Case Studies @ CASC

Starting this year CASC, in collaboration with the Measuring Co-operative Difference Research Network (MCDRN), Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada (CMC) and the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives at the University of Saskatchewan, is initiating a series of measures to promote the generation of case studies on co-operatives. As part of this process, we are:

  • (1) including case study proposals in our call for papers for our annual conference for 2015, which will be held June 2-4 at the University of Ottawa;
  • (2) awarding prizes in the amount of $5000 to the best cases presented at CASC, with a special thanks to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Community University Research Alliance (CURA) for supplying the prize money;
  • (3) organizing a workshop on case study competitions for students with support from the University of Saskatchewan.

The larger purpose of these initiatives is to stimulate the production of co-operative focused case studies that highlight the co-operative difference. In line with the diversity of interests and backgrounds of its members and constituencies, CASC is committed to promoting the production of different types of case studies. In this regard, it is common to distinguish between two broad types of case studies, those oriented towards teaching and those oriented toward research. In what follows, these two broad forms of case studies are distinguished, and some of the possibilities for publication are noted.

Teaching-Oriented Case Studies

The Role of Teaching Oriented Case Studies – Case studies are widely used in academia as pedagogical materials, especially in professional programs. Business schools in particular, have promoted the use of case studies, with some programs and institutions, most notably the MBA program at the Harvard Business School, basing their curriculum largely upon case study analysis.

The Format of Teaching-Oriented Case Studies – There is no one format for writing teaching oriented case studies, though some publishers do have specific guidelines (see below). Typically, however, teaching case studies have some common characteristics. These include:

  • (1) a decision making situation in which a protagonist has to determine how to proceed with respect to a given problem or situation;
  • (2) contextual information about the problem or situation;
  • (3) supporting data, which provides a basis on which a decision can be made. This data may be qualitative (e.g., interviews), quantitative (e.g., tables), documents, etc.;
  • (4) a teaching note, which offers the instructor suggestions on how to use the case with a class.

The Target Audiences – CASC’s interest in promoting the production of case studies is not targeted towards a particular audience. Rather, our goal is to ensure that there is an adequate supply and variety of cases that can be used in the following contexts:

  • (1) formal degree programs, including: (a) different professional (e.g., business, law) and non-professional programs (e.g., development studies, environmental studies); (b) which may be offered at different levels of study, namely, undergraduate, Masters and PhD level programs;
  • (2) certificate programs, which may be attached to a degree program or may be offered independent of them;
  • (3) extension programs;
  • (4) internal education programs in co-operatives and co-operative associations.

Publishing Teaching-Oriented Case Studies – There are a variety of outlets for publishing teaching oriented case studies. Here are a couple of prominent options:

  • (1) Harvard Business School – accepts submission of brief (5-8 page cases) in a variety of different business fields. Information can be found here.
  • (2) Ivey School of Business – accepts case studies of different lengths and in a range of areas. Information can be found here.
  • (3) Sage Publications – has recently initiated a program to commission new business case studies; click here.

There are a number of issues or questions involved in publishing teaching oriented case studies. These include, among others:

  • (1) who is the target audience? (e.g., students in undergraduate business programs, co-operative managers, etc.);
  • (2 how is the target audience likely to come to know about them? (e.g., will a publisher advertise them? does the publisher have a broad distribution system which will reach the target audience?);
  • (3) in what manner can they be accessed (e.g., are they behind a pay wall? are there limits on the their use?).

Case Study Competitions – Various associations, especially business school associations, sponsors case study competitions in which graduate students compete to solve a given case study. There are two basic types of case study competitions:

  • (1) Case Study Solving Competitions – A variety of universities sponsor case competitions involving teams of graduate students. These may operate by invitation or application;
  • (2) Case Study Writing Competitions – One example of such a competitions is the Dark Side Case Competition sponsored annually by the Critical Management Studies (CMS) Division of the Academy of Management (AOM). Information on previous competitions can be found here.

CASC, along with the large co-operative research and education community, is mooting the possibility of promoting such a case study solving competition in the future.

Research-Oriented Case Studies

The Role of Research-Oriented Case Studies – These cases are primarily developed to generate data. The data generated can be used for different purposes and can derive from different methods. These purposes can include the evaluation of evaluation of programs and organizations, comparative analysis of various types of entities, the development of theory, and the formation of policy.

The Format and Method of Research Oriented Case Studies – There is no one type of research-oriented case. A couple of prominent types most relevant for CASC can be distinguished:

  • (1) Impact Assessment Cases – are commonly initiated and funded by agencies or organizations that sponsor programs and projects. These entities will typically provide the criteria for evaluation and the methods to be used to gather information. Such cases may or may not involve organizational actors as participants in the research process. Frequently, outside consultants are contracted to conduct the research.
  • (2) Action Research Cases – are distinguished by their methodological premise that the injection of change in a system and the observation of the results provides novel opportunities for knowledge generation. Such change may entail the introduction of new management/governance processes and systems, the development of new products and services, etc. Action research typically requires researchers developing close relationships with organizations/communities and committing to longer-term projects.
  • (3) Ethnographies – are among the most popular form of cases, especially in the social science disciplines. What is characteristic of ethnographies is their commitment to understanding phenomena in their larger (social, cultural, political, economic) context. While full ethnographies require significant time commitments, typically lasting years, ethnographic case studies can be done in shorter time frames. Although ethnographic cases can be limited to exploratory or descriptive intent, they typically aspire to explanation (and contribution to the theory formation). Because of their emphasis on context, ethnographic studies typically employ mixed method research strategies.

Publishing Research Oriented Case Studies – There are a variety of formats for publishing teaching oriented case studies. The two most common are probably reports from organizations and peer-reviewed academic works (articles, book chapters, etc.). While the immediate goal of most organizational reports are to provide feedback to funding agencies (and clients) with a view to evaluating and possibly redesigning specific programs, they can also provide lessons for related organizations as well as academic researchers. For their part, academic publications typically offer less immediately operationalizable feedback for specific organizations and actors, but generally try to abstract from the lessons of case studies to understand broad trends (theorization) and their implications for public policy.

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