• Privacy Policy

Buy Me a Coffee

Research Method

Home » Case Study – Methods, Examples and Guide

Case Study – Methods, Examples and Guide

Table of Contents

Case Study Research

A case study is a research method that involves an in-depth examination and analysis of a particular phenomenon or case, such as an individual, organization, community, event, or situation.

It is a qualitative research approach that aims to provide a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the case being studied. Case studies typically involve multiple sources of data, including interviews, observations, documents, and artifacts, which are analyzed using various techniques, such as content analysis, thematic analysis, and grounded theory. The findings of a case study are often used to develop theories, inform policy or practice, or generate new research questions.

Types of Case Study

Types and Methods of Case Study are as follows:

Single-Case Study

A single-case study is an in-depth analysis of a single case. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to understand a specific phenomenon in detail.

For Example , A researcher might conduct a single-case study on a particular individual to understand their experiences with a particular health condition or a specific organization to explore their management practices. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of a single-case study are often used to generate new research questions, develop theories, or inform policy or practice.

Multiple-Case Study

A multiple-case study involves the analysis of several cases that are similar in nature. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to identify similarities and differences between the cases.

For Example, a researcher might conduct a multiple-case study on several companies to explore the factors that contribute to their success or failure. The researcher collects data from each case, compares and contrasts the findings, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as comparative analysis or pattern-matching. The findings of a multiple-case study can be used to develop theories, inform policy or practice, or generate new research questions.

Exploratory Case Study

An exploratory case study is used to explore a new or understudied phenomenon. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to generate hypotheses or theories about the phenomenon.

For Example, a researcher might conduct an exploratory case study on a new technology to understand its potential impact on society. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as grounded theory or content analysis. The findings of an exploratory case study can be used to generate new research questions, develop theories, or inform policy or practice.

Descriptive Case Study

A descriptive case study is used to describe a particular phenomenon in detail. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to provide a comprehensive account of the phenomenon.

For Example, a researcher might conduct a descriptive case study on a particular community to understand its social and economic characteristics. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of a descriptive case study can be used to inform policy or practice or generate new research questions.

Instrumental Case Study

An instrumental case study is used to understand a particular phenomenon that is instrumental in achieving a particular goal. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to understand the role of the phenomenon in achieving the goal.

For Example, a researcher might conduct an instrumental case study on a particular policy to understand its impact on achieving a particular goal, such as reducing poverty. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of an instrumental case study can be used to inform policy or practice or generate new research questions.

Case Study Data Collection Methods

Here are some common data collection methods for case studies:

Interviews involve asking questions to individuals who have knowledge or experience relevant to the case study. Interviews can be structured (where the same questions are asked to all participants) or unstructured (where the interviewer follows up on the responses with further questions). Interviews can be conducted in person, over the phone, or through video conferencing.


Observations involve watching and recording the behavior and activities of individuals or groups relevant to the case study. Observations can be participant (where the researcher actively participates in the activities) or non-participant (where the researcher observes from a distance). Observations can be recorded using notes, audio or video recordings, or photographs.

Documents can be used as a source of information for case studies. Documents can include reports, memos, emails, letters, and other written materials related to the case study. Documents can be collected from the case study participants or from public sources.

Surveys involve asking a set of questions to a sample of individuals relevant to the case study. Surveys can be administered in person, over the phone, through mail or email, or online. Surveys can be used to gather information on attitudes, opinions, or behaviors related to the case study.

Artifacts are physical objects relevant to the case study. Artifacts can include tools, equipment, products, or other objects that provide insights into the case study phenomenon.

How to conduct Case Study Research

Conducting a case study research involves several steps that need to be followed to ensure the quality and rigor of the study. Here are the steps to conduct case study research:

  • Define the research questions: The first step in conducting a case study research is to define the research questions. The research questions should be specific, measurable, and relevant to the case study phenomenon under investigation.
  • Select the case: The next step is to select the case or cases to be studied. The case should be relevant to the research questions and should provide rich and diverse data that can be used to answer the research questions.
  • Collect data: Data can be collected using various methods, such as interviews, observations, documents, surveys, and artifacts. The data collection method should be selected based on the research questions and the nature of the case study phenomenon.
  • Analyze the data: The data collected from the case study should be analyzed using various techniques, such as content analysis, thematic analysis, or grounded theory. The analysis should be guided by the research questions and should aim to provide insights and conclusions relevant to the research questions.
  • Draw conclusions: The conclusions drawn from the case study should be based on the data analysis and should be relevant to the research questions. The conclusions should be supported by evidence and should be clearly stated.
  • Validate the findings: The findings of the case study should be validated by reviewing the data and the analysis with participants or other experts in the field. This helps to ensure the validity and reliability of the findings.
  • Write the report: The final step is to write the report of the case study research. The report should provide a clear description of the case study phenomenon, the research questions, the data collection methods, the data analysis, the findings, and the conclusions. The report should be written in a clear and concise manner and should follow the guidelines for academic writing.

Examples of Case Study

Here are some examples of case study research:

  • The Hawthorne Studies : Conducted between 1924 and 1932, the Hawthorne Studies were a series of case studies conducted by Elton Mayo and his colleagues to examine the impact of work environment on employee productivity. The studies were conducted at the Hawthorne Works plant of the Western Electric Company in Chicago and included interviews, observations, and experiments.
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment: Conducted in 1971, the Stanford Prison Experiment was a case study conducted by Philip Zimbardo to examine the psychological effects of power and authority. The study involved simulating a prison environment and assigning participants to the role of guards or prisoners. The study was controversial due to the ethical issues it raised.
  • The Challenger Disaster: The Challenger Disaster was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. The study included interviews, observations, and analysis of data to identify the technical, organizational, and cultural factors that contributed to the disaster.
  • The Enron Scandal: The Enron Scandal was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the Enron Corporation’s bankruptcy in 2001. The study included interviews, analysis of financial data, and review of documents to identify the accounting practices, corporate culture, and ethical issues that led to the company’s downfall.
  • The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster : The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the nuclear accident that occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan in 2011. The study included interviews, analysis of data, and review of documents to identify the technical, organizational, and cultural factors that contributed to the disaster.

Application of Case Study

Case studies have a wide range of applications across various fields and industries. Here are some examples:

Business and Management

Case studies are widely used in business and management to examine real-life situations and develop problem-solving skills. Case studies can help students and professionals to develop a deep understanding of business concepts, theories, and best practices.

Case studies are used in healthcare to examine patient care, treatment options, and outcomes. Case studies can help healthcare professionals to develop critical thinking skills, diagnose complex medical conditions, and develop effective treatment plans.

Case studies are used in education to examine teaching and learning practices. Case studies can help educators to develop effective teaching strategies, evaluate student progress, and identify areas for improvement.

Social Sciences

Case studies are widely used in social sciences to examine human behavior, social phenomena, and cultural practices. Case studies can help researchers to develop theories, test hypotheses, and gain insights into complex social issues.

Law and Ethics

Case studies are used in law and ethics to examine legal and ethical dilemmas. Case studies can help lawyers, policymakers, and ethical professionals to develop critical thinking skills, analyze complex cases, and make informed decisions.

Purpose of Case Study

The purpose of a case study is to provide a detailed analysis of a specific phenomenon, issue, or problem in its real-life context. A case study is a qualitative research method that involves the in-depth exploration and analysis of a particular case, which can be an individual, group, organization, event, or community.

The primary purpose of a case study is to generate a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the case, including its history, context, and dynamics. Case studies can help researchers to identify and examine the underlying factors, processes, and mechanisms that contribute to the case and its outcomes. This can help to develop a more accurate and detailed understanding of the case, which can inform future research, practice, or policy.

Case studies can also serve other purposes, including:

  • Illustrating a theory or concept: Case studies can be used to illustrate and explain theoretical concepts and frameworks, providing concrete examples of how they can be applied in real-life situations.
  • Developing hypotheses: Case studies can help to generate hypotheses about the causal relationships between different factors and outcomes, which can be tested through further research.
  • Providing insight into complex issues: Case studies can provide insights into complex and multifaceted issues, which may be difficult to understand through other research methods.
  • Informing practice or policy: Case studies can be used to inform practice or policy by identifying best practices, lessons learned, or areas for improvement.

Advantages of Case Study Research

There are several advantages of case study research, including:

  • In-depth exploration: Case study research allows for a detailed exploration and analysis of a specific phenomenon, issue, or problem in its real-life context. This can provide a comprehensive understanding of the case and its dynamics, which may not be possible through other research methods.
  • Rich data: Case study research can generate rich and detailed data, including qualitative data such as interviews, observations, and documents. This can provide a nuanced understanding of the case and its complexity.
  • Holistic perspective: Case study research allows for a holistic perspective of the case, taking into account the various factors, processes, and mechanisms that contribute to the case and its outcomes. This can help to develop a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of the case.
  • Theory development: Case study research can help to develop and refine theories and concepts by providing empirical evidence and concrete examples of how they can be applied in real-life situations.
  • Practical application: Case study research can inform practice or policy by identifying best practices, lessons learned, or areas for improvement.
  • Contextualization: Case study research takes into account the specific context in which the case is situated, which can help to understand how the case is influenced by the social, cultural, and historical factors of its environment.

Limitations of Case Study Research

There are several limitations of case study research, including:

  • Limited generalizability : Case studies are typically focused on a single case or a small number of cases, which limits the generalizability of the findings. The unique characteristics of the case may not be applicable to other contexts or populations, which may limit the external validity of the research.
  • Biased sampling: Case studies may rely on purposive or convenience sampling, which can introduce bias into the sample selection process. This may limit the representativeness of the sample and the generalizability of the findings.
  • Subjectivity: Case studies rely on the interpretation of the researcher, which can introduce subjectivity into the analysis. The researcher’s own biases, assumptions, and perspectives may influence the findings, which may limit the objectivity of the research.
  • Limited control: Case studies are typically conducted in naturalistic settings, which limits the control that the researcher has over the environment and the variables being studied. This may limit the ability to establish causal relationships between variables.
  • Time-consuming: Case studies can be time-consuming to conduct, as they typically involve a detailed exploration and analysis of a specific case. This may limit the feasibility of conducting multiple case studies or conducting case studies in a timely manner.
  • Resource-intensive: Case studies may require significant resources, including time, funding, and expertise. This may limit the ability of researchers to conduct case studies in resource-constrained settings.

About the author

' src=

Muhammad Hassan

Researcher, Academic Writer, Web developer

You may also like


Questionnaire – Definition, Types, and Examples

Observational Research

Observational Research – Methods and Guide

Quantitative Research

Quantitative Research – Methods, Types and...

Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative Research Methods

Explanatory Research

Explanatory Research – Types, Methods, Guide

Survey Research

Survey Research – Types, Methods, Examples

what is case study qualitative research

The Ultimate Guide to Qualitative Research - Part 1: The Basics

what is case study qualitative research

  • Introduction and overview
  • What is qualitative research?
  • What is qualitative data?
  • Examples of qualitative data
  • Qualitative vs. quantitative research
  • Mixed methods
  • Qualitative research preparation
  • Theoretical perspective
  • Theoretical framework
  • Literature reviews

Research question

  • Conceptual framework
  • Conceptual vs. theoretical framework

Data collection

  • Qualitative research methods
  • Focus groups
  • Observational research

What is a case study?

Applications for case study research, what is a good case study, process of case study design, benefits and limitations of case studies.

  • Ethnographical research
  • Ethical considerations
  • Confidentiality and privacy
  • Power dynamics
  • Reflexivity

Case studies

Case studies are essential to qualitative research , offering a lens through which researchers can investigate complex phenomena within their real-life contexts. This chapter explores the concept, purpose, applications, examples, and types of case studies and provides guidance on how to conduct case study research effectively.

what is case study qualitative research

Whereas quantitative methods look at phenomena at scale, case study research looks at a concept or phenomenon in considerable detail. While analyzing a single case can help understand one perspective regarding the object of research inquiry, analyzing multiple cases can help obtain a more holistic sense of the topic or issue. Let's provide a basic definition of a case study, then explore its characteristics and role in the qualitative research process.

Definition of a case study

A case study in qualitative research is a strategy of inquiry that involves an in-depth investigation of a phenomenon within its real-world context. It provides researchers with the opportunity to acquire an in-depth understanding of intricate details that might not be as apparent or accessible through other methods of research. The specific case or cases being studied can be a single person, group, or organization – demarcating what constitutes a relevant case worth studying depends on the researcher and their research question .

Among qualitative research methods , a case study relies on multiple sources of evidence, such as documents, artifacts, interviews , or observations , to present a complete and nuanced understanding of the phenomenon under investigation. The objective is to illuminate the readers' understanding of the phenomenon beyond its abstract statistical or theoretical explanations.

Characteristics of case studies

Case studies typically possess a number of distinct characteristics that set them apart from other research methods. These characteristics include a focus on holistic description and explanation, flexibility in the design and data collection methods, reliance on multiple sources of evidence, and emphasis on the context in which the phenomenon occurs.

Furthermore, case studies can often involve a longitudinal examination of the case, meaning they study the case over a period of time. These characteristics allow case studies to yield comprehensive, in-depth, and richly contextualized insights about the phenomenon of interest.

The role of case studies in research

Case studies hold a unique position in the broader landscape of research methods aimed at theory development. They are instrumental when the primary research interest is to gain an intensive, detailed understanding of a phenomenon in its real-life context.

In addition, case studies can serve different purposes within research - they can be used for exploratory, descriptive, or explanatory purposes, depending on the research question and objectives. This flexibility and depth make case studies a valuable tool in the toolkit of qualitative researchers.

Remember, a well-conducted case study can offer a rich, insightful contribution to both academic and practical knowledge through theory development or theory verification, thus enhancing our understanding of complex phenomena in their real-world contexts.

What is the purpose of a case study?

Case study research aims for a more comprehensive understanding of phenomena, requiring various research methods to gather information for qualitative analysis . Ultimately, a case study can allow the researcher to gain insight into a particular object of inquiry and develop a theoretical framework relevant to the research inquiry.

Why use case studies in qualitative research?

Using case studies as a research strategy depends mainly on the nature of the research question and the researcher's access to the data.

Conducting case study research provides a level of detail and contextual richness that other research methods might not offer. They are beneficial when there's a need to understand complex social phenomena within their natural contexts.

The explanatory, exploratory, and descriptive roles of case studies

Case studies can take on various roles depending on the research objectives. They can be exploratory when the research aims to discover new phenomena or define new research questions; they are descriptive when the objective is to depict a phenomenon within its context in a detailed manner; and they can be explanatory if the goal is to understand specific relationships within the studied context. Thus, the versatility of case studies allows researchers to approach their topic from different angles, offering multiple ways to uncover and interpret the data .

The impact of case studies on knowledge development

Case studies play a significant role in knowledge development across various disciplines. Analysis of cases provides an avenue for researchers to explore phenomena within their context based on the collected data.

what is case study qualitative research

This can result in the production of rich, practical insights that can be instrumental in both theory-building and practice. Case studies allow researchers to delve into the intricacies and complexities of real-life situations, uncovering insights that might otherwise remain hidden.

Types of case studies

In qualitative research , a case study is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Depending on the nature of the research question and the specific objectives of the study, researchers might choose to use different types of case studies. These types differ in their focus, methodology, and the level of detail they provide about the phenomenon under investigation.

Understanding these types is crucial for selecting the most appropriate approach for your research project and effectively achieving your research goals. Let's briefly look at the main types of case studies.

Exploratory case studies

Exploratory case studies are typically conducted to develop a theory or framework around an understudied phenomenon. They can also serve as a precursor to a larger-scale research project. Exploratory case studies are useful when a researcher wants to identify the key issues or questions which can spur more extensive study or be used to develop propositions for further research. These case studies are characterized by flexibility, allowing researchers to explore various aspects of a phenomenon as they emerge, which can also form the foundation for subsequent studies.

Descriptive case studies

Descriptive case studies aim to provide a complete and accurate representation of a phenomenon or event within its context. These case studies are often based on an established theoretical framework, which guides how data is collected and analyzed. The researcher is concerned with describing the phenomenon in detail, as it occurs naturally, without trying to influence or manipulate it.

