contexts on curriculum successes and failures SIMONS, Development of case study research in education, focused on the need to determine the impact of educational programs and provide relevant evidence for policy and practice decisions that supported social and educational change in the United Kingdom and the United States ibid.

STAKE , an educational psychologist with an interest in developing program evaluation methods, used a constructivist orientation to case study. This resulted in placing more emphasis on inductive exploration, discovery, and holistic analysis that was presented in thick descriptions of the case.

Similar to STAKE , , MERRIAM , was not as structured in her approach as YIN , but promoted the use of a theoretical framework or research questions to guide the case study and organized, systematic data collection to manage the process of inquiry.

Simple in theory yet complex in nature, the planning, preparation and execution of case study research has developed to a point where the continued application of case study research across a number of professions particularly education, health, and social sciences, has provided a unique platform for credible research endeavors. Key contributors to case study research and major contextual influences on its evolution are included. As the figure highlights, early case studies were conducted in the social sciences.

With the dominance of logical positivism from the 's through to the 's and 's case study methodology was viewed with skepticism and criticism.

The development of grounded theory in the 's led to a resurgence in case study research, with its application in the social sciences, education, and the humanities. Over the last 50 years, case study has been re-established as a credible, valid research design that facilitates the exploration of complex issues. While over time the contributions of researchers from varied disciplines have helped to develop and strengthen case study research, the variety of disciplinary backgrounds has also added complexity, particularly around how case study research is defined, described, and applied in practice.

In the sections that follow, the nature of this complexity in explored. There are a number of definitions and descriptions presented across the literature, which can create confusion when attempting to understand case study research. YIN's two-part definition focuses on the scope, process, and methodological characteristics of case study research, emphasizing the nature of inquiry as being empirical, and the importance of context to the case.

On the other hand, STAKE takes a more flexible stance and while concerned with rigor in the processes, maintains a focus on what is studied the case rather than how it is studied the method. For STAKE case study research is "the study of the particularity and complexity of a single case, coming to understand its activity within important circumstances" p.

These varied definitions stem from the researchers' differing approaches to developing case study methodology and often reflect the elements they emphasize as central to their designs. The diversity of approaches subsequently adds diversity to definition and description.

A further challenge to understanding case study research relates to it being referred to and used as both a methodology and a method. MILLS distinguishes methods as procedures and techniques employed in the study, while methodology is the lens through which the researcher views and makes decisions about the study.

The ambiguity about case study being either or both a methodology and method, is compounded by the terminology used in discussions about case study.

Often these terms are used interchangeably without definitional clarity. For example, YIN discusses case study research and in the context of presenting case study, refers to it as a research method while emphasizing the procedures used. He does not use the terms methodology or strategy. This mixed use of terminology is confusing given the definitional separations between methodology and methods and the varied application of case study in research endeavors.

This distinction accentuates the need for researchers to describe the particular underpinning methodology adopted and to clarify the alignment of chosen methods used with their philosophical assumptions and their chosen approach. Exploring the philosophical orientation of case study research and variations in different case study approaches can help to clarify these differences, and promote a better understanding of how to apply these principles in practice.

Many methodologies are aligned with specific philosophical positions that guide the research process. Philosophically, case study research can be orientated from a realist or positivist perspective where the researcher holds the view that there is one single reality, which is independent of the individual and can be apprehended, studied and measured, through to a relativist or interpretivist perspective. In the context of healthcare research and specifically nursing, LUCK et al.

Qualitative paradigms are broad and can encompass exploratory, explanatory, interpretive, or descriptive aims. Each methodology is unique in approach depending on the ontological and epistemological stance, however all stem from the motivation to explore, seek understanding, and establish the meaning of experiences from the perspective of those involved ibid. These attributes are commonly exemplified in case study research.

Like other forms of qualitative research, the researcher will seek to explore, understand and present the participants' perspectives and get close to them in their natural setting CRESWELL, Interaction between participants and the researcher is required to generate data, which is an indication of the researcher's level of connection to and being immersed in the field.

Because of this, constructivism and interpretivism commonly permeate the implementation of this research design. The researcher's perceptions and interpretations become part of the research and as a result, a subjective and interpretive orientation flows throughout the inquiry CRESWELL, In choosing a methodological position, careful consideration of the different case study approaches is required to determine the design that best addresses the aim of the study, and that aligns with the researcher's worldview.

Examples are provided of how these researchers' philosophical orientation influences the application of case study in practice. YIN conceptualizes case study research as a form of social science. Post-positivism is evident in how he defines "case study as a form of empirical inquiry" p.

YIN himself describes his approach to case study as using a "realist perspective" p. The goal of a postpositivist researcher is to use science as a way to apprehend the nature of reality while understanding that all measurement is imperfect. Therefore, emphasis is placed on using multiple methods with triangulation to circumvent errors and understand what is happening in reality as close as possible to the "truth" LINCOLN et al.

The researcher will often categorize qualitative data to create quantitative data that can then be analyzed using statistical methods. Validity of research results are verified through the scrutiny of others and, as such, adherence to mechanisms that ensure rigor in data collection and analysis is vital. Furthermore, postpositivists accept that everyone is inherently biased in worldviews, which ultimately influence how the methods used are deployed.

Interaction with research subjects therefore needs to be minimized and subjectivity managed to avoid biasing the results ibid. Embedded within YIN's case study design are the hallmarks of a postpositivist approach to research: While objectivity is a goal, YIN also recognizes the descriptive and interpretive elements of case study.

According to YIN what makes case study research distinct from experimental studies is the case study is investigated in context, examined in its "real world setting" p.

