To this end, we identify three particular issues with which the single-case researcher has to cope and suggest three dilemmas relating to these issues. Pointing to these issues as dilemmas differs from, for instance, Riege and Yin in their search for a design or blueprint for conducting and writing up single-case studies. Such an approach is not useful in process-based case research. Rather than a recipe, and more in alignment with the notion of a journey into an unknown territory, an operative overview is offered of the dilemmas the researcher faces when conducting and validating process-based single-case research.
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Taking a starting point in our own experiences of conducting process-based single-case research in business marketing and related fields, a set of themes were initially developed. These themes have been presented at research seminars and conferences and further discussed with researchers within the field of business marketing. The feedback received was used iteratively to revise, further refine and extract a common description and understanding of the process validation dilemmas researchers face during their field studies.
The metaphor of a dilemma is preferred because all issues contain an element of reconciling interests and priorities that may oppose each other, and researchers must negotiate their own way in each case. It is contended that single-case researchers will be challenged by these three dilemmas in some form at some point in their research. However, the manifestation of these dilemmas will take on different forms in each project, as will the strategies for dealing with the resulting tensions. In the following sub-sections, we describe and discuss the three identified issues and dilemmas.
Process-based single-case research permits interaction between theory and empirical data.
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Ragin is also clear about the primary goal for researchers being to link the empirical and the theoretical and that casing is essential in the process of forming meaningful descriptions of the empirical reality. Theory cannot be understood without empirical observations, and the empirical observations cannot be understood without theory.
Some choices are always made ex ante — which may resemble other research approaches, while other choices are made during the research process based on the situation of the researcher and the case study at that time. In making those choices, the context of the researcher plays a role as the researcher interacts with other researchers in the casing process. As a result, the research idea is subject to development throughout the study as an effect of learning and the emergent features of the case itself — both the empirical aspects of it and the way it evolves as a result of a growing theoretical understanding from the perspective of the researcher.
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For instance, Yin , p. Hence, the starting point articulated as initial research ideas for a single-case study may not be of any particular relevance to the reader of the eventual case. Michailova et al.
Expanding the boundaries of a case in one or several directions, e. The dilemma when it comes to single-case research in view of the nature of the casing process relates to how the issue of arbitrariness is handled by the researcher. At the other end, the researcher may take the arbitrariness too far by not daring to suggest any conclusions and instead suggesting continued research and expansion of the study in every direction identified as potentially interesting.
Typically, when reviewers cannot find explicit accounts of clearly articulated ex ante research questions or propositions Yin, , they often ask for clarification. Some may see the lack of a precise research question as a sign of insufficient rigor on behalf of the researcher and warrant their rejection of the paper based on missing research questions.
However, when reporting findings from an open-ended single-case study, the interesting result to report back may in fact be the formulation of a specific and surprising research question that challenges conventional beliefs and denies assumptions of audiences Davis, How the case is reported is also an issue that requires balancing of conflicting concerns. One of the features of process-based single-case research is the richness of data that can be achieved.
However, this richness can also be a burden, as the journal format does not provide much room for detail. Most single-case researchers feel constrained by the limited space available.
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The case presentation requires selectivity and an ability to structure the selected parts into a convincing story or narrative. Single-case researchers must negotiate this dilemma in the best way possible. As single case-based papers are primarily read and are remembered for their convincing stories Dyer and Wilkins, Therefore, structuring around the story to be told could be considered more important than seeking to fit into a particular format.
Gummesson points out that all research has an element of interpretation, and that this element assumes a researcher actively selecting and crafting a narrative from data. Moreover, abductive researchers have coined a concept known as the inference to the best explanation. According to this notion, it is up to the researcher to select and present the most convincing story line Ketokivi and Mantere, ; Morgan, This is also emphasized by Flyvbjerg , p.
As a consequence, it becomes difficult to prioritize and versionalize which issues concern or interest the audience they seek to reach. The dilemma concerned with communicating the case clearly has to do with relating the case insights to what researchers and practitioners find relevant and topical.
This often has to go beyond simply stating that the case in question presents another example of what is talked about in the particular conversation and toward making a case for how the story broadens or changes the ongoing conversation. Mintzberg , p. Hence, the reporting of the case is an issue that requires balancing between the detailed and the superficial.
This dilemma can be considered a matter of selectivity in view of the richness of data in single-case research. While richness and complexity are indeed virtues of single-case research, these features may also be a burden Kvale, On the one hand, including too much detail and context may obscure the theoretical suggestions.
The issue of selectivity concerns not only the communication of the case but also the communication of the casing process. How much context of the process should be included and how? On the other hand, too much detail including all kinds of fruitless efforts and not-so-useful data, which are natural parts of the casing process, do not contribute to convincing any reader of the validity of the process and the results of the research. Moreover, beginnings and endings of process-based single-case research, i. However, this has to do with complexity of the open-ended processes subject to study and with learning in the process of study and therefore concerns challenges that should not be ignored but embraced.
Empirical and theoretical grounding, both salient features of single-case studies, and the matching of theory and empirical observation in the process of the study, relate to this dilemma. However, while these strategies provide guidance to cope with complexity as it emerges, they deal less with how the process of learning unfolds, as case researchers traverse and sometimes get lost or find themselves in a context which stubbornly defies their initial assumptions.
The latter requires process description and ex post argumentation for the rationales involved in the way the study was carried out. How this is done is a key issue to convince readers that the case, and the theory developed based on the single case, is grounded in both the theoretical and empirical domains.
Hence, it is a challenge to convey the casing process to the readers of case-based journal papers. To do justice to the process of single-case research, the method needs description in its own right. As discussed, the starting point, articulated as initial research ideas for a single-case study, may not be of particular interest or relevance to the reader of the eventual case, although the description of the research process as such is of importance.