Explanatory case studies

Explanatory case studies are focused on explanation - they seek to clarify how or why certain phenomena occur. Often used in complex, real-life situations, they can be particularly valuable in clarifying causal relationships among concepts and understanding the interplay between different factors within a specific context.

what is case study qualitative research

Intrinsic, instrumental, and collective case studies

These three categories of case studies focus on the nature and purpose of the study. An intrinsic case study is conducted when a researcher has an inherent interest in the case itself. Instrumental case studies are employed when the case is used to provide insight into a particular issue or phenomenon. A collective case study, on the other hand, involves studying multiple cases simultaneously to investigate some general phenomena.

Each type of case study serves a different purpose and has its own strengths and challenges. The selection of the type should be guided by the research question and objectives, as well as the context and constraints of the research.

The flexibility, depth, and contextual richness offered by case studies make this approach an excellent research method for various fields of study. They enable researchers to investigate real-world phenomena within their specific contexts, capturing nuances that other research methods might miss. Across numerous fields, case studies provide valuable insights into complex issues.

Critical information systems research

Case studies provide a detailed understanding of the role and impact of information systems in different contexts. They offer a platform to explore how information systems are designed, implemented, and used and how they interact with various social, economic, and political factors. Case studies in this field often focus on examining the intricate relationship between technology, organizational processes, and user behavior, helping to uncover insights that can inform better system design and implementation.

Health research

Health research is another field where case studies are highly valuable. They offer a way to explore patient experiences, healthcare delivery processes, and the impact of various interventions in a real-world context.

what is case study qualitative research

Case studies can provide a deep understanding of a patient's journey, giving insights into the intricacies of disease progression, treatment effects, and the psychosocial aspects of health and illness.

Asthma research studies

Specifically within medical research, studies on asthma often employ case studies to explore the individual and environmental factors that influence asthma development, management, and outcomes. A case study can provide rich, detailed data about individual patients' experiences, from the triggers and symptoms they experience to the effectiveness of various management strategies. This can be crucial for developing patient-centered asthma care approaches.

Other fields

Apart from the fields mentioned, case studies are also extensively used in business and management research, education research, and political sciences, among many others. They provide an opportunity to delve into the intricacies of real-world situations, allowing for a comprehensive understanding of various phenomena.

Case studies, with their depth and contextual focus, offer unique insights across these varied fields. They allow researchers to illuminate the complexities of real-life situations, contributing to both theory and practice.

what is case study qualitative research

Whatever field you're in, ATLAS.ti puts your data to work for you

Download a free trial of ATLAS.ti to turn your data into insights.

Understanding the key elements of case study design is crucial for conducting rigorous and impactful case study research. A well-structured design guides the researcher through the process, ensuring that the study is methodologically sound and its findings are reliable and valid. The main elements of case study design include the research question , propositions, units of analysis, and the logic linking the data to the propositions.

The research question is the foundation of any research study. A good research question guides the direction of the study and informs the selection of the case, the methods of collecting data, and the analysis techniques. A well-formulated research question in case study research is typically clear, focused, and complex enough to merit further detailed examination of the relevant case(s).


Propositions, though not necessary in every case study, provide a direction by stating what we might expect to find in the data collected. They guide how data is collected and analyzed by helping researchers focus on specific aspects of the case. They are particularly important in explanatory case studies, which seek to understand the relationships among concepts within the studied phenomenon.

Units of analysis

The unit of analysis refers to the case, or the main entity or entities that are being analyzed in the study. In case study research, the unit of analysis can be an individual, a group, an organization, a decision, an event, or even a time period. It's crucial to clearly define the unit of analysis, as it shapes the qualitative data analysis process by allowing the researcher to analyze a particular case and synthesize analysis across multiple case studies to draw conclusions.


This refers to the inferential model that allows researchers to draw conclusions from the data. The researcher needs to ensure that there is a clear link between the data, the propositions (if any), and the conclusions drawn. This argumentation is what enables the researcher to make valid and credible inferences about the phenomenon under study.

Understanding and carefully considering these elements in the design phase of a case study can significantly enhance the quality of the research. It can help ensure that the study is methodologically sound and its findings contribute meaningful insights about the case.

Ready to jumpstart your research with ATLAS.ti?

Conceptualize your research project with our intuitive data analysis interface. Download a free trial today.

Conducting a case study involves several steps, from defining the research question and selecting the case to collecting and analyzing data . This section outlines these key stages, providing a practical guide on how to conduct case study research.

Defining the research question

The first step in case study research is defining a clear, focused research question. This question should guide the entire research process, from case selection to analysis. It's crucial to ensure that the research question is suitable for a case study approach. Typically, such questions are exploratory or descriptive in nature and focus on understanding a phenomenon within its real-life context.

Selecting and defining the case

The selection of the case should be based on the research question and the objectives of the study. It involves choosing a unique example or a set of examples that provide rich, in-depth data about the phenomenon under investigation. After selecting the case, it's crucial to define it clearly, setting the boundaries of the case, including the time period and the specific context.

Previous research can help guide the case study design. When considering a case study, an example of a case could be taken from previous case study research and used to define cases in a new research inquiry. Considering recently published examples can help understand how to select and define cases effectively.

Developing a detailed case study protocol

A case study protocol outlines the procedures and general rules to be followed during the case study. This includes the data collection methods to be used, the sources of data, and the procedures for analysis. Having a detailed case study protocol ensures consistency and reliability in the study.

The protocol should also consider how to work with the people involved in the research context to grant the research team access to collecting data. As mentioned in previous sections of this guide, establishing rapport is an essential component of qualitative research as it shapes the overall potential for collecting and analyzing data.

Collecting data

Gathering data in case study research often involves multiple sources of evidence, including documents, archival records, interviews, observations, and physical artifacts. This allows for a comprehensive understanding of the case. The process for gathering data should be systematic and carefully documented to ensure the reliability and validity of the study.

Analyzing and interpreting data

The next step is analyzing the data. This involves organizing the data , categorizing it into themes or patterns , and interpreting these patterns to answer the research question. The analysis might also involve comparing the findings with prior research or theoretical propositions.

Writing the case study report

The final step is writing the case study report . This should provide a detailed description of the case, the data, the analysis process, and the findings. The report should be clear, organized, and carefully written to ensure that the reader can understand the case and the conclusions drawn from it.

Each of these steps is crucial in ensuring that the case study research is rigorous, reliable, and provides valuable insights about the case.

The type, depth, and quality of data in your study can significantly influence the validity and utility of the study. In case study research, data is usually collected from multiple sources to provide a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the case. This section will outline the various methods of collecting data used in case study research and discuss considerations for ensuring the quality of the data.

Interviews are a common method of gathering data in case study research. They can provide rich, in-depth data about the perspectives, experiences, and interpretations of the individuals involved in the case. Interviews can be structured , semi-structured , or unstructured , depending on the research question and the degree of flexibility needed.


Observations involve the researcher observing the case in its natural setting, providing first-hand information about the case and its context. Observations can provide data that might not be revealed in interviews or documents, such as non-verbal cues or contextual information.

Documents and artifacts

Documents and archival records provide a valuable source of data in case study research. They can include reports, letters, memos, meeting minutes, email correspondence, and various public and private documents related to the case.

what is case study qualitative research

These records can provide historical context, corroborate evidence from other sources, and offer insights into the case that might not be apparent from interviews or observations.

Physical artifacts refer to any physical evidence related to the case, such as tools, products, or physical environments. These artifacts can provide tangible insights into the case, complementing the data gathered from other sources.

Ensuring the quality of data collection

Determining the quality of data in case study research requires careful planning and execution. It's crucial to ensure that the data is reliable, accurate, and relevant to the research question. This involves selecting appropriate methods of collecting data, properly training interviewers or observers, and systematically recording and storing the data. It also includes considering ethical issues related to collecting and handling data, such as obtaining informed consent and ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of the participants.

Data analysis

Analyzing case study research involves making sense of the rich, detailed data to answer the research question. This process can be challenging due to the volume and complexity of case study data. However, a systematic and rigorous approach to analysis can ensure that the findings are credible and meaningful. This section outlines the main steps and considerations in analyzing data in case study research.

Organizing the data

The first step in the analysis is organizing the data. This involves sorting the data into manageable sections, often according to the data source or the theme. This step can also involve transcribing interviews, digitizing physical artifacts, or organizing observational data.

Categorizing and coding the data

Once the data is organized, the next step is to categorize or code the data. This involves identifying common themes, patterns, or concepts in the data and assigning codes to relevant data segments. Coding can be done manually or with the help of software tools, and in either case, qualitative analysis software can greatly facilitate the entire coding process. Coding helps to reduce the data to a set of themes or categories that can be more easily analyzed.

Identifying patterns and themes

After coding the data, the researcher looks for patterns or themes in the coded data. This involves comparing and contrasting the codes and looking for relationships or patterns among them. The identified patterns and themes should help answer the research question.

Interpreting the data

Once patterns and themes have been identified, the next step is to interpret these findings. This involves explaining what the patterns or themes mean in the context of the research question and the case. This interpretation should be grounded in the data, but it can also involve drawing on theoretical concepts or prior research.

Verification of the data

The last step in the analysis is verification. This involves checking the accuracy and consistency of the analysis process and confirming that the findings are supported by the data. This can involve re-checking the original data, checking the consistency of codes, or seeking feedback from research participants or peers.

Like any research method , case study research has its strengths and limitations. Researchers must be aware of these, as they can influence the design, conduct, and interpretation of the study.

Understanding the strengths and limitations of case study research can also guide researchers in deciding whether this approach is suitable for their research question . This section outlines some of the key strengths and limitations of case study research.

Benefits include the following:

  • Rich, detailed data: One of the main strengths of case study research is that it can generate rich, detailed data about the case. This can provide a deep understanding of the case and its context, which can be valuable in exploring complex phenomena.
  • Flexibility: Case study research is flexible in terms of design , data collection , and analysis . A sufficient degree of flexibility allows the researcher to adapt the study according to the case and the emerging findings.
  • Real-world context: Case study research involves studying the case in its real-world context, which can provide valuable insights into the interplay between the case and its context.
  • Multiple sources of evidence: Case study research often involves collecting data from multiple sources , which can enhance the robustness and validity of the findings.

On the other hand, researchers should consider the following limitations:

  • Generalizability: A common criticism of case study research is that its findings might not be generalizable to other cases due to the specificity and uniqueness of each case.
  • Time and resource intensive: Case study research can be time and resource intensive due to the depth of the investigation and the amount of collected data.
  • Complexity of analysis: The rich, detailed data generated in case study research can make analyzing the data challenging.
  • Subjectivity: Given the nature of case study research, there may be a higher degree of subjectivity in interpreting the data , so researchers need to reflect on this and transparently convey to audiences how the research was conducted.

Being aware of these strengths and limitations can help researchers design and conduct case study research effectively and interpret and report the findings appropriately.

what is case study qualitative research

Ready to analyze your data with ATLAS.ti?

See how our intuitive software can draw key insights from your data with a free trial today.

Academic Success Center

Research Writing and Analysis

  • NVivo Group and Study Sessions
  • SPSS This link opens in a new window
  • Statistical Analysis Group sessions
  • Using Qualtrics
  • Dissertation and Data Analysis Group Sessions
  • Research Process Flow Chart
  • Research Alignment This link opens in a new window
  • Step 1: Seek Out Evidence
  • Step 2: Explain
  • Step 3: The Big Picture
  • Step 4: Own It
  • Step 5: Illustrate
  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Literature Review This link opens in a new window
  • Systematic Reviews & Meta-Analyses
  • How to Synthesize and Analyze
  • Synthesis and Analysis Practice
  • Synthesis and Analysis Group Sessions
  • Problem Statement
  • Purpose Statement
  • Quantitative Research Questions
  • Qualitative Research Questions
  • Trustworthiness of Qualitative Data
  • Analysis and Coding Example- Qualitative Data
  • Thematic Data Analysis in Qualitative Design
  • Dissertation to Journal Article This link opens in a new window
  • International Journal of Online Graduate Education (IJOGE) This link opens in a new window
  • Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning (JRIT&L) This link opens in a new window

Writing a Case Study

Hands holding a world globe

What is a case study?

A Map of the world with hands holding a pen.

A Case study is: 

  • An in-depth research design that primarily uses a qualitative methodology but sometimes​​ includes quantitative methodology.
  • Used to examine an identifiable problem confirmed through research.
  • Used to investigate an individual, group of people, organization, or event.
  • Used to mostly answer "how" and "why" questions.

What are the different types of case studies?

Man and woman looking at a laptop

Note: These are the primary case studies. As you continue to research and learn

about case studies you will begin to find a robust list of different types. 

Who are your case study participants?

Boys looking through a camera

What is triangulation ? 

Validity and credibility are an essential part of the case study. Therefore, the researcher should include triangulation to ensure trustworthiness while accurately reflecting what the researcher seeks to investigate.

Triangulation image with examples

How to write a Case Study?

When developing a case study, there are different ways you could present the information, but remember to include the five parts for your case study.

Man holding his hand out to show five fingers.

Was this resource helpful?

  • << Previous: Thematic Data Analysis in Qualitative Design
  • Next: Journal Article Reporting Standards (JARS) >>
  • Last Updated: Apr 2, 2024 6:35 PM
  • URL: https://resources.nu.edu/researchtools

NCU Library Home

Qualitative study design: Case Studies

  • Qualitative study design
  • Phenomenology
  • Grounded theory
  • Ethnography
  • Narrative inquiry
  • Action research

Case Studies

  • Field research
  • Focus groups
  • Observation
  • Surveys & questionnaires
  • Study Designs Home

In depth description of the experience of a single person, a family, a group, a community or an organisation.

An example of a qualitative case study is a life history which is the story of one specific person.  A case study may be done to highlight a specific issue by telling a story of one person or one group. 

  • Oral recording

Ability to explore and describe, in depth, an issue or event. 

Develop an understanding of health, illness and health care in context. 

Single case can be used to develop or disprove a theory. 

Can be used as a model or prototype .  


Labour intensive and generates large diverse data sets which can be hard to manage. 

Case studies are seen by many as a weak methodology because they only look at one person or one specific group and aren’t as broad in their participant selection as other methodologies. 

Example questions

This methodology can be used to ask questions about a specific drug or treatment and its effects on an individual.

  • Does thalidomide cause birth defects?
  • Does exposure to a pesticide lead to cancer?

Example studies

  • Choi, T. S. T., Walker, K. Z., & Palermo, C. (2018). Diabetes management in a foreign land: A case study on Chinese Australians. Health & Social Care in the Community, 26(2), e225-e232. 
  • Reade, I., Rodgers, W., & Spriggs, K. (2008). New Ideas for High Performance Coaches: A Case Study of Knowledge Transfer in Sport Science.  International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching , 3(3), 335-354. 
  • Wingrove, K., Barbour, L., & Palermo, C. (2017). Exploring nutrition capacity in Australia's charitable food sector.  Nutrition & Dietetics , 74(5), 495-501. 
  • Green, J., & Thorogood, N. (2018). Qualitative methods for health research (4th ed.). London: SAGE. 
  • University of Missouri-St. Louis. Qualitative Research Designs. Retrieved from http://www.umsl.edu/~lindquists/qualdsgn.html   
  • << Previous: Action research
  • Next: Field research >>
  • Last Updated: Apr 3, 2024 11:54 AM
  • URL: https://deakin.libguides.com/qualitative-study-designs

Have a language expert improve your writing

Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, automatically generate references for free.

  • Knowledge Base
  • Methodology
  • Case Study | Definition, Examples & Methods

Case Study | Definition, Examples & Methods

Published on 5 May 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 30 January 2023.

A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organisation, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.

A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods , but quantitative methods are sometimes also used. Case studies are good for describing , comparing, evaluating, and understanding different aspects of a research problem .

Table of contents

When to do a case study, step 1: select a case, step 2: build a theoretical framework, step 3: collect your data, step 4: describe and analyse the case.

A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject. It allows you to explore the key characteristics, meanings, and implications of the case.

Case studies are often a good choice in a thesis or dissertation . They keep your project focused and manageable when you don’t have the time or resources to do large-scale research.

