Case method

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The case method is a teaching approach that consists in presenting the students with a case, putting them in the role of a decision maker facing a problem (Hammond 1976). In a case method classroom, both the instructor and the student must be active in different ways. Each is dependent on the other to bring about teaching and learning. Instructors are generally experts, but they rarely deliver their expertise directly.[1]

Case studies recount real life business or management situations that present business executives with a dilemma or uncertain outcome. The case describes the scenario in the context of the events, people and factors that influence it and enables students to identify closely with those involved

European Case Clearing House, Case studies

The case method is a teaching method that is largely used in business schools. For instance, it has been used at the Harvard Business School since its founding in 1908 (Corey 1998) and at the Richard Ivey School of Business since 1921. It is also used in some public policy schools, such as the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.[2]

Teaching cases[edit]

Teaching cases are available through clearing repositories such as Ivey Publishing Case place and European Case Clearing House, or through professional writing and publishing centers, such as Globalens at the University of Michigan.

Teaching case studies, and to a lesser extent writing them, is a central function performed at the top business schools worldwide. Some organizations, such as European Case Clearing House and GlobaLens, run competitions to identify the best new teaching cases. Some of the institutions that are the most active at writing teaching cases (as determined by the quantity and quality validated by awards) are: Harvard Business School, Columbia CaseWorks, IESE, the Darden School at the University of Virginia, University of Michigan Ross School of Business (through Globalens, INSEAD, Richard Ivey School of Business, the Asian Institute of Management, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and Asian Case Research Centre at the University of Hong Kong.

Although case method was initially introduced in business education in North America and Western Europe, other regions, especially Asia, are starting to catch up in teaching and writing cases. The Middle East and North Africa region has recently seen the launch of the Middle East & North Africa Regional Case Initiative (MENARCCI) at the American University of Beirut (AUB). MENARCCI's goal is to serve as a depository of all necessary knowledge about the case method, sources of cases and publishing outlets, and the links to all cases on the Region available on-line.

A business case is a document that imitates or simulates a real situation.[3] Cases are verbal representations of reality that put the reader in the role of a participant of the situation. Cases often illustrate a business or policy situation to be solved and includes information for classroom discussion and other study. The situation does not have an obvious solution. The case provides an adequate fact base to stimulate an educated conversation concerning possible outcomes. Each case has one central decision point, dilemma, or angle. The nature of the situation is clearly apparent within the first two paragraphs. In summary, as an analog of reality, a case must have three characteristics:[4]

  • A significant business issue or issues. Without an issue the case has no educational value
  • Sufficient information on which to base conclusions
  • No stated conclusions

Cases can range from one page to fifty or more. The writing in a case is precise and nuanced, yet always clear and concise. It is neither colloquial nor stuffily formal. It is also engaging and interesting to the reader. It is imperative for a case writer to always be objective—a case is not a marketing pamphlet for the featured organization, though the writer may portray biases that the protagonist may have.

Structure[edit]

Writing styles may be unique to the individuals developing a case, yet almost every successful case employs the following structure:

Title and Introduction (½-2 pages)[edit]

  • For the title, in fewer than 10 words make clear what is special about this particular case.
  • Within the first paragraph, identify the case’s central person and business or organization, and provide a sense of the situation the person is in.
  • Within the first two paragraphs, present what the central person sees as the decision point or dilemma. Identify other major players if relevant.
  • In the remainder of the introduction, provide the context for the situation: when the situation took place (at least the year), the location and purpose of the company or organization, the relevant important business factors, and the goal or aim of the central person.

Background on the Company, Industry and Competitors (3-7 pages)[edit]

  • Begin this section with the first subhead. If the section is long or relatively complex, use more than one subhead within the section to organize separate aspects.
  • Often the best method for writing this section is to organize the information chronologically, with a very brief history of the company or organization.
  • Provide the essential company, organization, competitor, and/or industry information that the central person had at the time of the case. What and where are the major products or services and their customers?
  • Include enough background information for the reader to analyze the decision point presented in the introduction. Revenues, profits and losses, and other financial valuations may be crucial.
  • Do not simplify or weight the background section to lead students to an easy decision.
  • Include, as appropriate, historical information, trends, direct quotations from participants and analysts, and simple and/or essential tables and figures. The section can also include references to exhibits placed in the appendix, though the references should be clear and complete enough that the reader can continue without having to turn immediately to the exhibits.
  • Consider depicting the culture of the company or organization if relevant.
  • What are the important challenges and responsibilities of the central person?
  • Are certain portions of the person’s career particularly important to the current situation?
  • Connect the background in this section to the current situation, including underlying causes and current results.

The Decision Point in More Detail (1-5 pages)[edit]

  • Begin this section with a subhead. Within it, use more subheads if appropriate.
  • Go more deeply into the context and possible consequences of the decision point, dilemma or central angle. Include the consequences for the career of the central person as well as for the person’s company or organization.
  • Show, if true, how the decision point or dilemma differs from the one initially perceived.
  • Include the degree of urgency involved in the decision-making, or the timeline for the decision to be made.
  • Conclude the text with alternatives available to the central person.

Exhibits and Endnotes (4-10 pages)[edit]

Use a subhead before any exhibits and before any listing of endnotes. Use a small title with each exhibit, beginning “Exhibit 1:”. Exhibits can include financial statements, time lines, diagrams, charts, tables, pictures, and graphs. In some cases it is possible to include or link to multimedia supplements such as an interview video with the case’s central person.

An endnote is needed for anything mentioned in the text for which a reasonable reader would want to know the source of the assertion, quotation, or apparent fact. The endnotes are referred to by number in the text and the notes themselves appear in order, all together, after the exhibits. An exhibit can have an endnote or its sourcing can appear as part of the exhibit.

More information is available on How to Write a Case Study.

Narrative and the case method[edit]

Case presentations frequently contain a strong element of narrative, which typically builds on plot, i.e., a sequence of events and their relationship to each other and to context. A classic structure often used in narrative case studies is the monomyth or hero's journey, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. First, the harmony of daily life is broken by a particularly interesting or dramatic event that leads into the main story. Here, second, the plot builds to a point of no return, from where the protagonist – who in a case study need not be a person but may be a company, an organization, a project, or a community – has no choice but to deal with matters, and thus is tested. At this point, characteristically, there is conflict and the conflict intensifies. Third, and finally, harmony is reestablished by the conflict being solved, or at least explained, as part of the case study.

The use of narrative involves a danger, however, of committing what has been called the narrative fallacy. This fallacy consists of a human propensity to simplify data through a predilection for compact stories over complex data sets. It is easier for the human mind to remember and make decisions on the basis of stories with meaning than to remember strings of data. This is one reason why narrative case studies and the case method are so powerful and why many of the classics in case study research are written in the narrative format. But humans read meaning into data and compose stories, even where this is unwarranted. In researching and writing up cases for case method teaching, the way to avoid the narrative fallacy is no different from the way to avoid other error in scholarly work, i.e., applying the usual consistent checks for validity and reliability in how data are collected, analyzed, and presented.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ellet, William (2007). Case Study Handbook. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-4221-0158-2. 
  2. ^ Case Web: The Home Page of the Kennedy School Case Program
  3. ^ Sample business cases by Northwestern University Consulting Club
  4. ^ Ellet, William (2007). The Case Study Handbook. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. p. 13.