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Case Study

Background and introduction

A case study is a broad analysis of an individual case (i.e. person, group, event, location, organisation.) Selected cases must be complex, contemporary and studied through a combination of methods (e.g. New Media research methods) using different sources of evidence. [1] In this way “a case study focusing on a particular phenomenon might be read as an investigation of a different phenomenon [2] A case study is an explicative strategy of research that uses empirical data collected from qualitative methods ( interviews, surveys, and observation) to test previously set hypotheses.

Figure 1: Empirical inquiry process

The main features of a case study [3] [4]

1. Answers “what,” “how,” and “why” questions

2. Holistic study of a complex, contemporary case in it's context

3. Analyzes a variety of evidence in close examination of a phenomenon

4. Uses empirical inquiry and theoretical perspective: objectivity vs. subjectivity

The case study method traces its roots to the beginning of the 20th century as an anthropological method of explanation. After World War II quantitative research (survey, experimental and statistical methods) prevailed over qualitative research, which was judged to be non-scientific. Despite controversy regarding the suitability of case studies as a scientific method, it remained the best complementary method of exploration of experiential understandings. In this way, “the case study can be expected to continue to have an epistemological advantage over other inquiry methods as a basis for naturalistic generalization” (Stake, 1978). [4]

How to

Case study research execution involves design, data collection, and analysis. [5] Mapping_research.png

Designing the case study:

Design is of most importance. Below are the necessary steps in case study research design:

Select subjects or population: Researchers must decide which cases may provide answers to posed questions. To do so, one must define the case parameters and find examples in recent history that meet the requirements (retrospective) or wait for suitable future phenomenon (prospective) [6].

The study can then be single-case (for events that have only one occurrence, like natural disasters) or multi-case. Thanks to pattern-matching, a technique linking several pieces of information from the same case to some theoretical proposition, multi-case design enhances and supports the previous results. [7]

Select a type of case study: There are many different types of case studies. According to Yin, case studies can be either exploratory (by using open questions, the study explores any phenomenon in the data which serves as a point of interest to the researcher), descriptive (describes the natural phenomena which occur within the data in question), or explanatory (examines the data closely both at a surface and deep level in order to explain the phenomena in the data). Sake, on his side, describes case studies as being either intrinsic (a researcher examines the case for its own sake), instrumental (the researcher selects a small group of subjects in order to examine a certain pattern of behavior) or collective (the researcher coordinates data from several different sources.)

Prepare the field-observation: One must prepare a list of research questions, identify helpers and data sources and allocate time and expenses. [8]

Data collection:

Data can be gathered through several methods of qualitative research, among which are observations, surveys, and interviews. According to Fidel, no specific kind of information should be mentioned as being of particular importance for the study, nor concealed to the subjects. While collecting information, researcher should not attempt to control or influence the search process. Interviews or questions can however be used to clarify issues. [6]

Data analysis:Capture_d92e9cran_2013-09-18_e0_13.34.41.png

According to Fidel, one must use the method of controlled comparison (the researcher must point out similar characteristics between different subjects for a model to emerge.) Once a model is drafted, it can be used to guide subsequent investigations. The researcher must also pay attention to atypical moves or attitudes. [6] Then, by using “naturalistic generalization,” the researcher can consider investigated cases a microcosm of a larger system. [3]

Generalizations, according to Johansson, are indeed more analytical than statistical, and are based on one or a combination of the three principles of reasoning [1]: the deductive principle starts by formulating a hypothesis and then a set of testable consequences that can either verify or falsify the theory. The inductive principle in case studies is done through inductive theory-generation, or conceptualization, which is based on data within a case. The abductive method is the process of facing an unexpected fact, applying a known or original rule and positing a case that may be.

Useful Tools, Protocols and Techniques

Stage 1. Designing the case study

a) Diamond Model for Case Analysis (Van de Ven 2007)

Running Diamond Model for Case Analysis can assist in addressing problems and designing solutions. Process of applying Diamond Model in case analysis is as follows:

1. Ground the problem & question in reality

2. Develop a conceptual model to address the question

3. Evaluate how well the model applies to the case

4. Implement a solution that solves the problem/question [11]

5. Pilot case study

When you have addressed problems and determined the parameters for the case study, conducting a pilot case study can help validate the methodology that is planned to be used, select more adequate respondents and interview/survey guidelines. Through evaluating the outcomes from pilot study, the researcher can review his/her questions and criteria of evaluation.