You might use just one complex case study where you explore a single subject in depth, or conduct multiple case studies to compare and illuminate different aspects of your research problem.

Prevent plagiarism, run a free check.

Once you have developed your problem statement and research questions , you should be ready to choose the specific case that you want to focus on. A good case study should have the potential to:

  • Provide new or unexpected insights into the subject
  • Challenge or complicate existing assumptions and theories
  • Propose practical courses of action to resolve a problem
  • Open up new directions for future research

Unlike quantitative or experimental research, a strong case study does not require a random or representative sample. In fact, case studies often deliberately focus on unusual, neglected, or outlying cases which may shed new light on the research problem.

If you find yourself aiming to simultaneously investigate and solve an issue, consider conducting action research . As its name suggests, action research conducts research and takes action at the same time, and is highly iterative and flexible. 

However, you can also choose a more common or representative case to exemplify a particular category, experience, or phenomenon.

While case studies focus more on concrete details than general theories, they should usually have some connection with theory in the field. This way the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge about the topic. It might aim to:

  • Exemplify a theory by showing how it explains the case under investigation
  • Expand on a theory by uncovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
  • Challenge a theory by exploring an outlier case that doesn’t fit with established assumptions

To ensure that your analysis of the case has a solid academic grounding, you should conduct a literature review of sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework . This means identifying key concepts and theories to guide your analysis and interpretation.

There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews, observations, and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g., newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data .

The aim is to gain as thorough an understanding as possible of the case and its context.

In writing up the case study, you need to bring together all the relevant aspects to give as complete a picture as possible of the subject.

How you report your findings depends on the type of research you are doing. Some case studies are structured like a standard scientific paper or thesis, with separate sections or chapters for the methods , results , and discussion .

Others are written in a more narrative style, aiming to explore the case from various angles and analyse its meanings and implications (for example, by using textual analysis or discourse analysis ).

In all cases, though, make sure to give contextual details about the case, connect it back to the literature and theory, and discuss how it fits into wider patterns or debates.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the ‘Cite this Scribbr article’ button to automatically add the citation to our free Reference Generator.

McCombes, S. (2023, January 30). Case Study | Definition, Examples & Methods. Scribbr. Retrieved 2 April 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/research-methods/case-studies/

Is this article helpful?

Shona McCombes

Shona McCombes

Other students also liked, correlational research | guide, design & examples, a quick guide to experimental design | 5 steps & examples, descriptive research design | definition, methods & examples.

Have a language expert improve your writing

Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, generate accurate citations for free.

  • Knowledge Base


  • What Is Qualitative Research? | Methods & Examples

What Is Qualitative Research? | Methods & Examples

Published on June 19, 2020 by Pritha Bhandari . Revised on June 22, 2023.

Qualitative research involves collecting and analyzing non-numerical data (e.g., text, video, or audio) to understand concepts, opinions, or experiences. It can be used to gather in-depth insights into a problem or generate new ideas for research.

Qualitative research is the opposite of quantitative research , which involves collecting and analyzing numerical data for statistical analysis.

Qualitative research is commonly used in the humanities and social sciences, in subjects such as anthropology, sociology, education, health sciences, history, etc.

  • How does social media shape body image in teenagers?
  • How do children and adults interpret healthy eating in the UK?
  • What factors influence employee retention in a large organization?
  • How is anxiety experienced around the world?
  • How can teachers integrate social issues into science curriculums?

Table of contents

Approaches to qualitative research, qualitative research methods, qualitative data analysis, advantages of qualitative research, disadvantages of qualitative research, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about qualitative research.

Qualitative research is used to understand how people experience the world. While there are many approaches to qualitative research, they tend to be flexible and focus on retaining rich meaning when interpreting data.

Common approaches include grounded theory, ethnography , action research , phenomenological research, and narrative research. They share some similarities, but emphasize different aims and perspectives.

Note that qualitative research is at risk for certain research biases including the Hawthorne effect , observer bias , recall bias , and social desirability bias . While not always totally avoidable, awareness of potential biases as you collect and analyze your data can prevent them from impacting your work too much.

Receive feedback on language, structure, and formatting

Professional editors proofread and edit your paper by focusing on:

  • Academic style
  • Vague sentences
  • Style consistency

See an example

what is case study qualitative research

Each of the research approaches involve using one or more data collection methods . These are some of the most common qualitative methods:

  • Observations: recording what you have seen, heard, or encountered in detailed field notes.
  • Interviews:  personally asking people questions in one-on-one conversations.
  • Focus groups: asking questions and generating discussion among a group of people.
  • Surveys : distributing questionnaires with open-ended questions.
  • Secondary research: collecting existing data in the form of texts, images, audio or video recordings, etc.
  • You take field notes with observations and reflect on your own experiences of the company culture.
  • You distribute open-ended surveys to employees across all the company’s offices by email to find out if the culture varies across locations.
  • You conduct in-depth interviews with employees in your office to learn about their experiences and perspectives in greater detail.

Qualitative researchers often consider themselves “instruments” in research because all observations, interpretations and analyses are filtered through their own personal lens.

For this reason, when writing up your methodology for qualitative research, it’s important to reflect on your approach and to thoroughly explain the choices you made in collecting and analyzing the data.

Qualitative data can take the form of texts, photos, videos and audio. For example, you might be working with interview transcripts, survey responses, fieldnotes, or recordings from natural settings.

Most types of qualitative data analysis share the same five steps:

  • Prepare and organize your data. This may mean transcribing interviews or typing up fieldnotes.
  • Review and explore your data. Examine the data for patterns or repeated ideas that emerge.
  • Develop a data coding system. Based on your initial ideas, establish a set of codes that you can apply to categorize your data.
  • Assign codes to the data. For example, in qualitative survey analysis, this may mean going through each participant’s responses and tagging them with codes in a spreadsheet. As you go through your data, you can create new codes to add to your system if necessary.
  • Identify recurring themes. Link codes together into cohesive, overarching themes.

There are several specific approaches to analyzing qualitative data. Although these methods share similar processes, they emphasize different concepts.

Qualitative research often tries to preserve the voice and perspective of participants and can be adjusted as new research questions arise. Qualitative research is good for:

  • Flexibility

The data collection and analysis process can be adapted as new ideas or patterns emerge. They are not rigidly decided beforehand.

  • Natural settings

Data collection occurs in real-world contexts or in naturalistic ways.

  • Meaningful insights

Detailed descriptions of people’s experiences, feelings and perceptions can be used in designing, testing or improving systems or products.

  • Generation of new ideas

Open-ended responses mean that researchers can uncover novel problems or opportunities that they wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

Here's why students love Scribbr's proofreading services

Discover proofreading & editing

Researchers must consider practical and theoretical limitations in analyzing and interpreting their data. Qualitative research suffers from:

  • Unreliability

The real-world setting often makes qualitative research unreliable because of uncontrolled factors that affect the data.

  • Subjectivity

Due to the researcher’s primary role in analyzing and interpreting data, qualitative research cannot be replicated . The researcher decides what is important and what is irrelevant in data analysis, so interpretations of the same data can vary greatly.

  • Limited generalizability

Small samples are often used to gather detailed data about specific contexts. Despite rigorous analysis procedures, it is difficult to draw generalizable conclusions because the data may be biased and unrepresentative of the wider population .

  • Labor-intensive

Although software can be used to manage and record large amounts of text, data analysis often has to be checked or performed manually.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Chi square goodness of fit test
  • Degrees of freedom
  • Null hypothesis
  • Discourse analysis
  • Control groups
  • Mixed methods research
  • Non-probability sampling
  • Quantitative research
  • Inclusion and exclusion criteria

Research bias

  • Rosenthal effect
  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Selection bias
  • Negativity bias
  • Status quo bias

Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.

Quantitative methods allow you to systematically measure variables and test hypotheses . Qualitative methods allow you to explore concepts and experiences in more detail.

There are five common approaches to qualitative research :

  • Grounded theory involves collecting data in order to develop new theories.
  • Ethnography involves immersing yourself in a group or organization to understand its culture.
  • Narrative research involves interpreting stories to understand how people make sense of their experiences and perceptions.
  • Phenomenological research involves investigating phenomena through people’s lived experiences.
  • Action research links theory and practice in several cycles to drive innovative changes.

Data collection is the systematic process by which observations or measurements are gathered in research. It is used in many different contexts by academics, governments, businesses, and other organizations.

There are various approaches to qualitative data analysis , but they all share five steps in common:

  • Prepare and organize your data.
  • Review and explore your data.
  • Develop a data coding system.
  • Assign codes to the data.
  • Identify recurring themes.

The specifics of each step depend on the focus of the analysis. Some common approaches include textual analysis , thematic analysis , and discourse analysis .

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Bhandari, P. (2023, June 22). What Is Qualitative Research? | Methods & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved April 5, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/methodology/qualitative-research/

Is this article helpful?

Pritha Bhandari

Pritha Bhandari

Other students also liked, qualitative vs. quantitative research | differences, examples & methods, how to do thematic analysis | step-by-step guide & examples, "i thought ai proofreading was useless but..".

I've been using Scribbr for years now and I know it's a service that won't disappoint. It does a good job spotting mistakes”

  • Open access
  • Published: 27 June 2011

The case study approach

  • Sarah Crowe 1 ,
  • Kathrin Cresswell 2 ,
  • Ann Robertson 2 ,
  • Guro Huby 3 ,
  • Anthony Avery 1 &
  • Aziz Sheikh 2  

BMC Medical Research Methodology volume  11 , Article number:  100 ( 2011 ) Cite this article

763k Accesses

1028 Citations

37 Altmetric

Metrics details

The case study approach allows in-depth, multi-faceted explorations of complex issues in their real-life settings. The value of the case study approach is well recognised in the fields of business, law and policy, but somewhat less so in health services research. Based on our experiences of conducting several health-related case studies, we reflect on the different types of case study design, the specific research questions this approach can help answer, the data sources that tend to be used, and the particular advantages and disadvantages of employing this methodological approach. The paper concludes with key pointers to aid those designing and appraising proposals for conducting case study research, and a checklist to help readers assess the quality of case study reports.

Peer Review reports


The case study approach is particularly useful to employ when there is a need to obtain an in-depth appreciation of an issue, event or phenomenon of interest, in its natural real-life context. Our aim in writing this piece is to provide insights into when to consider employing this approach and an overview of key methodological considerations in relation to the design, planning, analysis, interpretation and reporting of case studies.

The illustrative 'grand round', 'case report' and 'case series' have a long tradition in clinical practice and research. Presenting detailed critiques, typically of one or more patients, aims to provide insights into aspects of the clinical case and, in doing so, illustrate broader lessons that may be learnt. In research, the conceptually-related case study approach can be used, for example, to describe in detail a patient's episode of care, explore professional attitudes to and experiences of a new policy initiative or service development or more generally to 'investigate contemporary phenomena within its real-life context' [ 1 ]. Based on our experiences of conducting a range of case studies, we reflect on when to consider using this approach, discuss the key steps involved and illustrate, with examples, some of the practical challenges of attaining an in-depth understanding of a 'case' as an integrated whole. In keeping with previously published work, we acknowledge the importance of theory to underpin the design, selection, conduct and interpretation of case studies[ 2 ]. In so doing, we make passing reference to the different epistemological approaches used in case study research by key theoreticians and methodologists in this field of enquiry.

This paper is structured around the following main questions: What is a case study? What are case studies used for? How are case studies conducted? What are the potential pitfalls and how can these be avoided? We draw in particular on four of our own recently published examples of case studies (see Tables 1 , 2 , 3 and 4 ) and those of others to illustrate our discussion[ 3 – 7 ].

What is a case study?

A case study is a research approach that is used to generate an in-depth, multi-faceted understanding of a complex issue in its real-life context. It is an established research design that is used extensively in a wide variety of disciplines, particularly in the social sciences. A case study can be defined in a variety of ways (Table 5 ), the central tenet being the need to explore an event or phenomenon in depth and in its natural context. It is for this reason sometimes referred to as a "naturalistic" design; this is in contrast to an "experimental" design (such as a randomised controlled trial) in which the investigator seeks to exert control over and manipulate the variable(s) of interest.

Stake's work has been particularly influential in defining the case study approach to scientific enquiry. He has helpfully characterised three main types of case study: intrinsic , instrumental and collective [ 8 ]. An intrinsic case study is typically undertaken to learn about a unique phenomenon. The researcher should define the uniqueness of the phenomenon, which distinguishes it from all others. In contrast, the instrumental case study uses a particular case (some of which may be better than others) to gain a broader appreciation of an issue or phenomenon. The collective case study involves studying multiple cases simultaneously or sequentially in an attempt to generate a still broader appreciation of a particular issue.

These are however not necessarily mutually exclusive categories. In the first of our examples (Table 1 ), we undertook an intrinsic case study to investigate the issue of recruitment of minority ethnic people into the specific context of asthma research studies, but it developed into a instrumental case study through seeking to understand the issue of recruitment of these marginalised populations more generally, generating a number of the findings that are potentially transferable to other disease contexts[ 3 ]. In contrast, the other three examples (see Tables 2 , 3 and 4 ) employed collective case study designs to study the introduction of workforce reconfiguration in primary care, the implementation of electronic health records into hospitals, and to understand the ways in which healthcare students learn about patient safety considerations[ 4 – 6 ]. Although our study focusing on the introduction of General Practitioners with Specialist Interests (Table 2 ) was explicitly collective in design (four contrasting primary care organisations were studied), is was also instrumental in that this particular professional group was studied as an exemplar of the more general phenomenon of workforce redesign[ 4 ].

What are case studies used for?

According to Yin, case studies can be used to explain, describe or explore events or phenomena in the everyday contexts in which they occur[ 1 ]. These can, for example, help to understand and explain causal links and pathways resulting from a new policy initiative or service development (see Tables 2 and 3 , for example)[ 1 ]. In contrast to experimental designs, which seek to test a specific hypothesis through deliberately manipulating the environment (like, for example, in a randomised controlled trial giving a new drug to randomly selected individuals and then comparing outcomes with controls),[ 9 ] the case study approach lends itself well to capturing information on more explanatory ' how ', 'what' and ' why ' questions, such as ' how is the intervention being implemented and received on the ground?'. The case study approach can offer additional insights into what gaps exist in its delivery or why one implementation strategy might be chosen over another. This in turn can help develop or refine theory, as shown in our study of the teaching of patient safety in undergraduate curricula (Table 4 )[ 6 , 10 ]. Key questions to consider when selecting the most appropriate study design are whether it is desirable or indeed possible to undertake a formal experimental investigation in which individuals and/or organisations are allocated to an intervention or control arm? Or whether the wish is to obtain a more naturalistic understanding of an issue? The former is ideally studied using a controlled experimental design, whereas the latter is more appropriately studied using a case study design.

Case studies may be approached in different ways depending on the epistemological standpoint of the researcher, that is, whether they take a critical (questioning one's own and others' assumptions), interpretivist (trying to understand individual and shared social meanings) or positivist approach (orientating towards the criteria of natural sciences, such as focusing on generalisability considerations) (Table 6 ). Whilst such a schema can be conceptually helpful, it may be appropriate to draw on more than one approach in any case study, particularly in the context of conducting health services research. Doolin has, for example, noted that in the context of undertaking interpretative case studies, researchers can usefully draw on a critical, reflective perspective which seeks to take into account the wider social and political environment that has shaped the case[ 11 ].

How are case studies conducted?

Here, we focus on the main stages of research activity when planning and undertaking a case study; the crucial stages are: defining the case; selecting the case(s); collecting and analysing the data; interpreting data; and reporting the findings.

Defining the case

Carefully formulated research question(s), informed by the existing literature and a prior appreciation of the theoretical issues and setting(s), are all important in appropriately and succinctly defining the case[ 8 , 12 ]. Crucially, each case should have a pre-defined boundary which clarifies the nature and time period covered by the case study (i.e. its scope, beginning and end), the relevant social group, organisation or geographical area of interest to the investigator, the types of evidence to be collected, and the priorities for data collection and analysis (see Table 7 )[ 1 ]. A theory driven approach to defining the case may help generate knowledge that is potentially transferable to a range of clinical contexts and behaviours; using theory is also likely to result in a more informed appreciation of, for example, how and why interventions have succeeded or failed[ 13 ].

