Thursday, 28 May 2009

Case Study Research

Many part time PhD students begin with the premise that they might do their research based, at least in part, around a case study in their own organization. Something may have been happening in your organizational life that sparked an interest in research in the first place, or perhaps it is just the convenience of being able to combine research with work that appeals. A good idea might be to think through what’s involved in research using case studies. There are two books worth looking at, both by Roberts, but both very, very different.

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).

13 comments:

  1. I have a BSc (Hons) and an MBA, both from Australia. I have been thinking about doing a PhD for the longest time. I have two questions/issues:
    1. Is there an age limit for someone wishing to do a PhD? I am 47 this year.
    2. I have some ideas of the research area that I want to engage in... however, I have a problem translating it into a concrete research proposal. Any ideas?

    Thanks.
    Wei Leong Yong

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  2. Robert MacIntosh16 March 2010 at 09:11

    There is definitely not an age limit ... with age comes wisdom and I have examined a few wise PhDs as well as a few wise-guys (not the same thing). Turning your ideas into a proposal is not easy but the advice on this site is intended to help

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  3. Hello Mr MacIntosh,

    I am planning to make use of the case study approach but my sample members are in a different country (The sample members are company owners or international managers) Is it acceptable for a PhD level student to do case studies with the help of telephone interviews?

    Thanks.

    MJ

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  4. Phone interviews are fine ... I've used them before myself. Much more important is what you do with the interview data once you've got it. Think about the mechanics of the analytical process before you get too far into data collection. Good luck

    Robert

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  5. Hello I looking forward to pursuing a PhD study. I am a teacher and I'm looking at the possibility of examining how a particular educational tool can be used to help less able students do well in Science. Can I use a case study approach. Thank you.

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  6. I'm sure you could use a case study approach but that doesn't mean to say that you'd have to ... think about the underpinning theory and the research question that you're trying to answer. Then think whether you're going to look at one school, and say one subject ... or whether you're comparing multiple schools, perhaps some using the approach others not. Finally, read the post on epistemology and ontology and/or look at www.methodsmap.org and set out which kind of case study you imagine using. Good luck with your study

    Robert

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  7. Dear Mr. MacIntosh,
    I just finished writing my PhD research proposal in which I outlined the research design and methodology. Since I hope to observe a phenomenon and generate hypotheses for further research, a multiple-case study seemed like an obvious choice. However, the data collection will most probably be completed within the couple of months (my second year), so I was wondering if I should repeat the procedure (not to use the word “experiment”) in the third year? Should one case study be enough to convince the PhD board? The above-mentioned books offer no help. Thank you very much for your suggestion.

    Joe

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    Replies
    1. Dear Joe

      thanks for your question ... the answer depends not just on your choice of methodology (case study) but on your choices of ontology and epistemology. It also then depends on whether you are trying to track a temporal shift by answering a question along the lines of "how fast ?" or "how long does this effect persist?", etc. A single case COULD be more than enough to convince your peers and examiners that you have reached valid conclusions ... but the very nature of "valid" varies from one research paradigm to another. Look at what your research field sees as norms. Look for the equivalent of "case precedent" in the legal sense ... arguing that 1,2 or x cases is in line with what other peer-reviewed researchers have done. Finally, as ever, ask your supervisor(s) for some guidance.

      Good luck with your study

      Robert

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  8. Hi Robert,

    Based on preliminary literature review and discussions with various consultants and others in the industry, the case study I'm proposing is very unique to our organisation. Therefore, it may be that this would be a single case study; would a single case study be appropriate at PhD level?

    Cheers
    Jack

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  9. I've supervised more than one PhD student to completion on the basis of a single case study ... it is a question of quality, rigour, depth and the type of knowledge claim you're making. Good luck wiht your study

    Robert

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  10. I've supervised more than one PhD student to completion on the basis of a single case study ... it is a question of quality, rigour, depth and the type of knowledge claim you're making. Good luck wiht your study

    Robert

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  11. Dear Robert ,
    I am doing CSR using case study approach for petrochemical sector, I have 14 petrochemical companies back home, my supervisor asked me to do sample f case study because my theme is to explore the status of CSR in selected sample by reviewing all documents and website and so on. My question is there any limit for selected sample ? for example is it ok to do my Phd for 4 companies out of 14 because they located in my city . please advice

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  12. Dear Sam

    you probably need some logic to underpin your decision. If the 14 companies vary in size, age, turnover, etc. then you can begin to think of a "representativeness" in your sample e.g. two big ones and two smaller ones; one each from less than 5 years old, 6-10 years old and more than 11 years old. Also, case studies mean very different things within different research traditions. You'll need to be clearer about whether your case study is part of a more objective or subjective study ... that would take you into the Yin/Stake discussion in the post above. Finally, because that positioning in terms of your philosophical stance is important, you might find it useful to look at the www.methodsmap.org before going too much further.

    Good luck with your study

    Robert

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