Methods, Tools & Techniques
A case study is a story about something unique, special, or interesting—stories can be about individuals, organizations, processes, programs, neighborhoods, institutions, and even events…” – Neale, P. Thapa, S. Boyce, C., Preparing a Case Study. Pathfinder International, 2006
A case study involves a detailed examination of a subject (the case), as well as its related circumstances. Case studies provide lessons from projects to see what organisers did and learnt. They reveal what worked, what didn’t, how they did it and what they would do differently next time. This What Works website contains examples of case studies.
A case study is useful when you’re trying to learn from the purpose, process and results. A case study can combine quantitative and qualitative data – the numbers and the descriptive stuff.
HOW IT WORKS
Case studies involve detail – that is, they produce lots of information, which can come from multiple data sources. The sources can include interviews, first-hand observation, surveys and document reviews.
The studies identify a number of data sources. Whoever studies the data, gathers the information, analyses it and draws conclusions.
Here are some elements that are commonly included in a case study:
- Circumstances – explain the setting or background.
- Information about the situation before the programme or ‘case’ began.
- Activities – what was done.
- Results – information on achievement or progress.
- Complications – stuff that limited and challenged.
- Analysis – interpretation and explanation.
- The people involved – their views.
- Lessons – summarising what was learnt.
LOCAL CASE STUDIES
We have compiled local case studies to help detail how different organisations have used different approaches and tools to evaluate their outcomes.
- Evaluation Support Scotland provides a short guide on case studies tailored for social services.
- This site has useful a guide to case studies for programmes and services involving health providers.
- This site provides guides and resources for case studies and identifies six different kinds.
- This video presents ideas on using case studies to influence public policy – Video: “Case study evaluation as an intervention for promoting equity”.
- Case studies provide a way to produce rich, in-depth data.
- They can bring work to life by providing real world stories and examples.
- Reasons given for progress and change come from a range of different sources.
- The insights gained through case studies can be useful to design further research to test conclusions.
Disadvantages and Limitations
- Case study data cannot necessarily be generalised.
- Usually require significant input from a range of sources and groups that may or may not be easily accessed and willing to participate.
- Depending on data sources, it can be difficult to draw a definite cause/effect from case studies.
- The selection of cases to study can be biased by the priorities of the organisation or person collecting evidence, potentially to such a degree that the findings can be unreliable or invalid.