For example, in our evaluation of the introduction of electronic health records in English hospitals (Table 3 ), we defined our cases as the NHS Trusts that were receiving the new technology[ 5 ]. Our focus was on how the technology was being implemented. However, if the primary research interest had been on the social and organisational dimensions of implementation, we might have defined our case differently as a grouping of healthcare professionals (e.g. doctors and/or nurses). The precise beginning and end of the case may however prove difficult to define. Pursuing this same example, when does the process of implementation and adoption of an electronic health record system really begin or end? Such judgements will inevitably be influenced by a range of factors, including the research question, theory of interest, the scope and richness of the gathered data and the resources available to the research team.

Selecting the case(s)

The decision on how to select the case(s) to study is a very important one that merits some reflection. In an intrinsic case study, the case is selected on its own merits[ 8 ]. The case is selected not because it is representative of other cases, but because of its uniqueness, which is of genuine interest to the researchers. This was, for example, the case in our study of the recruitment of minority ethnic participants into asthma research (Table 1 ) as our earlier work had demonstrated the marginalisation of minority ethnic people with asthma, despite evidence of disproportionate asthma morbidity[ 14 , 15 ]. In another example of an intrinsic case study, Hellstrom et al.[ 16 ] studied an elderly married couple living with dementia to explore how dementia had impacted on their understanding of home, their everyday life and their relationships.

For an instrumental case study, selecting a "typical" case can work well[ 8 ]. In contrast to the intrinsic case study, the particular case which is chosen is of less importance than selecting a case that allows the researcher to investigate an issue or phenomenon. For example, in order to gain an understanding of doctors' responses to health policy initiatives, Som undertook an instrumental case study interviewing clinicians who had a range of responsibilities for clinical governance in one NHS acute hospital trust[ 17 ]. Sampling a "deviant" or "atypical" case may however prove even more informative, potentially enabling the researcher to identify causal processes, generate hypotheses and develop theory.

In collective or multiple case studies, a number of cases are carefully selected. This offers the advantage of allowing comparisons to be made across several cases and/or replication. Choosing a "typical" case may enable the findings to be generalised to theory (i.e. analytical generalisation) or to test theory by replicating the findings in a second or even a third case (i.e. replication logic)[ 1 ]. Yin suggests two or three literal replications (i.e. predicting similar results) if the theory is straightforward and five or more if the theory is more subtle. However, critics might argue that selecting 'cases' in this way is insufficiently reflexive and ill-suited to the complexities of contemporary healthcare organisations.

The selected case study site(s) should allow the research team access to the group of individuals, the organisation, the processes or whatever else constitutes the chosen unit of analysis for the study. Access is therefore a central consideration; the researcher needs to come to know the case study site(s) well and to work cooperatively with them. Selected cases need to be not only interesting but also hospitable to the inquiry [ 8 ] if they are to be informative and answer the research question(s). Case study sites may also be pre-selected for the researcher, with decisions being influenced by key stakeholders. For example, our selection of case study sites in the evaluation of the implementation and adoption of electronic health record systems (see Table 3 ) was heavily influenced by NHS Connecting for Health, the government agency that was responsible for overseeing the National Programme for Information Technology (NPfIT)[ 5 ]. This prominent stakeholder had already selected the NHS sites (through a competitive bidding process) to be early adopters of the electronic health record systems and had negotiated contracts that detailed the deployment timelines.

It is also important to consider in advance the likely burden and risks associated with participation for those who (or the site(s) which) comprise the case study. Of particular importance is the obligation for the researcher to think through the ethical implications of the study (e.g. the risk of inadvertently breaching anonymity or confidentiality) and to ensure that potential participants/participating sites are provided with sufficient information to make an informed choice about joining the study. The outcome of providing this information might be that the emotive burden associated with participation, or the organisational disruption associated with supporting the fieldwork, is considered so high that the individuals or sites decide against participation.

In our example of evaluating implementations of electronic health record systems, given the restricted number of early adopter sites available to us, we sought purposively to select a diverse range of implementation cases among those that were available[ 5 ]. We chose a mixture of teaching, non-teaching and Foundation Trust hospitals, and examples of each of the three electronic health record systems procured centrally by the NPfIT. At one recruited site, it quickly became apparent that access was problematic because of competing demands on that organisation. Recognising the importance of full access and co-operative working for generating rich data, the research team decided not to pursue work at that site and instead to focus on other recruited sites.

Collecting the data

In order to develop a thorough understanding of the case, the case study approach usually involves the collection of multiple sources of evidence, using a range of quantitative (e.g. questionnaires, audits and analysis of routinely collected healthcare data) and more commonly qualitative techniques (e.g. interviews, focus groups and observations). The use of multiple sources of data (data triangulation) has been advocated as a way of increasing the internal validity of a study (i.e. the extent to which the method is appropriate to answer the research question)[ 8 , 18 – 21 ]. An underlying assumption is that data collected in different ways should lead to similar conclusions, and approaching the same issue from different angles can help develop a holistic picture of the phenomenon (Table 2 )[ 4 ].

Brazier and colleagues used a mixed-methods case study approach to investigate the impact of a cancer care programme[ 22 ]. Here, quantitative measures were collected with questionnaires before, and five months after, the start of the intervention which did not yield any statistically significant results. Qualitative interviews with patients however helped provide an insight into potentially beneficial process-related aspects of the programme, such as greater, perceived patient involvement in care. The authors reported how this case study approach provided a number of contextual factors likely to influence the effectiveness of the intervention and which were not likely to have been obtained from quantitative methods alone.

In collective or multiple case studies, data collection needs to be flexible enough to allow a detailed description of each individual case to be developed (e.g. the nature of different cancer care programmes), before considering the emerging similarities and differences in cross-case comparisons (e.g. to explore why one programme is more effective than another). It is important that data sources from different cases are, where possible, broadly comparable for this purpose even though they may vary in nature and depth.

Analysing, interpreting and reporting case studies

Making sense and offering a coherent interpretation of the typically disparate sources of data (whether qualitative alone or together with quantitative) is far from straightforward. Repeated reviewing and sorting of the voluminous and detail-rich data are integral to the process of analysis. In collective case studies, it is helpful to analyse data relating to the individual component cases first, before making comparisons across cases. Attention needs to be paid to variations within each case and, where relevant, the relationship between different causes, effects and outcomes[ 23 ]. Data will need to be organised and coded to allow the key issues, both derived from the literature and emerging from the dataset, to be easily retrieved at a later stage. An initial coding frame can help capture these issues and can be applied systematically to the whole dataset with the aid of a qualitative data analysis software package.

The Framework approach is a practical approach, comprising of five stages (familiarisation; identifying a thematic framework; indexing; charting; mapping and interpretation) , to managing and analysing large datasets particularly if time is limited, as was the case in our study of recruitment of South Asians into asthma research (Table 1 )[ 3 , 24 ]. Theoretical frameworks may also play an important role in integrating different sources of data and examining emerging themes. For example, we drew on a socio-technical framework to help explain the connections between different elements - technology; people; and the organisational settings within which they worked - in our study of the introduction of electronic health record systems (Table 3 )[ 5 ]. Our study of patient safety in undergraduate curricula drew on an evaluation-based approach to design and analysis, which emphasised the importance of the academic, organisational and practice contexts through which students learn (Table 4 )[ 6 ].

Case study findings can have implications both for theory development and theory testing. They may establish, strengthen or weaken historical explanations of a case and, in certain circumstances, allow theoretical (as opposed to statistical) generalisation beyond the particular cases studied[ 12 ]. These theoretical lenses should not, however, constitute a strait-jacket and the cases should not be "forced to fit" the particular theoretical framework that is being employed.

When reporting findings, it is important to provide the reader with enough contextual information to understand the processes that were followed and how the conclusions were reached. In a collective case study, researchers may choose to present the findings from individual cases separately before amalgamating across cases. Care must be taken to ensure the anonymity of both case sites and individual participants (if agreed in advance) by allocating appropriate codes or withholding descriptors. In the example given in Table 3 , we decided against providing detailed information on the NHS sites and individual participants in order to avoid the risk of inadvertent disclosure of identities[ 5 , 25 ].

What are the potential pitfalls and how can these be avoided?

The case study approach is, as with all research, not without its limitations. When investigating the formal and informal ways undergraduate students learn about patient safety (Table 4 ), for example, we rapidly accumulated a large quantity of data. The volume of data, together with the time restrictions in place, impacted on the depth of analysis that was possible within the available resources. This highlights a more general point of the importance of avoiding the temptation to collect as much data as possible; adequate time also needs to be set aside for data analysis and interpretation of what are often highly complex datasets.

Case study research has sometimes been criticised for lacking scientific rigour and providing little basis for generalisation (i.e. producing findings that may be transferable to other settings)[ 1 ]. There are several ways to address these concerns, including: the use of theoretical sampling (i.e. drawing on a particular conceptual framework); respondent validation (i.e. participants checking emerging findings and the researcher's interpretation, and providing an opinion as to whether they feel these are accurate); and transparency throughout the research process (see Table 8 )[ 8 , 18 – 21 , 23 , 26 ]. Transparency can be achieved by describing in detail the steps involved in case selection, data collection, the reasons for the particular methods chosen, and the researcher's background and level of involvement (i.e. being explicit about how the researcher has influenced data collection and interpretation). Seeking potential, alternative explanations, and being explicit about how interpretations and conclusions were reached, help readers to judge the trustworthiness of the case study report. Stake provides a critique checklist for a case study report (Table 9 )[ 8 ].


The case study approach allows, amongst other things, critical events, interventions, policy developments and programme-based service reforms to be studied in detail in a real-life context. It should therefore be considered when an experimental design is either inappropriate to answer the research questions posed or impossible to undertake. Considering the frequency with which implementations of innovations are now taking place in healthcare settings and how well the case study approach lends itself to in-depth, complex health service research, we believe this approach should be more widely considered by researchers. Though inherently challenging, the research case study can, if carefully conceptualised and thoughtfully undertaken and reported, yield powerful insights into many important aspects of health and healthcare delivery.

Yin RK: Case study research, design and method. 2009, London: Sage Publications Ltd., 4

Google Scholar  

Keen J, Packwood T: Qualitative research; case study evaluation. BMJ. 1995, 311: 444-446.

Article   CAS   PubMed   PubMed Central   Google Scholar  

Sheikh A, Halani L, Bhopal R, Netuveli G, Partridge M, Car J, et al: Facilitating the Recruitment of Minority Ethnic People into Research: Qualitative Case Study of South Asians and Asthma. PLoS Med. 2009, 6 (10): 1-11.

Article   Google Scholar  

Pinnock H, Huby G, Powell A, Kielmann T, Price D, Williams S, et al: The process of planning, development and implementation of a General Practitioner with a Special Interest service in Primary Care Organisations in England and Wales: a comparative prospective case study. Report for the National Co-ordinating Centre for NHS Service Delivery and Organisation R&D (NCCSDO). 2008, [ http://www.sdo.nihr.ac.uk/files/project/99-final-report.pdf ]

Robertson A, Cresswell K, Takian A, Petrakaki D, Crowe S, Cornford T, et al: Prospective evaluation of the implementation and adoption of NHS Connecting for Health's national electronic health record in secondary care in England: interim findings. BMJ. 2010, 41: c4564-

Pearson P, Steven A, Howe A, Sheikh A, Ashcroft D, Smith P, the Patient Safety Education Study Group: Learning about patient safety: organisational context and culture in the education of healthcare professionals. J Health Serv Res Policy. 2010, 15: 4-10. 10.1258/jhsrp.2009.009052.

Article   PubMed   Google Scholar  

van Harten WH, Casparie TF, Fisscher OA: The evaluation of the introduction of a quality management system: a process-oriented case study in a large rehabilitation hospital. Health Policy. 2002, 60 (1): 17-37. 10.1016/S0168-8510(01)00187-7.

Stake RE: The art of case study research. 1995, London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Sheikh A, Smeeth L, Ashcroft R: Randomised controlled trials in primary care: scope and application. Br J Gen Pract. 2002, 52 (482): 746-51.

PubMed   PubMed Central   Google Scholar  

King G, Keohane R, Verba S: Designing Social Inquiry. 1996, Princeton: Princeton University Press

Doolin B: Information technology as disciplinary technology: being critical in interpretative research on information systems. Journal of Information Technology. 1998, 13: 301-311. 10.1057/jit.1998.8.

George AL, Bennett A: Case studies and theory development in the social sciences. 2005, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Eccles M, the Improved Clinical Effectiveness through Behavioural Research Group (ICEBeRG): Designing theoretically-informed implementation interventions. Implementation Science. 2006, 1: 1-8. 10.1186/1748-5908-1-1.

Article   PubMed Central   Google Scholar  

Netuveli G, Hurwitz B, Levy M, Fletcher M, Barnes G, Durham SR, Sheikh A: Ethnic variations in UK asthma frequency, morbidity, and health-service use: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet. 2005, 365 (9456): 312-7.

Sheikh A, Panesar SS, Lasserson T, Netuveli G: Recruitment of ethnic minorities to asthma studies. Thorax. 2004, 59 (7): 634-

CAS   PubMed   PubMed Central   Google Scholar  

Hellström I, Nolan M, Lundh U: 'We do things together': A case study of 'couplehood' in dementia. Dementia. 2005, 4: 7-22. 10.1177/1471301205049188.

Som CV: Nothing seems to have changed, nothing seems to be changing and perhaps nothing will change in the NHS: doctors' response to clinical governance. International Journal of Public Sector Management. 2005, 18: 463-477. 10.1108/09513550510608903.

Lincoln Y, Guba E: Naturalistic inquiry. 1985, Newbury Park: Sage Publications

Barbour RS: Checklists for improving rigour in qualitative research: a case of the tail wagging the dog?. BMJ. 2001, 322: 1115-1117. 10.1136/bmj.322.7294.1115.

Mays N, Pope C: Qualitative research in health care: Assessing quality in qualitative research. BMJ. 2000, 320: 50-52. 10.1136/bmj.320.7226.50.

Mason J: Qualitative researching. 2002, London: Sage

Brazier A, Cooke K, Moravan V: Using Mixed Methods for Evaluating an Integrative Approach to Cancer Care: A Case Study. Integr Cancer Ther. 2008, 7: 5-17. 10.1177/1534735407313395.

Miles MB, Huberman M: Qualitative data analysis: an expanded sourcebook. 1994, CA: Sage Publications Inc., 2

Pope C, Ziebland S, Mays N: Analysing qualitative data. Qualitative research in health care. BMJ. 2000, 320: 114-116. 10.1136/bmj.320.7227.114.

Cresswell KM, Worth A, Sheikh A: Actor-Network Theory and its role in understanding the implementation of information technology developments in healthcare. BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2010, 10 (1): 67-10.1186/1472-6947-10-67.

Article   PubMed   PubMed Central   Google Scholar  

Malterud K: Qualitative research: standards, challenges, and guidelines. Lancet. 2001, 358: 483-488. 10.1016/S0140-6736(01)05627-6.

Article   CAS   PubMed   Google Scholar  

Yin R: Case study research: design and methods. 1994, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing, 2

Yin R: Enhancing the quality of case studies in health services research. Health Serv Res. 1999, 34: 1209-1224.

Green J, Thorogood N: Qualitative methods for health research. 2009, Los Angeles: Sage, 2

Howcroft D, Trauth E: Handbook of Critical Information Systems Research, Theory and Application. 2005, Cheltenham, UK: Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar

Book   Google Scholar  

Blakie N: Approaches to Social Enquiry. 1993, Cambridge: Polity Press

Doolin B: Power and resistance in the implementation of a medical management information system. Info Systems J. 2004, 14: 343-362. 10.1111/j.1365-2575.2004.00176.x.

Bloomfield BP, Best A: Management consultants: systems development, power and the translation of problems. Sociological Review. 1992, 40: 533-560.