Selection of cases is based on the purpose of the research and related to the theoretical propositions about the topic of interest. YIN suggests careful screening in the selection of cases to ensure specific relevance to the issues of interest and the use of replication logic: Precision, process, and practicality are core attributes of YIN's approach to case study. Design features are sequentially structured and motivated by empirical application.

This positioning reflects the axiology of postpositivism where maintaining intellectual honesty, managing bias, and acknowledging limitations, coupled with meticulous data collection and accurate reporting are critical elements in the conduct of research KILLAM, ; YIN, MERRIAM maintains a constructivist approach to case study research, whereby the researcher assumes that reality is constructed intersubjectively through meanings and understandings developed socially and experientially.

Like YIN , MERRIAM , asserts that when information is plentiful and concepts abstract, it is important to utilize processes that help interpret, sort, and manage information and that adapt findings to convey clarity and applicability to the results.

MERRIAM acknowledges case study research can use both quantitative and qualitative methods; however, when working on qualitative case studies, methods aimed at generating inductive reasoning and interpretation rather than testing hypothesis take priority.

Cases are selected based on the research purpose and question, and for what they could reveal about the phenomenon or topic of interest. Interviews are the most common form of qualitative data collection, although MERRIAM does not stipulate prioritizing a particular method for data collection or analysis, she does emphasize the importance of rigorous procedures to frame the research process.

Advocating for careful planning, development, and execution of case study research, MERRIAM , discusses the pragmatic structures that ensure case study research is manageable, rigorous, credible, and applicable. Processes such as descriptive, thematic and content analysis, and triangulation are significant in ensuring the quality of a study, therefore, methods of data collection and analysis need to be organized and systematized with a detailed chain of evidence MERRIAM, According to BROWN , Merriam's style brings forth a practical application of pluralistic strategies that guide pragmatic constructivist research to derive knowledge about an area of inquiry.

STAKE , has an approach to case study research that is qualitative and closely aligned with a constructivist and interpretivist orientation. While having a disciplined approach to the process and acknowledging that case study can use quantitative methods, STAKE's approach is underpinned by a strong motivation for discovering meaning and understanding of experiences in context.

The role of the researcher in producing this knowledge is critical, and STAKE emphasizes the researcher's interpretive role as essential in the process. An interpretative position views reality as multiple and subjective, based on meanings and understanding. Knowledge generated from the research process is relative to the time and context of the study and the researcher is interactive and participates in the study.

In terms of epistemology, STAKE argues that situation shapes activity, experience, and one's interpretation of the case. For STAKE , to understand the case "requires experiencing the activity of the case as it occurs in its context and in its particular situation" p. The researcher attempts to capture her or his interpreted reality of the case, while studying the case situationally enables an examination of the integrated system in which the case unfolds.

A case is selected because it is interesting in itself or can facilitate the understanding of something else; it is instrumental in providing insight on an issue STAKE, For STAKE, multiple sources and methods of data collection and analysis can be used, however, interviews and observations are the preferred and dominant data collection method.

In seeking understanding and meaning, the researcher is positioned with participants as a partner in the discovery and generation of knowledge, where both direct interpretations, and categorical or thematic grouping of findings are used. STAKE recommends vignettes—episodes of storytelling—to illustrate aspects of the case and thick descriptions to convey findings, a further illustration of his constructivist and interpretivist approach to case study research.

BROWN suggests the three approaches used by these seminal researchers rest along a quantitative-qualitative continuum where the postpositivist methodology of YIN sits at one end, STAKE's interpretivist design , sits at the other end and MERRIAM , who as a pragmatic constructivist draws on the elements of both, rests toward the center. BROWN sums up the influences of each, saying that "case study research is supported by the pragmatic approach of Merriam, informed by the rigour of Yin and enriched by the creative interpretation described by Stake" p.

While some may argue that mixing qualitative and quantitative methods could threaten the veracity of the research BOBLIN et al. Despite variation in the approaches of the different exponents of case study, there are characteristics common to all of them. Defining the case unit of analysis or object of the study and bounding the case can be difficult as many points of interest and variables intersect and overlap in case study research.

Bounding the case is essential to focusing, framing, and managing data collection and analysis. How the methods are used will vary and depend on the research purpose and design, which is often a variation of a single or multiple case study research design. Interviews and focus groups, observations, and exploring artifacts are most commonly employed to collect and generate data with triangulation of methods and data, however, this is not exclusive.

These elements delineate case study from other forms of research and inform the critical aspects of the research design and execution. Object of the case study identified as the entity of interest or unit of analysis. Program, individual, group, social situation, organization, event, phenomena, or process. Subjectivity a consistent thread—varies in depth and engagement depending on the philosophical orientation of the research, purpose, and methods.


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Case studies are a popular research method in business area. Case studies aim to analyze specific issues within the boundaries of a specific environment, situation or organization. According to its design, case studies in business research can be divided into three categories: explanatory, descriptive and exploratory.

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The Case Study as a Research Method Uses and Users of Information -- LIS D.1 -- Spring Introduction Case study research excels at bringing us to an understanding of a complex issue or object and can extend experience or add strength to what is already known through previous research.

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Although case study methods remain a controversial approach to data collection, they are widely recognised in many social science studies especially when in-depth explanations of a social behaviour are sought after. This article, therefore, discusses several aspects of case studies as a research method. Qualitative case study methodology provides tools for researchers to study complex phenomena within their contexts. When the approach is applied correctly, it becomes a valuable method for health science research to develop theory, evaluate programs, and develop interventions.

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With a case study, even more than a questionnaire or survey, it is important to be passive in your research. You are much more of an observer than an experimenter and you must remember that, even in a multi-subject case, each case must be treated individually and then cross case conclusions can be drawn. MERRIAM () acknowledges case study research can use both quantitative and qualitative methods; however, when working on qualitative case studies, methods aimed at generating inductive reasoning and interpretation rather .