Stage 2. Data Collection

Tools for collecting data can change depending on whether the research is quantitative or qualitative. Below, the process for each is explained respectively.

Tools to collect quantitative data include:

a) Coding answers to structured questionnaires according to a coding scheme (e.g. survey)

b) Quantification of observation or experimentation (e.g. Implementation) [12]

c) Utilizing primary figurative data that is useful in explaining the study (e.g. census data)

Tools to collect qualitative data tend to be more diversified. These tools include:

a) Documentation of observation, interviews, meetings, events, activity logs, or summaries of doc or reports

b) Archive search

c) Participation observation (e.g. through workshops- Conole, 2013) [13]

d) Contents Analysis (e.g. through discussion forums- Kohlbacher, 2006) [14]

In order to secure validity, reliability, and transparency of the data collected, Yin suggested three principles of data collection: triangulation, case study database, chain of evidence. [15]


Triangulation is the protocols used in data collection to ensure data accuracy and alternative explanations.[10] Data has to be collected from multiple sources and produce same results to triangulate data sources, theory, methodology and even investigators- thus increased validity of case study research.

Case Study Database

Collected data of various forms and sources should be documented and organized into a database. It is to ensure that the other researchers can access and use the material, which will enhance the repeatability and transparency of the case study. [16]

Chain of Evidence

Researchers need to make clear citations of the sources and appropriate link to original sources to increase the reliability of the study.

Stage 3. Data Analysis

In 1994, Yin suggested three techniques to effectively analyze collected data; pattern-matching, explanation-building, and time-series analysis.[15] Logic models are a more recent technique that have gained popularity.

a) Pattern-matching technique is applied by comparing empirically drawn outcome pattern with a predicted one. This is to increase the internal reliability and reproducibility of the case study by showing that they match.

b) Explanation-building technique is implemented by iterating the analysis, starting with a theoretical statement, refine and revise the proposition.

c) Time-series analysis is a well-known technique in experimental studies in which a case study is compared and spread into longitudinal time frames.

d) Logic models aim to match with the predicted outcome by deliberately staging the chain of events in circular causal pattern, and in that sense Logic model is a part of pattern-matching technique.

Use Scenarios and Problems

As we wrote above, a case study is an empirical inquiry that makes a broader analysis of a small number, or even an individual case. It can be said to form a "bridge from rich qualitative evidence to mainstream deductive research" (Eisenhardt and Graebner, 25). The singular and representative nature of the case study is also the cause of the method's short-comings.

For example, if one were to investigate the correlation between a boss's inattentiveness and his or her employee's happiness, questioning one single company might be more useful then questioning all the companies in the Netherlands.

A close examination of one company may reveal that all employees that are depressed have an inattentive boss. This could lead one to conclude that employees need attentive bosses to feel happy in their workplace. Subsequently, this would pave the way for further research about boss-employee relations in terms of happiness and additional interviews may be conducted to analyze the root of the problem.

The same result might not be obtained by issuing a survey to 1000 companies in the Netherlands. For instance, if that one company is included in the survey, and 199 companies have the same problem with employee depression caused by boss inattentiveness, the results would be that 20% of those surveyed were unhappy, and 20% of the bosses were inattentive, but a direct relation between the two might not be apparent. In this case, the conclusion that inattentiveness leads to depression among employees cannot be drawn that easily.

However, regarding the one company we have taken as in the first example as exemplary for the other 999 companies in the Netherlands, activates the problem of generalization . How can one know for certain this one case is illustrative for all other companies? As Laurent Berlant already wrote: “as genre, the case hovers about the singular, the general, and the normative" and generalizations of case studies may lead to unwanted normalization [9]. A historian like Michel Foucault extensively demonstrates this point in his study of mental illnesses [10].