Shanks G, Parr A: Positivist, single case study research in information systems: A critical analysis. Proceedings of the European Conference on Information Systems. 2003, Naples

Pre-publication history

The pre-publication history for this paper can be accessed here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2288/11/100/prepub

Download references


We are grateful to the participants and colleagues who contributed to the individual case studies that we have drawn on. This work received no direct funding, but it has been informed by projects funded by Asthma UK, the NHS Service Delivery Organisation, NHS Connecting for Health Evaluation Programme, and Patient Safety Research Portfolio. We would also like to thank the expert reviewers for their insightful and constructive feedback. Our thanks are also due to Dr. Allison Worth who commented on an earlier draft of this manuscript.

Author information

Authors and affiliations.

Division of Primary Care, The University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

Sarah Crowe & Anthony Avery

Centre for Population Health Sciences, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

Kathrin Cresswell, Ann Robertson & Aziz Sheikh

School of Health in Social Science, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sarah Crowe .

Additional information

Competing interests.

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors' contributions

AS conceived this article. SC, KC and AR wrote this paper with GH, AA and AS all commenting on various drafts. SC and AS are guarantors.

Rights and permissions

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0 ), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article.

Crowe, S., Cresswell, K., Robertson, A. et al. The case study approach. BMC Med Res Methodol 11 , 100 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2288-11-100

Download citation

Received : 29 November 2010

Accepted : 27 June 2011

Published : 27 June 2011

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2288-11-100

Share this article

Anyone you share the following link with will be able to read this content:

Sorry, a shareable link is not currently available for this article.

Provided by the Springer Nature SharedIt content-sharing initiative

  • Case Study Approach
  • Electronic Health Record System
  • Case Study Design
  • Case Study Site
  • Case Study Report

BMC Medical Research Methodology

ISSN: 1471-2288

what is case study qualitative research

  • Search Menu
  • Browse content in Arts and Humanities
  • Browse content in Archaeology
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology
  • Archaeological Methodology and Techniques
  • Archaeology by Region
  • Archaeology of Religion
  • Archaeology of Trade and Exchange
  • Biblical Archaeology
  • Contemporary and Public Archaeology
  • Environmental Archaeology
  • Historical Archaeology
  • History and Theory of Archaeology
  • Industrial Archaeology
  • Landscape Archaeology
  • Mortuary Archaeology
  • Prehistoric Archaeology
  • Underwater Archaeology
  • Urban Archaeology
  • Zooarchaeology
  • Browse content in Architecture
  • Architectural Structure and Design
  • History of Architecture
  • Residential and Domestic Buildings
  • Theory of Architecture
  • Browse content in Art
  • Art Subjects and Themes
  • History of Art
  • Industrial and Commercial Art
  • Theory of Art
  • Biographical Studies
  • Byzantine Studies
  • Browse content in Classical Studies
  • Classical History
  • Classical Philosophy
  • Classical Mythology
  • Classical Literature
  • Classical Reception
  • Classical Art and Architecture
  • Classical Oratory and Rhetoric
  • Greek and Roman Papyrology
  • Greek and Roman Epigraphy
  • Greek and Roman Law
  • Greek and Roman Archaeology
  • Late Antiquity
  • Religion in the Ancient World
  • Digital Humanities
  • Browse content in History
  • Colonialism and Imperialism
  • Diplomatic History
  • Environmental History
  • Genealogy, Heraldry, Names, and Honours
  • Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing
  • Historical Geography
  • History by Period
  • History of Emotions
  • History of Agriculture
  • History of Education
  • History of Gender and Sexuality
  • Industrial History
  • Intellectual History
  • International History
  • Labour History
  • Legal and Constitutional History
  • Local and Family History
  • Maritime History
  • Military History
  • National Liberation and Post-Colonialism
  • Oral History
  • Political History
  • Public History
  • Regional and National History
  • Revolutions and Rebellions
  • Slavery and Abolition of Slavery
  • Social and Cultural History
  • Theory, Methods, and Historiography
  • Urban History
  • World History
  • Browse content in Language Teaching and Learning
  • Language Learning (Specific Skills)
  • Language Teaching Theory and Methods
  • Browse content in Linguistics
  • Applied Linguistics
  • Cognitive Linguistics
  • Computational Linguistics
  • Forensic Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics
  • History of English
  • Language Evolution
  • Language Reference
  • Language Acquisition
  • Language Variation
  • Language Families
  • Lexicography
  • Linguistic Anthropology
  • Linguistic Theories
  • Linguistic Typology
  • Phonetics and Phonology
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Translation and Interpretation
  • Writing Systems
  • Browse content in Literature
  • Bibliography
  • Children's Literature Studies
  • Literary Studies (Romanticism)
  • Literary Studies (American)
  • Literary Studies (Asian)
  • Literary Studies (European)
  • Literary Studies (Eco-criticism)
  • Literary Studies (Modernism)
  • Literary Studies - World
  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)
  • Literary Studies (19th Century)
  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)
  • Literary Studies (African American Literature)
  • Literary Studies (British and Irish)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
  • Literary Studies (Fiction, Novelists, and Prose Writers)
  • Literary Studies (Gender Studies)
  • Literary Studies (Graphic Novels)
  • Literary Studies (History of the Book)
  • Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights)
  • Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)
  • Literary Studies (Postcolonial Literature)
  • Literary Studies (Queer Studies)
  • Literary Studies (Science Fiction)
  • Literary Studies (Travel Literature)
  • Literary Studies (War Literature)
  • Literary Studies (Women's Writing)
  • Literary Theory and Cultural Studies
  • Mythology and Folklore
  • Shakespeare Studies and Criticism
  • Browse content in Media Studies
  • Browse content in Music
  • Applied Music
  • Dance and Music
  • Ethics in Music
  • Ethnomusicology
  • Gender and Sexuality in Music
  • Medicine and Music
  • Music Cultures
  • Music and Media
  • Music and Religion
  • Music and Culture
  • Music Education and Pedagogy
  • Music Theory and Analysis
  • Musical Scores, Lyrics, and Libretti
  • Musical Structures, Styles, and Techniques
  • Musicology and Music History
  • Performance Practice and Studies
  • Race and Ethnicity in Music
  • Sound Studies
  • Browse content in Performing Arts
  • Browse content in Philosophy
  • Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art
  • Epistemology
  • Feminist Philosophy
  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Metaphysics
  • Moral Philosophy
  • Non-Western Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Language
  • Philosophy of Mind
  • Philosophy of Perception
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Philosophy of Action
  • Philosophy of Law
  • Philosophy of Religion
  • Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic
  • Practical Ethics
  • Social and Political Philosophy
  • Browse content in Religion
  • Biblical Studies
  • Christianity
  • East Asian Religions
  • History of Religion
  • Judaism and Jewish Studies
  • Qumran Studies
  • Religion and Education
  • Religion and Health
  • Religion and Politics
  • Religion and Science
  • Religion and Law
  • Religion and Art, Literature, and Music
  • Religious Studies
  • Browse content in Society and Culture
  • Cookery, Food, and Drink
  • Cultural Studies
  • Customs and Traditions
  • Ethical Issues and Debates
  • Hobbies, Games, Arts and Crafts
  • Lifestyle, Home, and Garden
  • Natural world, Country Life, and Pets
  • Popular Beliefs and Controversial Knowledge
  • Sports and Outdoor Recreation
  • Technology and Society
  • Travel and Holiday
  • Visual Culture
  • Browse content in Law
  • Arbitration
  • Browse content in Company and Commercial Law
  • Commercial Law
  • Company Law
  • Browse content in Comparative Law
  • Systems of Law
  • Competition Law
  • Browse content in Constitutional and Administrative Law
  • Government Powers
  • Judicial Review
  • Local Government Law
  • Military and Defence Law
  • Parliamentary and Legislative Practice
  • Construction Law
  • Contract Law
  • Browse content in Criminal Law
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Criminal Evidence Law
  • Sentencing and Punishment
  • Employment and Labour Law
  • Environment and Energy Law
  • Browse content in Financial Law
  • Banking Law
  • Insolvency Law
  • History of Law
  • Human Rights and Immigration
  • Intellectual Property Law
  • Browse content in International Law
  • Private International Law and Conflict of Laws
  • Public International Law
  • IT and Communications Law
  • Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law
  • Law and Politics
  • Law and Society
  • Browse content in Legal System and Practice
  • Courts and Procedure
  • Legal Skills and Practice
  • Primary Sources of Law
  • Regulation of Legal Profession
  • Medical and Healthcare Law
  • Browse content in Policing
  • Criminal Investigation and Detection
  • Police and Security Services
  • Police Procedure and Law
  • Police Regional Planning
  • Browse content in Property Law
  • Personal Property Law
  • Study and Revision
  • Terrorism and National Security Law
  • Browse content in Trusts Law
  • Wills and Probate or Succession
  • Browse content in Medicine and Health
  • Browse content in Allied Health Professions
  • Arts Therapies
  • Clinical Science
  • Dietetics and Nutrition
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Operating Department Practice
  • Physiotherapy
  • Radiography
  • Speech and Language Therapy
  • Browse content in Anaesthetics
  • General Anaesthesia
  • Neuroanaesthesia
  • Clinical Neuroscience
  • Browse content in Clinical Medicine
  • Acute Medicine
  • Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Clinical Genetics
  • Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics
  • Dermatology
  • Endocrinology and Diabetes
  • Gastroenterology
  • Genito-urinary Medicine
  • Geriatric Medicine
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Medical Toxicology
  • Medical Oncology
  • Pain Medicine
  • Palliative Medicine
  • Rehabilitation Medicine
  • Respiratory Medicine and Pulmonology
  • Rheumatology
  • Sleep Medicine
  • Sports and Exercise Medicine
  • Community Medical Services
  • Critical Care
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Forensic Medicine
  • Haematology
  • History of Medicine
  • Browse content in Medical Skills
  • Clinical Skills
  • Communication Skills
  • Nursing Skills
  • Surgical Skills
  • Browse content in Medical Dentistry
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Paediatric Dentistry
  • Restorative Dentistry and Orthodontics
  • Surgical Dentistry
  • Medical Ethics
  • Medical Statistics and Methodology
  • Browse content in Neurology
  • Clinical Neurophysiology
  • Neuropathology
  • Nursing Studies
  • Browse content in Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Gynaecology
  • Occupational Medicine
  • Ophthalmology
  • Otolaryngology (ENT)
  • Browse content in Paediatrics
  • Neonatology
  • Browse content in Pathology
  • Chemical Pathology
  • Clinical Cytogenetics and Molecular Genetics
  • Histopathology
  • Medical Microbiology and Virology
  • Patient Education and Information
  • Browse content in Pharmacology
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Browse content in Popular Health
  • Caring for Others
  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine
  • Self-help and Personal Development
  • Browse content in Preclinical Medicine
  • Cell Biology
  • Molecular Biology and Genetics
  • Reproduction, Growth and Development
  • Primary Care
  • Professional Development in Medicine
  • Browse content in Psychiatry
  • Addiction Medicine
  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • Forensic Psychiatry
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Old Age Psychiatry
  • Psychotherapy
  • Browse content in Public Health and Epidemiology
  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health
  • Browse content in Radiology
  • Clinical Radiology
  • Interventional Radiology
  • Nuclear Medicine
  • Radiation Oncology
  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Browse content in Surgery
  • Cardiothoracic Surgery
  • Gastro-intestinal and Colorectal Surgery
  • General Surgery
  • Neurosurgery
  • Paediatric Surgery
  • Peri-operative Care
  • Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
  • Surgical Oncology
  • Transplant Surgery
  • Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Vascular Surgery
  • Browse content in Science and Mathematics
  • Browse content in Biological Sciences
  • Aquatic Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Genetics and Genomics
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular and Cell Biology
  • Natural History
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry
  • Research Methods in Life Sciences
  • Structural Biology
  • Systems Biology
  • Zoology and Animal Sciences
  • Browse content in Chemistry
  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Computational Chemistry
  • Crystallography
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Industrial Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Materials Chemistry
  • Medicinal Chemistry
  • Mineralogy and Gems
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Physical Chemistry
  • Polymer Chemistry
  • Study and Communication Skills in Chemistry
  • Theoretical Chemistry
  • Browse content in Computer Science
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Architecture and Logic Design
  • Game Studies
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Mathematical Theory of Computation
  • Programming Languages
  • Software Engineering
  • Systems Analysis and Design
  • Virtual Reality
  • Browse content in Computing
  • Business Applications
  • Computer Security
  • Computer Games
  • Computer Networking and Communications
  • Digital Lifestyle
  • Graphical and Digital Media Applications
  • Operating Systems
  • Browse content in Earth Sciences and Geography
  • Atmospheric Sciences
  • Environmental Geography
  • Geology and the Lithosphere
  • Maps and Map-making
  • Meteorology and Climatology
  • Oceanography and Hydrology
  • Palaeontology
  • Physical Geography and Topography
  • Regional Geography
  • Soil Science
  • Urban Geography
  • Browse content in Engineering and Technology
  • Agriculture and Farming
  • Biological Engineering
  • Civil Engineering, Surveying, and Building
  • Electronics and Communications Engineering
  • Energy Technology
  • Engineering (General)
  • Environmental Science, Engineering, and Technology
  • History of Engineering and Technology
  • Mechanical Engineering and Materials
  • Technology of Industrial Chemistry
  • Transport Technology and Trades
  • Browse content in Environmental Science
  • Applied Ecology (Environmental Science)
  • Conservation of the Environment (Environmental Science)
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Environmentalist Thought and Ideology (Environmental Science)
  • Management of Land and Natural Resources (Environmental Science)
  • Natural Disasters (Environmental Science)
  • Nuclear Issues (Environmental Science)
  • Pollution and Threats to the Environment (Environmental Science)
  • Social Impact of Environmental Issues (Environmental Science)
  • History of Science and Technology
  • Browse content in Materials Science
  • Ceramics and Glasses
  • Composite Materials
  • Metals, Alloying, and Corrosion
  • Nanotechnology
  • Browse content in Mathematics
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Biomathematics and Statistics
  • History of Mathematics
  • Mathematical Education
  • Mathematical Finance
  • Mathematical Analysis
  • Numerical and Computational Mathematics
  • Probability and Statistics
  • Pure Mathematics
  • Browse content in Neuroscience
  • Cognition and Behavioural Neuroscience
  • Development of the Nervous System
  • Disorders of the Nervous System
  • History of Neuroscience
  • Invertebrate Neurobiology
  • Molecular and Cellular Systems
  • Neuroendocrinology and Autonomic Nervous System
  • Neuroscientific Techniques
  • Sensory and Motor Systems
  • Browse content in Physics
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics
  • Biological and Medical Physics
  • Classical Mechanics
  • Computational Physics
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Electromagnetism, Optics, and Acoustics
  • History of Physics
  • Mathematical and Statistical Physics
  • Measurement Science
  • Nuclear Physics
  • Particles and Fields
  • Plasma Physics
  • Quantum Physics
  • Relativity and Gravitation
  • Semiconductor and Mesoscopic Physics
  • Browse content in Psychology
  • Affective Sciences
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Criminal and Forensic Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Educational Psychology
  • Evolutionary Psychology
  • Health Psychology
  • History and Systems in Psychology
  • Music Psychology
  • Neuropsychology
  • Organizational Psychology
  • Psychological Assessment and Testing
  • Psychology of Human-Technology Interaction
  • Psychology Professional Development and Training
  • Research Methods in Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Browse content in Social Sciences
  • Browse content in Anthropology
  • Anthropology of Religion
  • Human Evolution
  • Medical Anthropology
  • Physical Anthropology
  • Regional Anthropology
  • Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Theory and Practice of Anthropology
  • Browse content in Business and Management
  • Business Ethics
  • Business Strategy
  • Business History
  • Business and Technology
  • Business and Government
  • Business and the Environment
  • Comparative Management
  • Corporate Governance
  • Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Health Management
  • Human Resource Management
  • Industrial and Employment Relations
  • Industry Studies
  • Information and Communication Technologies
  • International Business
  • Knowledge Management
  • Management and Management Techniques
  • Operations Management
  • Organizational Theory and Behaviour
  • Pensions and Pension Management
  • Public and Nonprofit Management
  • Strategic Management
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Browse content in Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Criminal Justice
  • Criminology
  • Forms of Crime
  • International and Comparative Criminology
  • Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice
  • Development Studies
  • Browse content in Economics
  • Agricultural, Environmental, and Natural Resource Economics
  • Asian Economics
  • Behavioural Finance
  • Behavioural Economics and Neuroeconomics
  • Econometrics and Mathematical Economics
  • Economic History
  • Economic Systems
  • Economic Methodology
  • Economic Development and Growth
  • Financial Markets
  • Financial Institutions and Services
  • General Economics and Teaching
  • Health, Education, and Welfare
  • History of Economic Thought
  • International Economics
  • Labour and Demographic Economics
  • Law and Economics
  • Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics
  • Microeconomics
  • Public Economics
  • Urban, Rural, and Regional Economics
  • Welfare Economics
  • Browse content in Education
  • Adult Education and Continuous Learning
  • Care and Counselling of Students
  • Early Childhood and Elementary Education
  • Educational Equipment and Technology
  • Educational Strategies and Policy
  • Higher and Further Education
  • Organization and Management of Education
  • Philosophy and Theory of Education
  • Schools Studies
  • Secondary Education
  • Teaching of a Specific Subject
  • Teaching of Specific Groups and Special Educational Needs
  • Teaching Skills and Techniques
  • Browse content in Environment
  • Applied Ecology (Social Science)
  • Climate Change
  • Conservation of the Environment (Social Science)
  • Environmentalist Thought and Ideology (Social Science)
  • Natural Disasters (Environment)
  • Social Impact of Environmental Issues (Social Science)
  • Browse content in Human Geography
  • Cultural Geography
  • Economic Geography
  • Political Geography
  • Browse content in Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Communication Studies
  • Museums, Libraries, and Information Sciences
  • Browse content in Politics
  • African Politics
  • Asian Politics
  • Chinese Politics
  • Comparative Politics
  • Conflict Politics
  • Elections and Electoral Studies
  • Environmental Politics
  • European Union
  • Foreign Policy
  • Gender and Politics
  • Human Rights and Politics
  • Indian Politics
  • International Relations
  • International Organization (Politics)
  • International Political Economy
  • Irish Politics
  • Latin American Politics
  • Middle Eastern Politics
  • Political Behaviour
  • Political Economy
  • Political Institutions
  • Political Methodology
  • Political Communication
  • Political Philosophy
  • Political Sociology
  • Political Theory
  • Politics and Law
  • Public Policy
  • Public Administration
  • Quantitative Political Methodology
  • Regional Political Studies
  • Russian Politics
  • Security Studies
  • State and Local Government
  • UK Politics
  • US Politics
  • Browse content in Regional and Area Studies
  • African Studies
  • Asian Studies
  • East Asian Studies
  • Japanese Studies
  • Latin American Studies
  • Middle Eastern Studies
  • Native American Studies
  • Scottish Studies
  • Browse content in Research and Information
  • Research Methods
  • Browse content in Social Work
  • Addictions and Substance Misuse
  • Adoption and Fostering
  • Care of the Elderly
  • Child and Adolescent Social Work
  • Couple and Family Social Work
  • Developmental and Physical Disabilities Social Work
  • Direct Practice and Clinical Social Work
  • Emergency Services
  • Human Behaviour and the Social Environment
  • International and Global Issues in Social Work
  • Mental and Behavioural Health
  • Social Justice and Human Rights
  • Social Policy and Advocacy
  • Social Work and Crime and Justice
  • Social Work Macro Practice
  • Social Work Practice Settings
  • Social Work Research and Evidence-based Practice
  • Welfare and Benefit Systems
  • Browse content in Sociology
  • Childhood Studies
  • Community Development
  • Comparative and Historical Sociology
  • Economic Sociology
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Gerontology and Ageing
  • Health, Illness, and Medicine
  • Marriage and the Family
  • Migration Studies
  • Occupations, Professions, and Work
  • Organizations
  • Population and Demography
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Social Theory
  • Social Movements and Social Change
  • Social Research and Statistics
  • Social Stratification, Inequality, and Mobility
  • Sociology of Religion
  • Sociology of Education
  • Sport and Leisure
  • Urban and Rural Studies
  • Browse content in Warfare and Defence
  • Defence Strategy, Planning, and Research
  • Land Forces and Warfare
  • Military Administration
  • Military Life and Institutions
  • Naval Forces and Warfare
  • Other Warfare and Defence Issues
  • Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution
  • Weapons and Equipment

The Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research

A newer edition of this book is available.

  • < Previous chapter
  • Next chapter >

22 Case Study Research: In-Depth Understanding in Context

Helen Simons, School of Education, University of Southampton

  • Published: 01 July 2014
  • Cite Icon Cite
  • Permissions Icon Permissions

This chapter explores case study as a major approach to research and evaluation. After first noting various contexts in which case studies are commonly used, the chapter focuses on case study research directly Strengths and potential problematic issues are outlined and then key phases of the process. The chapter emphasizes how important it is to design the case, to collect and interpret data in ways that highlight the qualitative, to have an ethical practice that values multiple perspectives and political interests, and to report creatively to facilitate use in policy making and practice. Finally, it explores how to generalize from the single case. Concluding questions center on the need to think more imaginatively about design and the range of methods and forms of reporting requiredto persuade audiences to value qualitative ways of knowing in case study research.


This chapter explores case study as a major approach to research and evaluation using primarily qualitative methods, as well as documentary sources, contemporaneous or historical. However, this is not the only way in which case study can be conceived. No one has a monopoly on the term. While sharing a focus on the singular in a particular context, case study has a wide variety of uses, not all associated with research. A case study, in common parlance, documents a particular situation or event in detail in a specific sociopolitical context. The particular can be a person, a classroom, an institution, a program, or a policy. Below I identify different ways in which case study is used before focusing on qualitative case study research in particular. However, first I wish to indicate how I came to advocate and practice this form of research. Origins, context, and opportunity often shape the research processes we endorse. It is helpful for the reader, I think, to know how I came to the perspective I hold.

The Beginnings

I first came to appreciate and enjoy the virtues of case study research when I entered the field of curriculum evaluation and research in the 1970s. The dominant research paradigm for educational research at that time was experimental or quasi- experimental, cost-benefit, or systems analysis, and the dominant curriculum model was aims and objectives ( House, 1993 ). The field was dominated, in effect, by a psychometric view of research in which quantitative methods were preeminent. But the innovative projects we were asked to evaluate (predominantly, but not exclusively, in the humanities) were not amenable to such methodologies. The projects were challenging to the status quo of institutions, involved people interpreting the policy and programs, were implemented differently in different contexts and regions, and had many unexpected effects.

We had no choice but to seek other ways to evaluate these complex programs, and case study was the methodology we found ourselves exploring, in order to understand how the projects were being implemented, why they had positive effects in some regions of the country and not others, and what the outcomes meant in different sociopolitical and cultural contexts. What better way to do this than to talk with people to see how they interpreted the “new” curriculum; to watch how teachers and students put it into practice; to document transactions, outcomes, and unexpected consequences; and to interpret all in the specific context of the case ( Simons, 1971 , 1987 , pp. 55–89). From this point on and in further studies, case study in educational research and evaluation came to be a major methodology for understanding complex educational and social programs. It also extended to other practice professions, such as nursing, health, and social care ( Zucker, 2001 ; Greenhalgh & Worrall, 1997 ; Shaw & Gould, 2001 ). For further details of the evolution of the case study approach and qualitative methodologies in evaluation, see House, 1993 , pp. 2–3; Greene, 2000 ; Simons, 2009 , pp. 14–18; Simons & McCormack, 2007 , pp. 292–311).

This was not exactly the beginning of case study, of course. It has a long history in many disciplines ( Simons, 1980; Ragin, 1992; Gomm, Hammersley, & Foster, 2004 ; Platt, 2007 ), many aspects of which form part of case study practice to this day. But its evolution in the context just described was a major move in the contemporary evolution of the logic of evaluative inquiry ( House, 1980 ). It also coincided with movement toward the qualitative in other disciplines, such as sociology and psychology. This was all part of what Denzin & Lincoln (1994) termed “a quiet methodological revolution” (p. ix) in qualitative inquiry that had been evolving over the course of forty years.

There is a further reason why I continue to advocate and practice case study research and evaluation to this day and that is my personal predilection for trying to understand and represent complexity, for puzzling through the ambiguities that exist in many contexts and programs and for presenting and negotiating different values and interests in fair and just ways.

Put more simply, I like interacting with people, listening to their stories, trials and tribulations—giving them a voice in understanding the contexts and projects with which they are involved, and finding ways to share these with a range of audiences. In other words, the move toward case study methodology described here suited my preference for how I learn.

Concepts and Purposes of Case Study

Before exploring case study as it has come to be established in educational research and evaluation over the past forty years, I wish to acknowledge other uses of case study. More often than not, these relate to purpose, and appropriately so in their different contexts, but many do not have a research intention. For a study to count as research, it would need to be a systematic investigation generating evidence that leads to “new” knowledge that is made public and open to scrutiny. There are many ways to conduct research stemming from different traditions and disciplines, but they all, in different ways, involve these characteristics.

Everyday Usage: Stories We Tell

The most common of these uses of case study is the everyday reference to a person, an anecdote or story illustrative of a particular incident, event, or experience of that person. It is often a short, reported account commonly seen in journalism but also in books exploring a phenomenon, such as recovery from serious accidents or tragedies, where the author chooses to illustrate the story or argument with a “lived” example. This is sometimes written by the author and sometimes by the person whose tale it is. “Let me share with you a story,” is a phrase frequently heard

The spirit behind this common usage and its power to connect can be seen in a report by Tim Adams of the London Olympics opening ceremony’s dramatization by Danny Boyle.

It was the point when we suddenly collectively wised up to the idea that what we are about to receive over the next two weeks was not only about “legacy collateral” and “targeted deliverables,” not about G4S failings and traffic lanes and branding opportunities, but about the second-by-second possibilities of human endeavour and spirit and communality, enacted in multiple places and all at the same time. Stories in other words. ( Adams, 2012 )

This was a collective story, of course, not an individual one, but it does convey some of the major characteristics of case study—that richness of detail, time, place, multiple happenings and experiences—that are also manifest in case study research, although carefully evidenced in the latter instance. We can see from this common usage how people have come to associate case study with story. I return to this thread in the reporting section.

Professions Individual Cases

In professional settings, in health and social care, case studies, often called case histories , are used to accurately record a person’s health or social care history and his or her current symptoms, experience, and treatment. These case histories include facts but also judgments and observations about the person’s reaction to situations or medication. Usually these are confidential. Not dissimilar is the detailed documentation of a case in law, often termed a case precedent when referred to in a court case to support an argument being made. However in law there is a difference in that such case precedents are publicly documented.

Case Studies in Teaching

Exemplars of practice.

In education, but also in health and social care training contexts, case studies have long been used as exemplars of practice. These are brief descriptions with some detail of a person or project’s experience in an area of practice. Though frequently reported accounts, they are based on a person’s experience and sometimes on previous research.

Case scenarios

Management studies are a further context in which case studies are often used. Here, the case is more like a scenario outlining a particular problem situation for the management student to resolve. These scenarios may be based on research but frequently are hypothetical situations used to raise issues for discussion and resolution. What distinguishes these case scenarios and the case exemplars in education from case study research is the intention to use them for teaching purposes.

Country Case Studies

Then there are case studies of programs, projects, and even countries, as in international development, where a whole-country study might be termed a case study or, in the context of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), where an exploration is conducted of the state of the art of a subject, such as education or environmental science in one or several countries. This may be a contemporaneous study and/or what transpired in a program over a period of time. Such studies often do have a research base but frequently are reported accounts that do not detail the design, methodology, and analysis of the case, as a research case study would do, or report in ways that give readers a vicarious experience of what it was like to be there. Such case studies tend to be more knowledge and information-focused than experiential.

Case Study as History

Closer to a research context is case study as history—what transpired at a certain time in a certain place. This is likely to be supported by documentary evidence but not primary data gathering unless it is an oral history. In education, in the late 1970s, Stenhouse (1978) experimented with a case study archive. Using contemporaneous data gathering, primarily through interviewing, he envisaged this database, which he termed a “case record,” forming an archive from which different individuals,, at some later date, could write a “case study.” This approach uses case study as a documentary source to begin to generate a history of education, as the subtitle of Stenhouse’s 1978 paper indicates “Towards a contemporary history of education.”

Case Study Research

From here on, my focus is on case study research per se, adopting for this purpose the following definition:

Case study is an in-depth exploration from multiple perspectives of the complexity and uniqueness of a particular project, policy, institution or system in a “real-life” context. It is research based, inclusive of different methods and is evidence-led. ( Simons, 2009 , p. 21).

For further related definitions of case study, see Stake (1995) , Merriam (1998), and Chadderton & Torrance (2011) . And for definitions from a slightly different perspective, see Yin (2004) and Thomas (2011a) .

Not Defined by Method or Perspective

The inclusion of different methods in the definition quoted above definition signals that case study research is not defined by methodology or method. What defines case study is its singularity and the concept and boundary of the case. It is theoretically possible to conduct a case study using primarily quantitative data if this is the best way of providing evidence to inform the issues the case is exploring. It is equally possible to conduct case study that is mainly qualitative, to engage people with the experience of the case or to provide a rich portrayal of an event, project, or program.

Or one can design the case using mixed methods. This increases the options for learning from different ways of knowing and is sometimes preferred by stakeholders who believe it provides a firmer basis for informing policy. This is not necessarily the case but is beyond the scope of this chapter to explore. For further discussion of the complexities of mixing methods and the virtue of using qualitative methods and case study in a mixed method design, see Greene (2007) .

Case study research may also be conducted from different standpoints—realist, interpretivist, or constructivist, for example. My perspective falls within a constructivist, interpretivist framework. What interests me is how I and those in the case perceive and interpret what we find and how we construct or co-construct understandings of the case. This not only suits my predilection for how I see the world, but also my preferred phenomenological approach to interviewing and curiosity about people and how they act in social and professional life.

Qualitative Case Study Research

Qualitative case study research shares many characteristics with other forms of qualitative research, such as narrative, oral history, life history, ethnography, in-depth interview, and observational studies that utilize qualitative methods. However, its focus, purpose, and origins, in educational research at least, are a little different.

The focus is clearly the study of the singular. The purpose is to portray an in-depth view of the quality and complexity of social/educational programs or policies as they are implemented in specific sociopolitical contexts. What makes it qualitative is its emphasis on subjective ways of knowing, particularly the experiential, practical, and presentational rather than the propositional ( Heron, 1992 , 1999 ) to comprehend and communicate what transpired in the case.

Characteristic Features and Advantages

Case study research is not method dependent, as noted earlier, nor is it constrained by resources or time. Although it can be conducted over several years, which provides an opportunity to explore the process of change and explain how and why things happened, it can equally be carried out contemporaneously in a few days, weeks, or months. This flexibility is extremely useful in many contexts, particularly when a change in policy or unforeseen issues in the field require modifying the design.

Flexibility extends to reporting. The case can be written up in different lengths and forms to meet different audience needs and to maximize use (see the section on Reporting). Using the natural language of participants and familiar methods (like interview, observation, oral history) also enables participants to engage in the research process, thereby contributing significantly to the generation of knowledge of the case. As I have indicated elsewhere ( Simons, 2009 ), “This is both a political and epistemological point. It signals a potential shift in the power base of who controls knowledge and recognizes the importance of co-constructing perceived reality through the relationships and joint understandings we create in the field” (p. 23).

Possible Disadvantages

If one is an advocate, identifying advantages of a research approach is easier than pointing out its disadvantages, something detractors are quite keen to do anyway! But no approach is perfect, and here are some of the issues that often trouble people about case study research. The “sample of one” is an obvious issue that worries those convinced that only large samples can constitute valid research and especially if this is to inform policy. Understanding complexity in depth may not be a sufficient counterargument, and I suspect there is little point in trying to persuade otherwise For frequently, this perception is one of epistemological and methodological, if not ideological, preference.

However, there are some genuine concerns that many case researchers face: the difficulty of processing a mass of data; of “telling the truth” in contexts where people may be identifiable; personal involvement, when the researcher is the main instrument of data gathering; and writing reports that are data-based, yet readable in style and length. But one issue that concerns advocates and nonadvocates alike is how inferences are drawn from the single case.

