Case Study Research
Robert Yin (2008) Case Study Research: design and methods, SAGE: London
This is probably the most commonly cited text on case study research in management, followed closely by Kathleen Eisenhardt’s paper “Building Theories from Case Study Research” in the Academy of Management Review (1989) 14:4. Both have much in common and offer a rigourous approach which works well for some tastes. Think organised, design led and highly structured. The title says it all in many ways.
Robert Stake (1995) The Art of Case Study Research, SAGE: London
Same topic, different take. Stake’s view of case study work is presented as messier, richer and more ambiguous. Again, the “art of” in the title is significant. Very different from Yin but a more comfortable fit for some epistemologies and ontologies.
There is also an excellent account of the use of case studies in research, covering all this and more, in Chapter 5 of Research Methods (2nd Edition).
The term case-study usually refers to a fairly intensive examination of a single unit such as a person, a small group of people, or a single company. Case-studies involve measuring what is there and how it got there. In this sense, it is historical. It can enable the researcher to explore, unravel and understand problems, issues and relationships. It cannot, however, allow the researcher to generalize, that is, to argue that from one case-study the results, findings or theory developed apply to other similar case-studies. The case looked at may be unique and, therefore not representative of other instances. It is, of course, possible to look at several case-studies to represent certain features of management that we are interested in studying. The case-study approach is often done to make practical improvements. Contributions to general knowledge are incidental.
The case-study method has four steps:
- Determine the present situation.
- Gather background information about the past and key variables.
- Test hypotheses. The background information collected will have been analyzed for possible hypotheses. In this step, specific evidence about each hypothesis can be gathered. This step aims to eliminate possibilities which conflict with the evidence collected and to gain confidence for the important hypotheses. The culmination of this step might be the development of an experimental design to test out more rigorously the hypotheses developed, or it might be to take action to remedy the problem.
- Take remedial action. The aim is to check that the hypotheses tested actually work out in practice. Some action, correction or improvement is made and a re-check carried out on the situation to see what effect the change has brought about.
The case-study enables rich information to be gathered from which potentially useful hypotheses can be generated. It can be a time-consuming process. It is also inefficient in researching situations which are already well structured and where the important variables have been identified. They lack utility when attempting to reach rigorous conclusions or determining precise relationships between variables.
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