Case Studies & Initiative Journeys


Case Studies described here are real examples of how an organisation has used an approach in Aotearoa New Zealand. Contact the featured organisation if you want to find out more. Please contact us to find out if there is a case study you think might be good to profile on this site.


Gathering and Encouraging Community Input through the use of Focus Groups and Interviews

Evaluative Approach
Focus Groups and Key Informant Interviews (and Grounded Theory)



Contact Information

Cholmondeley Website


Cholmondeley is an organisation in Canterbury that has provided short-term accommodation and practical support for over 25,000 children since 1925. Shane Murdoch is the general manager and says that over its 85-year existence there had never been any formal evaluation of what Cholmondeley was achieving.

There had been a plethora of anecdotal information that fed the assumption that it was doing good things” Shane says, “So the work of the organisation had never actually been questioned and it had retained a very large amount of community support – both financial and other.”

In 2010 Cholmondeley was struggling financially and it needed to do something to ensure survival, let alone be sustainable. This resulted in a big restructure of the organisation.

“It had developed many layers on the onion but the core had become soft and mushy” Shane says. “In some ways it had lost its way a bit.”

Cholmondeley peeled off its layers and went back to its core to strengthen to start again. This included a new vision – Value our Children – on which it based all of its decisions. This succeeded in stabilising it financially.

Strengthening its core meant going back to its 1925 roots. In simple terms, “providing short-term emergency and planned respite care for children aged between 3 and 12 years old whose families are experiencing distress or crisis and their usual supports are not enough or not available.” This covered the “what”. The next challenge was to establish the “why”.

Through stories and anecdotes from many families and other agencies, Cholmondeley leaders developed a hypothesis: if families can get direct and practical support immediately, that decreases the risk of problems escalating to the point where care and protection issues for children arise, ultimately leading to family disintegration.

This placed us firmly in the early intervention/family preservation end of the continuum. We needed to explore this with a bit more rigour through an evaluation, to provide a foundation for asking further questions and inform our development from there.”

Strategically, Cholmondeley needed to rethink its programme logic and move to outcome measurement, but they weren’t sure why they were doing what they were doing or what they should be measuring.

“I was also keen to get a thorough literature review done, primarily because using residential care as a first rather than last resort in this context is very much against the status quo.”

Why Focus Groups & Interviews

“I was keen for a fairly Grounded Theory approach; not too much discussion of the assumptions or the hypothesis and to contract an independent researcher to do the work. Blank-canvas-type stuff and retain as much integrity as possible to avoid leading the organisation down a dead end.”

At first, Shane thought a mixed-methods approach would work best. But after discussing the options and purpose with Ria Schroder and Mark Turner from Clarity Research, it was clear the approach needed to be qualitative.

“Our approach has been fairly developmental; progressively putting the building blocks in place and taking our time.”

What did they actually do? Lots of key informant interviews and focus groups? With who?

“I think the key informant interviews approach is more purposeful than other options because it allows stories to be shared and for those experiences to be strategically linked to future plans. So there is a stronger sense of surety that the services have made a difference, opportunities to improve further are identified and the path that has been chosen is the best one for our service users and for other stakeholders in the organization. It’s easy to have a guess and there is always some informed theorising going on, but I wanted to de-risk that as much as possible.”

Challenges and Limitations of the Approach

Shane says interviewing takes a long time.

“Having said that we embarked on this just prior to the Canterbury Earthquakes, which had a potentially devastating effect on Cholmondeley with the original home needing to be demolished, relocating at an extra cost of well in excess of $200 thousand a year which was needed like a hole in the head, being in survival mode for four years while we rebuilt.”

As a result of earthquakes, a large part of the strategic planning process got parked while Cholmondeley staff and governors maintained business as usual through the rebuild. The evaluation was a crucial project to be completed along with development of Cholmondeley practice models.

Influences and Resources

“There is a lot of literature on the use of Grounded Theory, although I think our approach was a bit of a hybrid of that and others. I did a large literature review in 2007 when reviewing the residential care provided by Barnardos and there was a paper by Jim Anglim on his use of Grounded Theory to understand the core aspects to be achieved in residential care environments – a sense of normalcy, responding to pain and pain-based behaviour. That paper had a big influence on me around this.”

We would love you to answer a few questions to help us (Community Research) make this What Works web-resource as useful as possible.

Please view the survey page now.