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Identifying and explaining crucial choices made during the research process is one way of ensuring transparency of the research Dubois and Gibbert, ; Gibbert and Ruigrok, Piekkari et al. The focus on the volume of data links back to quantitative research norms, where tests of significance call for large amounts of data.
However, it has to be borne in mind that the intended product of case-based research is to develop new insights, not to provide statistical tests of these insights Flyvbjerg, ; Eisenhardt, While data richness can be an important provider of detail and a source of inspiration, the amount of data does not in itself provide better insights Sutton, The quality of insights depends less on the volume of data than on the rigor of the analytical process carried out by the researcher Weick, Developing accounts for that process is a difficult but vital issue for the single-case researcher to deal with.
In addition to the interviews made at CERN, a large number of informal discussions have been held there, since I have had the privilege of living and working at CERN during three extended visits. This means that I have had the opportunity to meet people informally [.
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This has greatly contributed to my understanding of CERN as an organisation, but also of what it is like to work in this environment. Being able to follow more closely how different situations and how new insights changed the search for data provides transparency to process validation. The way great amounts of qualitative data are handled see, for instance, Kvale concerns which parts to choose and how to frame them theoretically.
However, genuinely surprising and inspiring insights may also come to the fore when researchers are not actively searching for data. Hence, detailed and meticulous scrutiny March et al. Hence, the number of data sources conveys only a limited description of how the study was carried out and needs to be supplemented with descriptions of what data were used and how these were obtained and processed.
The way the interviewees were found and the input from each interview led to the next may be of even greater importance when describing the casing process to an audience Kvale, In addition, the way theoretical ideas evolved during these processes needs integration into the account to explicate how theory played roles of both input to and output from the casing process. Validity claims can either be ignored on the basis that the validity concept is inherited from traditional positivistic research ideals see, for instance, Creswell, ; Lincoln and Guba, or can be developed and used as a term for how well a single-case study has coped with matching theory to empirical observation, which is the perspective sided with here Anderson and Herr, ; Kvale, However, this matching, and the process through which it is achieved, is associated with particular challenges for single-case researchers.
Process validation is therefore suggested as a concept for the assessment of how well a process-based single-case study copes with these challenges. The paper has identified three specific issues that process-based single-case researchers always have to deal with: arbitrariness, richness and messiness. These issues are interrelated and concern the casing as such, the communication of the case to an audience and the description of how the process-based single-case study is carried out. Table II summarizes these issues and the related dilemmas that the researcher needs to handle and points to key references and exemplars.
The three related dilemmas among the contradicting concerns all emanate from the process features of making a process-based single-case study, i. However, there is also potential in advancing the method semantics and general understanding of the different ways to conduct case research.
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Great amounts of data, interviews or cases do not guarantee great research, neither do streamlined ex post rationalizations or linear accounts of messy processes. Rather, the inherent potentials in process-based single-case research reside in how it may unearth and thereby provide new perspectives for those acting in the reality studied. What unites them is hopefully a desire to analyse and understand a situation develop it and find solutions to problems Gummesson, op cit, p. Ideally, the quality of process-based single-case research is the ability of an unfolding reality to shape research designs rather than the other way around, as the researcher traverses into the empirical domain and learns from the process es he or she studies: never missing a beat, not hesitating or stopping the process of understanding what is really going on, because reality escapes predefined theoretical frameworks or data collection designs.
Process-based single-case studies must allow researchers to grasp and convey central elements of the meaning-creating activities of actors in context and help us understand the world from the perspective of those living in it. In the presented view, a unique quality of process-based single-case research is precisely the ability to follow suit to the beats in the empirical domain.
This is a quality that it does not share with any other research strategy, including multiple-case designs, which have comparisons in relation to predefined issues as their priority. Single cases do not surface and present themselves to researchers in a cut-and-dried fashion. Rather, they are actively recognized and theoretically framed by researchers.
However, they may also be hard to bring to the light and attention of the research community, which may be susceptible to their validity claims. They may lead to endless data rides and are frustrating in their unwillingness to bend into initial ideas of relevant theoretical concepts, what data to collect, etc.
The dilemmas suggested in this paper may inspire reflective validation as researchers engage with process-based single-case studies. The notion of process validation may also support reviewers seeking to avoid missing out on, and instead contributing to, truly insightful case stories. For reviewers, who see their task as helping authors to develop better manuscripts through constructive criticism, there are potential insights from the identified dilemmas on how to proceed effectively in review processes. First, in relation to crafting the case, reviewers may help authors to develop their manuscripts by asking them questions with respect to the effectiveness of their casing and also by asking questions that can support clarification of the suggested matches between case and theory.
Second, given that narratives are central for conveying complex chains of events, reviewers may question the effectiveness of the narration of the manuscript and to what extent it delivers a narrative to which the reviewers and with them the readers of the journal can relate Pollock and Bono, As authors of this paper we have drawn on our experiences as case researchers in business marketing, and we believe they can be transferred to other specializations in business research. Although business marketing research has a distinct history and has co-evolved with the marketing field, other fields in which the interest in processes of various kinds are strong or growing, i.
Where development of business marketing research is concerned, the increasing gamut of methodological approaches needs to go hand in hand with the enhancement of the specific features of each of these approaches. Shared interests in business marketing phenomena combined with respect for the specifics and strengths of the various methodological approaches applied will benefit the general advancement of the field. Or perhaps, that veterans who served with large platoons were more likely to suffer from PTSD than veterans who served in smaller platoons.
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An intrinsic case study is the study of a case wherein the subject itself is the primary interest. The "Genie" case is an example of this. The study wasn't so much about psychology, but about Genie herself, and how her experiences shaped who she was. Genie is the topic.
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