Answers to some of these issues are covered in the sections that follow. Whether they convince may again be a question of preference. However, it is worth noting here that I do not think we should seek to justify these concerns in terms identified by other methodologies. Many of them are intrinsic to the nature and strength of qualitative case study research.

Subjectivity, for instance, both of participants and researcher is inevitable, as it is in many other qualitative methodologies. This is often the basis on which we act. Rather than see this as bias or something to counter, it is an intelligence that is essential to understanding and interpreting the experience of participants and stakeholders. Such subjectivity needs to be disciplined, of course, through procedures that examine both the validity of individuals’ representations of “their truth”, and demonstrate how the researcher took a reflexive approach to monitoring how his or her own values and predilections may have unduly influenced the data.

Types of Case Study

There are numerous types of case study, too many to categorize, I think, as there are overlaps between them. However, attempts have been made to do this and, for those who value typologies, I refer them to Bassey (1999) and, for a more extended typology, to Thomas (2011b) . A slightly different approach is taken by Gomm, Hammersley, and Foster (2004) in annotating the different emphases in major texts on case study. What I prefer to do here is to highlight a few familiar types to focus the discussion that follows on the practice of case study research.

Stake (1995) offers a threefold distinction that is helpful when it comes to practice, he says, because it influences the methods we choose to gather data (p. 4). He distinguishes between an intrinsic case study , one that is studied to learn about the particular case itself and an instrumental case study , in which we choose a case to gain insight into a particular issue (i.e., the case is instrumental to understanding something else; p. 3). The collective case study is what its name suggests: an extension of the instrumental to several cases.

Theory-led or theory-generated case study is similarly self-explanatory, the first starting from a specific theory that is tested through the case; the second constructing a theory through interpretation of data generated in the case. In other words, one ends rather than begins with a theory. In qualitative case study research, this is the more familiar route. The theory of the case becomes the argument or story you will tell.

Evaluation case study requires a slightly longer description as this is my context of practice, one which has influenced the way I conduct case study and what I choose to emphasize in this chapter. An evaluation case study has three essential features: to determine the value of the case, to include and balance different interests and values, and to report findings to a range of stakeholders in ways that they can use. The reasons for this may be found in the interlude that follows, which offers a brief characterization of the social and ethical practice of evaluation and why qualitative methods are so important in this practice.

Interlude: Social and Ethical Practice of Evaluation

Evaluation is a social practice that documents, portrays, and seeks to understand the value of a particular project, program, or policy. This can be determined by different evaluation methodologies, of course. But the value of qualitative case study is that it is possible to discern this value without decontextualizing the data. While the focus of the case is usually a project, program, policy, or some unit within, studies of key individuals, what I term case profiles , may be embedded within the overall case. In some instances, these profiles, or even shorter cameos of individuals, may be quite prominent. For it is through the perceptions, interpretations, and interactions of people that we learn how policies and programs are enacted ( Kushner, 2000 , p. 12). The program is still the main focus of analysis, but, in exploring how individuals play out their different roles in the program, we get closer to the actual experience and meaning of the program in practice.

Case study evaluation is often commissioned from an external source (government department or other agency) keen to know the worth of publicly funded programs and policies to inform future decision making. It needs to be responsive to issues or questions identified by stakeholders, who often have different values and interests in the expected outcomes and appreciate different perspectives of the program in action. The context also is often highly politicized, and interests can conflict. The task of the evaluator in such situations becomes one of including and balancing all interests and values in the program fairly and justly.

This is an inherently political process and requires an ethical practice that offers participants some protection over the personal data they give as part of the research and agreed audiences access to the findings, presented in ways they can understand. Negotiating what information becomes public can be quite difficult in singular settings where people are identifiable and intricate or problematic transactions have been documented. The consequences that ensue from making knowledge public that hitherto was private may be considerable for those in the case. It may also be difficult to portray some of the contextual detail that would enhance understanding for readers.

The ethical stance that underpins the case study research and evaluation I conduct stems from a theory of ethics that emphasizes the centrality of relationships in the specific context and the consequences for individuals, while remaining aware of the research imperative to publicly report. It is essentially an independent democratic process based on the concepts of fairness and justice, in which confidentiality, negotiation, and accessibility are key principles ( MacDonald, 1976 ; Simons, 2009 , pp. 96–111; and Simons 2010 ). The principles are translated into specific procedures to guide the collection, validation, and dissemination of data in the field. These include:

engaging participants and stakeholders in identifying issues to explore and sometimes also in interpreting the data;

documenting how different people interpret and value the program;

negotiating what data becomes public respecting both the individual’s “right to privacy” and the public’s “right to know”;

offering participants opportunities to check how their data are used in the context of reporting;

reporting in language and forms accessible to a wide range of audiences;

disseminating to audiences within and beyond the case.

For further discussion of the ethics of democratic case study evaluation and examples of their use in practice, see Simons (2000 , 2006 , 2009 , chapter 6, 2010 ).

Designing Case Study Research

Design issues in case study sometimes take second place to those of data gathering, the more exciting task perhaps in starting research. However, it is critical to consider the design at the outset, even if changes are required in practice due to the reality of what is encountered in the field. In this sense, the design of case study is emergent, rather than preordinate, shaped and reshaped as understanding of the significance of foreshadowed issues emerges and more are discovered.

Before entering the field, there are a myriad of planning issues to think about related to stakeholders, participants, and audiences. These include whose values matter, whether to engage them in data gathering and interpretation, the style of reporting appropriate for each, and the ethical guidelines that will underpin data collection and reporting. However, here I emphasize only three: the broad focus of the study, what the case is a case of, and framing questions/issues. These are steps often ignored in an enthusiasm to gather data, resulting in a case study that claims to be research but lacks the basic principles required for generation of valid, public knowledge.

Conceptualize the Topic

First, it is important that the topic of the research is conceptualized in a way that it can be researched (i.e., it is not too wide). This seems an obvious point to make, but failure to think through precisely what it is about your research topic you wish to investigate will have a knock-on effect on the framing of the case, data gathering, and interpretation and may lead, in some instances, to not gathering or analyzing data that actually informs the topic. Further conceptualization or reconceptualization may be necessary as the study proceeds, but it is critical to have a clear focus at the outset.

What Constitutes the Case

Second, I think it is important to decide what would constitute the case (i.e., what it is a case of) and where the boundaries of this lie. This often proves more difficult than first appears. And sometimes, partly because of the semifluid nature of the way the case evolves, it is only possible to finally establish what the case is a case of at the end. Nevertheless, it is useful to identify what the case and its boundaries are at the outset to help focus data collection while maintaining an awareness that these may shift. This is emergent design in action.

In deciding the boundary of the case, there are several factors to bear in mind. Is it bounded by an institution or a unit within an institution, by people within an institution, by region, or by project, program or policy,? If we take a school as an example, the case could be comprised of the principal, teachers, and students, or the boundary could be extended to the cleaners, the caretaker, the receptionist, people who often know a great deal about the subnorms and culture of the institution.

If the case is a policy or particular parameter of a policy, the considerations may be slightly different. People will still be paramount—those who generated the policy and those who implemented it—but there is likely also to be a political culture surrounding the policy that had an influence on the way the policy evolved. Would this be part of the case?

Whatever boundary is chosen, this may change in the course of conducting the study when issues arise that can only be understood by going to another level. What transpires in a classroom, for example, if this is the case, is often partly dependent on the support of the school leadership and culture of the institution and this, in turn, to some extent is dependent on what resources are allocated from the local education administration. Much like a series of Russian dolls, one context inside the other.

Unit of analysis

Thinking about what would constitute the unit of analysis— a classroom, an institution, a program, a region—may help in setting the boundaries of the case, and it will certainly help when it comes to analysis. But this is a slightly different issue from deciding what the case is a case of. Taking a health example, the case may be palliative care support, but the unit of analysis the palliative care ward or wards. If you took the palliative care ward as the unit of analysis this would be as much about how palliative care was exercised in this or that ward than issues about palliative care support in general. In other words, you would need to have specific information and context about how this ward was structured and managed to understand how palliative care was conducted in this particular ward. Here, as in the school example above, you would need to consider which of the many people who populate the ward form part of the case—nurses, interns, or doctors only, or does it extend to patients, cleaners, nurse aides, and medical students?

Framing Questions and Issues

The third most important consideration is how to frame the study, and you are likely to do this once you have selected the site or sites for study. There are at least four approaches. You could start with precise questions, foreshadowed issues ( Smith & Pohland, 1974 ), theories, or a program logic. To some extent, your choice will be dictated by the type of case you have chosen, but also by your personal preference for how to conduct it—in either a structured or open way.

Initial questions give structure; foreshadowed issues more freedom to explore. In qualitative case study, foreshadowed issues are more common, allowing scope for issues to change as the study evolves, guided by participants’ perspectives and events in the field. With this perspective, it is more likely that you will generate a theory of the case toward the end, through your interpretation and analysis.

If you are conducting an instrumental case study, staying close to the questions or foreshadowed issues is necessary to be sure you gain data that will illuminate the central focus of the study. This is critical if you are exploring issues across several cases, although it is possible to do a cross-case analysis from cases that have each followed a different route to discovering significant issues.

Opting to start with a theoretical framework provides a basis for formulating questions and issues, but it can also constrain the study to only those questions/issues that fit the framework. The same is true with using program logic to frame the case. This is an approach frequently adopted in evaluation case study where the evaluator, individually or with stakeholders, examines how the aims and objectives of the program relate to the activities designed to promote it and the outcomes and impacts expected. It provides direction, although it can lead to simply confirming what was anticipated, rather than documenting what transpired in the case.

Whichever approach you choose to frame the case, it is useful to think about the rationale or theory for each question and what methods would best enable you to gain an understanding of them. This will not only start a reflexive process of examining your choices—an important aspect of the process of data gathering and interpretation—it will also aid analysis and interpretation further down the track.

Methodology and Methods

Qualitative case study research, as already noted, appeals to subjective ways of knowing and to a primarily qualitative methodology, that captures experiential understanding ( Stake, 2010 , pp. 56–70). It follows that the main methods of data gathering to access this way of knowing will be qualitative. Interviewing, observation, and document analysis are the primary three, often supported by critical incidents, focus groups, cameos, vignettes, diaries/journals, and photographs. Before gathering any primary data, however, it is useful to search relevant existing sources (written or visual) to learn about the antecedents and context of a project, program, or policy as a backdrop to the case. This can sharpen framing questions, avoid unnecessary data gathering, and shorten the time needed in the field.

Given that there are excellent texts on qualitative methods (see, for example, Denzin & Lincoln, 1994 ; Seale, 1999 ; Silverman, 2000 , 2004 ), I will not discuss all potential relevant methods here, but simply focus on the qualities of the primary methods that are particularly appropriate for case study research.

Primary Qualitative Data Gathering Methods


The most effective style of interviewing in qualitative case study research to gain in-depth data, document multiple perspectives and experiences and explore contested issues is the unstructured interview, active listening and open questioning are paramount, whatever prequestions or foreshadowed issues have been identified. This can include photographs—a useful starting point with certain cultural groups and the less articulate, to encourage them to tell their story through connecting or identifying with something in the image.

The flexibility of unstructured interviewing has three further advantages for understanding participants’ experiences. First, through questioning, probing, listening, and, above all, paying attention to the silences and what they mean, you can get closer to the meaning of participants’ experiences. It is not always what they say.

Second, unstructured interviewing is useful for engaging participants in the process of research. Instead of starting with questions and issues, invite participants to tell their stories or reflect on specific issues, to conduct their own self-evaluative interview, in fact. Not only will they contribute their particular perspective to the case, they will also learn about themselves, thereby making the process of research educative for them as well as for the audiences of the research.

Third, the open-endedness of this style of interviewing has the potential for creating a dialogue between participants and the researcher and between the researcher and the public, if enough of the dialogue is retained in the publication ( Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1985 ).


Observations in case study research are likely to be close-up descriptions of events, activities, and incidents that detail what happens in a particular context. They will record time, place, specific incidents, transactions, and dialogue, and note characteristics of the setting and of people in it without preconceived categories or judgment. No description is devoid of some judgment in selection, of course, but, on the whole, the intent is to describe the scene or event “as it is,” providing a rich, textured description to give readers a sense of what it was like to be there or provide a basis for later interpretation.

Take the following excerpt from a study of the West Bromwich Operatic Society. It is the first night of a new production, The Producers , by this amateur operatic society. This brief excerpt is from a much longer observation of the overture to the first evening’s performance, detailing exactly what the production is, where it is, and why there is such a tremendous sense of atmosphere and expectation surrounding the event. Space prevents including the whole observation, but I hope you can get a glimmer of the passion and excitement that precedes the performance:

Birmingham, late November, 2011, early evening.... Bars and restaurants spruce up for the evening’s trade. There is a chill in the air but the party season is just starting....

A few hundred yards away, past streaming traffic on Suffolk Street, Queensway, an audience is gathering at the New Alexandra Theatre. The foyer windows shine in the orange sodium night. Above each one is the rubric: WORLD CLASS THEATRE.

Inside the preparatory rituals are being observed; sweets chosen, interval drinks ordered and programmes bought. People swap news and titbits about the production.... The bubble of anticipation grows as the 5-minute warning sounds. People make their way to the auditorium. There have been so many nights like this in the past 110 years since a man named William Coutts invested £10,000 to build this palace of dreams.... So many fantasies have been played under this arch: melodramas and pantomimes, musicals and variety.... So many audiences, settling down in their tip-up seats, wanting to be transported away from work, from ordinariness and private troubles.... The dimming lights act like a mother’s hush. You could touch the silence. Boinnng! A spongy thump on a bass drum, and the horns pipe up that catchy, irrepressible, tasteless tune and already you’re singing under your breath, ‘Springtime for Hitler and Germany....’ The orchestra is out of sight in the pit. There’s just the velvet curtain to watch as your fingers tap along. What’s waiting behind? Then it starts it to move. Opening night.... It’s opening night! ( Matarasso, 2012 , pp. 1–2)

For another and different example—a narrative observation of an everyday but unique incident that details date, time, place, and experience—see Simons (2009 , p. 60).

Such naturalistic observations are also useful in contexts where we cannot understand what is going on through interviewing alone—in cultures with which we are less familiar or where key actors may not share our language or have difficulty expressing it. Careful description in these situations can help identify key issues, discover the norms and values that exist in the culture, and, if sufficiently detailed, allow others to cross corroborate what significance we draw from these observations. This last point is very important to avoid the danger in observation of ascribing motivations to people and meanings to transactions.

Finally, naturalistic observations are very important in highly politicized environments, often the case in commissioned evaluation case study, where individuals in interview may try to elude the “truth” or press on you that their view is the “right” view of the situation. In these contexts, naturalistic observations not only enable you to document interactions as you perceive them, but they also provide a cross-check on the veracity of information obtained in interviews.

Document analysis

Analysis of documents, as already intimated, is useful for establishing what historical antecedents might exist to provide a springboard for contemporaneous data gathering. In most cases, existing documents are also extremely pertinent for understanding the policy context.

In a national policy case study I conducted on a major curriculum change, the importance of preexisting documentation was brought home to me sharply when certain documentation initially proved elusive to obtain. It was difficult to believe that it did not exist, as the evolution of the innovation involved several parties who had not worked together before. There was bound, I thought, to be minuted meetings sharing progress and documentation of the “new” curriculum. In the absence of some crucial documents, I began to piece together the story through interviewing. Only there were gaps, and certain issues did not make sense.

It was only when I presented two versions of what I discerned had transpired in the development of this initiative in an interim report eighteen months into the study that things started to change. Subsequent to the meeting at which the report was presented, the “missing” documents started to appear. Suddenly found. What lay behind the “missing documents,” something I suspected from what certain individuals did and did not say in interview, was a major difference of view about how the innovation evolved, who was key in the process, and whose voice was more important in the context. Political differences, in other words, that some stakeholders were trying to keep from me. The emergence of the documents enabled me to finally produce an accurate and fair account.