Concluding the problems related to using the case study as a method: an example that is chosen as a case study, is on the one hand meant to be enough like other cases for it to further research on the theory presented with the case study, and on the other hand singular enough that it is worth investigating. Such is the careful balance that using case studies as a method entails.

Case Study Examples

Case study in the field of New Media is of particular importance and intrigue. Institutions are transforming in accordance with new communication abilities and giving rise to phenomenon unique to our period in human history. The field of new media is fertile ground for contemporary and dynamic phenomenon analysis through the case study method. As a result of this novelty, a plethora of case studies have been conducted to analyze the impact of new media on everything from business to political campaigns.

An MIT analysis of the U.S. campaign in Burma, an organization attempting to unite grassroots activists, examines the group’s use of new media to strengthen their presence. A close inspection enabled researchers to deduce the contributions of specific new media tools, such as Facebook and viral video campaigns in assisting in campaign efforts. One question the case study gave rise to was whether or not digital activity could support a transition to physical mobilization.

George Washing University School of Public Health conducted a case study examining the effectiveness of an online campaign to encourage recycling amongst young adults in North Carolina. The study “reviews the implementation, maintenance and reach of the new media campaign components.” [2] Academics in the field of public health analyzed a particular new media phenomenon to determine useful strategies for targeting youth in related campaigns. Between these two example, one can glean information about what can be at stake in new media case studies.

The examples demonstrate the breadth of disciplines that utilize new media case studies in their research from public health to political science. Internet has changed the foundation of human communication. Consequently, new media case studies are of vital importance in attempts to understand the changes being initiated by our enhanced connectivity.


[1] Yin, Robert K. Applications of Case Study Research. London: SAGE, 2011. Print.

[2] Johansson, Rolf. “Case Study Methodology.” Proceedings of the International Conference Methodologies in Housing Research. Stockholm, 2003. 22–24. Google Scholar. Web. 19 Sept. 2013. Rolf Johansson ver 2.pdf

[3] Gomm, Roger, Martyn Hammersley, and Peter Foster, eds. Case Study Method: Key Issues, Key Texts. SAGE, 2000. Print.

[4]Stake, Robert E. “The Case Study in Social Inquiry.” Educational Researcher 7.2 (1978): 5–8. Print.

[5] Yin, Robert K. “The Abridged Version of Case Study Research.” Handbook of Applied Social Research Methods. Leonard Bickman & Debra J. Rog (editors). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003. 229–260. Print.

[6] Fidel, Raya. The Case Study Method: a Case Study. Seattle: Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Washington,1984. Print.

[7] Zainal, Zaidah. “Case Study as a Research Method.” Jurnal Kemanusiaan 9 (2007): 1–6. Print.

[8] Stake, Robert. The Art of Case Study Research. London: SAGE, 1995. Print.

[9] Berlant, Lauren. “On the Case.” Critical Inquiry 33.4 (2007): 663–672. JSTOR. Web. 19 Sept. 2013.

[10] Foucault, Michel. The Birth of the Clinic : an Archaeology of Medical Perception. Trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Vintage Books, 1975. Print.

[11] Van de Ven, Andrew H. Engaged Scholarship: A Guide for Organizational and Social Research: A Guide for Organizational and Social Research. Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.

[12] Pressman, Jeffrey L., and Aaron Wildavsky. "Implementation: how great expectations in Washington are dashed in Oakland. Berkeley." California: University of California Press, 1973. Print.

[13] Conole, Gráinne. “Case Study: Tools for Visualising Designs.” Designing for Learning in an Open World. New York: Springer, 2013. 161-182. Web. 22 Sept. 2013.

[14] Kohlbacher, Florian. The Use of Qualitative Content Analysis in Case Study Research, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 7:1, 2006

[15] Yin, Robert. Case study research: Design and methods. California: SAGE, 1994. Print.

[16] Rowley, Jennifer. “Using Case Studies in Research.” Management Research News 25.1 (2002): 16–27. Emerald Publishing. Web. 22 Sept. 2013.

Further readings

Baxter, Pamela, Susan Jack. Qualitative Case Study Methodology: Study Design and Implementation for Novice Researchers. Ontario: The Qualitative Report, 2008. Print.
Topic revision: r23 - 23 Sep 2013, ValentineWeydert
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