This is an example of the importance of having access to all relevant documents relating to a program or policy in order to study it fairly. The other major way in which document analysis is useful in case study is for understanding the values, explicit and hidden, in policy and program documents and in the organization where the program or policy is implemented. Not to be ignored as documents are photographs, and these, too, can form the basis of a cultural and value analysis of an organization ( Prosser, 2000 ).

Creative artistic approaches

Increasingly, some case study researchers are employing creative approaches associated with the arts as a means of data gathering and analysis. Artistic approaches have often been used in representing findings, but less frequently in data gathering and interpretation ( Simons & McCormack, 2007 ). A major exception is the work of Richardson (1994) , who sees the very process of writing as an interpretative act, and of Cancienne and Snowber (2003) , who argue for movement as method.

The most familiar of these creative and artistic forms are written—narratives and short stories ( Clandinin & Connelly, 2000 ; Richardson, 1994 ; Sparkes, 2002 ), poems or poetic form ( Butler-Kisber, 2010 ; Duke, 2007 ; Richardson, 1997 ; Sparkes & Douglas, 2007 ), cameos of people, or vignettes of situations. These can be written by participants or by the researcher or developed in partnership. They can also be shared with participants to further interpret the data. But photographs also have a long history in qualitative research for presenting and constructing understanding ( Butler-Kisber, 2010 ; Collier, 1967 ; Prosser, 2000 ; Rugang, 2006 ; Walker, 1993 ).

Less common are other visual forms of gathering data, such as “draw and write” ( Sewell, 2011 ), artefacts, drawings, sketches, paintings, and collages, although all forms are now on the increase. For examples of the use of collage in data gathering, see Duke (2007) and Butler-Kisber (2010) , and for charcoal drawing, Elliott (2008) .

In qualitative inquiry broadly, these creative approaches are now quite common. And in the context of arts and health in particular (see, for example, Frank, 1997 ; Liamputtong & Rumbold, 2008 ; Spouse, 2000 ), we can see how artistic approaches illuminate in-depth understanding. However, in case study research to date, I think narrative forms have tended to be most prominent.

Finally, for capturing the quality and essence of peoples’ experience, nothing could be more revealing than a recording of their voices. Video diaries—self-evaluative portrayals by individuals of their perspectives, feelings, or experience of an event or situation—are a most potent way both of gaining understanding and communicating that to others. It is rather more difficult to gain access for observational videos, but they are useful for documentation and have the potential to engage participants and stakeholders in the interpretation.

Getting It All Together

Case study is so often associated with story or with a report of some event or program that it is easy to forget that much analysis and interpretation has gone on before we reach this point. In many case study reports, this process is hidden, leaving the reader with little evidence on which to assess the validity of the findings and having to trust the one who wrote the tale.

This section briefly outlines possibilities, first, for analyzing and interpreting data, and second, for how to communicate the findings to others. However it is useful to think of these together and indeed, at the start, because decisions about how you report may influence how you choose to make sense of the data. Your choice may also vary according to the context of the study—what is expected or acceptable—and your personal predilections, whether you prefer a more rational than intuitive mode of analysis, for example, or a formal or informal style of writing up that includes images, metaphor, narratives, or poetic forms.

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

When it comes to making sense of data, I make a distinction between analysis—a formal inductive process that seeks to explain—and interpretation, a more intuitive process that gains understanding and insight from a holistic grasp of data, although these may interact and overlap at different stages.

The process, whichever emphasis you choose, is one of reducing or transforming a large amount of data to themes that can encapsulate the overarching meaning in the data. This involves sorting, refining, and refocusing data until they make sense. It starts at the beginning with preliminary hunches, sometimes called “interpretative asides” or “working hypotheses,” later moving to themes, analytic propositions, or a theory of the case.

There are many ways to conduct this process. Two strategies often employed are concept mapping —a means of representing data visually to explore links between related concepts—and progressive focusing ( Parlett & Hamilton, 1976 ), the gradual reframing of initially identified issues into themes that are then further interpreted to generate findings. Each of these strategies tends to have three stages: initial sense making, identification of themes, and examination of patterns and relationships between them.

If taking a formal analytic approach to the task, the data would likely be broken down into segments or datasets (coded and categorized) and then reordered and explored for themes, patterns, and possible propositions. If adopting a more intuitive process, you might focus on identifying insights through metaphors and images, lateral thinking, or puzzling over paradoxes and ambiguities in the data, after first immersing yourself in the total dataset, reading and re-reading interview scripts, observations and field notes to get a sense of the whole. Trying out different forms of making sense through poetry, vignettes, cameos, narratives, collages, and drawing are further creative ways to interpret data, as are photographs taken in the case arranged to explain or tell the story of the case.

Reporting Case Study Research

Narrative structure and story.

As indicated in the introduction, telling a story is often associated with case study and some think this is what a case study is. In one sense, it is and, given that story is the natural way in which we learn ( Okri, 1997 ), it is a useful framework both for gathering data and for communicating case study findings. Not any story will do however. To count as research, it must be authentic, grounded in data, interpreted and analyzed to convey the meaning of the case.

There are several senses in which story is appropriate in qualitative case study: in capturing stories participants tell, in generating a narrative structure that makes sense of the case (i.e., the story you will tell), and in deciding how you communicate this narrative (i.e., in story form). If you choose a written story form (and advice here can be sought from Harrington (2003) and Caulley (2008) ), it needs to be clearly structured, well written, and contain only the detail that is necessary to give readers the vicarious experience of what it was like in the case. If the story is to be communicated in other ways, through, for example, audio or videotape, or computer or personal interaction, the same applies, substituting visual and interpersonal skill for written.

Matching forms of reporting to audience

The art of reporting is strongly connected to usability, so forms of reporting need to connect to the audiences we hope to inform: how they learn, what kind of evidence they value, and what kind of reporting maximizes the chances they will use the findings to promote policies and programs in the interests of beneficiaries. As Okri (1997) further reminds us, the writer only does half the work; the reader does the other (p. 41).

There may be other considerations as well: how open are commissioners to receiving stories of difficulties, as well as success stories? What might they need to hear beyond what is sought in the technical brief? And through what style of reporting would you try and persuade them? If conducting noncommissioned case study research, the scope for different forms of reporting is wider. In academia, for instance, many institutions these days accept creative and artistic forms of reporting when supported by supervisors and appreciated by examiners.

Styles of Reporting

The most obvious form of reporting is linear, often starting with a short executive summary and a brief description of focus and context, followed by methodology, the case study or thematic analysis, findings, and conclusions or implications. Conclusion-led reporting is similar in terms of its formality, but simply starts the other way around. From the conclusions drawn from the analyzed data, it works backward to tell the story through narrative, verbatim, and observational data of how these conclusions were reached. Both have a strong story line. The intent is analytic and explanatory.

Quite a different approach is to engage the reader in the experience and veracity of the case. Rather like constructing a portrait or editing a documentary film, this involves the sifting, constructing, re-ordering of frames, events and episodes to tell a coherent story primarily through interview excerpts, observations, vignettes, and critical incidents that depict what transpired in the case. Interpretation is indirect through the weaving of the data. The story can start at any point provided the underlying narrative structure is maintained to establish coherence ( House, 1980 , p. 116).

Different again, and from the other end of a continuum, is a highly interpretative account that may use similar ways of presenting data but weaves a story from the outset that is highly interpretative. Engaging metaphor, images, short stories, contradictions, paradoxes, and puzzles, it is invariably interesting to read and can be most persuasive. However, the evidence is less visible and therefore less open to alternative interpretations.

Even more persuasive is a case study that uses artistic forms to communicate the story of the case. Paintings, poetic form, drawings, photography, collage, and movement can all be adopted to report findings, whether the data was acquired using these forms or by other means. The arts-based inquiry movement ( Mullen & Finley, 2003 ) has contributed hugely to the validation and legitimation of artistic and creative ways of representing qualitative research findings. The journal Qualitative Inquiry contains many good examples, but see also Liamputtong & Rumbold (2008) . Such artistic forms of representation may not be for everyone or appropriate in some contexts, but they do have the power to engage an audience and the potential to facilitate use.

Generalization in Case Study Research

One of the potential limitations of case study often proposed is that it is impossible to generalize. This is not so. However, the way in which one generalizes from a case is different from that adopted in traditional forms of social science research that utilize large samples (randomly selected) and statistical procedures and which assume regularities in the social world that allow cause and effect to be determined. In this form of research inferences from data are stated as formal propositions that apply to all in the target population. See Donmoyer (1990) for an argument on the restricted nature of this form of generalization when considering single-case studies.

Making inferences from cases with a qualitative data set arises more from a process of interpretation in context, appealing to tacit and situated understanding for acceptance of their validity. Such inferences are possible where the context and experience of the case is richly described so the reader can recognize and connect with the events and experiences portrayed. There are two ways to examine how to reach these generalized understandings. One is to generalize from the case to other cases of a similar or dissimilar nature. The other is to see what we learn in-depth from the uniqueness of the single case itself.

Generalizing from the Single Case

A common approach to generalization and one most akin to a propositional form is cross-case generalization. In a collective or multi-site case study, each case is explored to see if issues that arise in one case also exist in other cases and what interconnecting themes there are between them. This kind of generalization has a degree of abstraction and potential for theorizing and is often welcomed by commissioners of research concerned that findings from the single case do not provide an adequate or “safe” basis for policy determination.

However, there are four additional ways to generalize from the single case, all of which draw more on tacit knowledge and recognition of context, although in different ways. In naturalistic generalization , first proposed by Stake (1978) , generalization is reached on the basis of recognition of similarities and differences to cases with which we are familiar. To enable such recognition, the case needs to feature rich description; people’s voices; and enough detail of time, place, and context to provide a vicarious experience to help readers discern what is similar and dissimilar to their own context ( Stake, 1978 ).

Situated generalization ( Simons, Kushner, Jones, & James, 2003 ) is close to the concept of naturalistic generalization in relying for its generality on retaining a connectedness with the context in which it first evolved. However, it has an extra dimension in a practice context. This notion of generalization was identified in an evaluation of a research project that engaged teachers in and with research. Here, in addition to the usual validity criteria to establish the warrant for the findings, the generalization was seen as dependable if trust existed between those who conducted the research (teachers, in this example) and those thinking about using it (other teachers). In other words, beyond the technical validity of the research, teachers considered using the findings in their own practice because they had confidence in those who generated them. This is a useful way to think about generalization if we wish research findings to improve professional practice.

The next two concepts of generalization— concept and process generalization —relate more to what you discover in making sense of the case. As you interpret and analyze, you begin to generate a theory of the case that makes sense of the whole. Concepts may be identified that make sense in the one case but have equal significance in other cases of a similar kind, even if the contexts are different.

It is the concept that generalizes, not the specific content or context. This may be similar to the process Donmoyer (2008) identifies of “intellectual generalization” (quoted by Butler-Kisber, 2010 , p. 15) to indicate the cognitive understanding one can gain from qualitative accounts even if settings are quite different.

The same is true for generalization of a process. It is possible to identify a significant process in one case (or several cases) that is transferable to other contexts, irrespective of the precise content and contexts of those other cases. An example here is the collaborative model for sustainable school self-evaluation I identified in researching school self-evaluation in a number of schools and countries ( Simons, 2002 ). Schools that successfully sustained school self-evaluation had an infrastructure that was collaborative at all stages of the evaluation process from design to conduct of the study, to analyzing the results and to reporting the findings. This ensured that the whole school was involved and that results were discussed and built into the ongoing development of school policies and practice. In other cases, different processes may be discovered that have applicability in a range of contexts. As with concept generalization, it is the process that generalizes not the substantive content or specific context.


The forms of generalization discussed above are useful when we have to justify case study in a research or policy context. But the overarching justification for how we learn from case study is particularization —a rich portrayal of insights and understandings interpreted in the particular context. Several authors have made this point ( Stake, 1995 ; Flyvberg, 2006 ; Simons 2009 ). Stake puts it most sharply when he observes that “The real business of case study is particularization, not generalization” (p. 8), referring here to the main reason for studying the singular, which is to understand the uniqueness of the case itself.

My perspective (explored further in Simons, 1996 ; Simons, 2009 , p. 239; Simons & McCormack, 2007 ) is similar in that I believe the “real” strength of case study lies in the insights we gain from in-depth study of the particular. But I also argue for the universality of such insights—if we get it “right.” By which I mean that if we are able to capture and report the uniqueness, the essence, of the case in all its particularity and present this in a way we can all recognize, we will discover something of universal significance. This is something of a paradox. The more you learn in depth about the particularity of one person, situation, or context, the more likely you are to discover something universal. This process of reaching understanding has support both from the way in which many discoveries are made in science and in how we learn from artists, poets, and novelists, who reach us by communicating a recognizable truth about individuals, human relationships, and/or social contexts.

This concept of particularization is far from new, as the quotation from a preface to a book written in 1908 attests. Stephen Reynolds, the author of A Poor Man’s House , notes that the substance of the book was first recorded in a journal, kept for purposes of fiction, and in letters to one of his friends, but fiction proved an inappropriate medium. He felt that the life and the people were so much better than anything he could invent. The book therefore consists of the journal and letters drawn together to present a picture of a typical poor man’s house and life, much as we might draw together a range of data to present a case study. It is not the substance of the book that concerns us here but the methodological relevance to case study research. Reynolds notes that the conclusions expressed are tentative and possibly go beyond this man’s life, so he thought some explanation of the way he arrived at them was needed:

Educated people usually deal with the poor man’s life deductively; they reason from the general to the particular; and, starting with a theory, religious, philanthropic, political, or what not, they seek, and too easily find, among the millions of poor, specimens—very frequently abnormal—to illustrate their theories. With anything but human beings, that is an excellent method. Human beings, unfortunately, have individualities. They do what, theoretically, they ought not to do, and leave undone those things they ought to do. They are even said to possess souls—untrustworthy things beyond the reach of sociologists. The inductive method—reasoning from the particular to the general... should at least help to counterbalance the psychological superficiality of the deductive method. ( Reynolds, 1908 : preface) 1

Slightly overstated perhaps, but the point is well made. In our search for general laws, we not only lose sight of the uniqueness and humanity of individuals, but reduce them in the process, failing to present their experience in any “real” sense. What is astonishing about the quotation is that it was written over a century ago and yet many still argue today that you cannot generalize from the particular.

Going even further back, in 1798, Blake proclaimed that “To Generalize is to be an Idiot. To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit.” In research, we may not wish to make such a strong distinction: these processes both have their uses in different kinds of research. But there is a major point here for the study of the particular that Wilson (2008) notes in commenting on Blake’s perception when he says: “Favouring the abstract over the concrete, one ‘sees all things only thro’ the narrow chinks of his cavern”’ (referring here to Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell [1793]; in Wilson, 2008 , p. 62). The danger Wilson is pointing to here is that abstraction relies heavily on what we know from our past understanding of things, and this may prevent us experiencing a concrete event directly or “apprehend[ing] a particular moment” ( Wilson, 2008 , p. 63).

Blake had a different mission, of course, than case researchers, and he was not himself free from abstractions, as Wilson points out, although he fought hard “to break through mental barriers to something unique and living” ( Wilson, 2008 , p. 65). It is this search for the “unique and living” and experiencing the “isness” of the particular that we should take from the Blake example to remind ourselves of the possibility of discovering something “new,” beyond our current understanding of the way things are.

Focusing on particularization does not diminish the usefulness of case study research for policy makers or practitioners. Grounded in recognizable experience, the potential is there to reach a range of audiences and to facilitate use of the findings. It may be more difficult for those who seek formal generalizations that seem to offer a safe basis for policy making to accept case study reports. However, particular stories often hold the key to why policies have or have not worked well in the past. It is not necessary to present long cases—a criticism frequently levelled—to demonstrate the story of the case. Such case stories can be most insightful for policy makers who, like many of us in everyday life, often draw inferences from a single instance or case, whatever the formal evidence presented. “I am reminded of the story of....”

The case for studying the particular to inform practice in professional contexts needs less persuasion because practitioners can recognize the content and context quite readily and make the inference to their own particular context ( Simons et al., 2003 ). In both sets of circumstances—policy and practice—it is more a question of whether the readers of our case research accept the validity of findings determined in this way, how they choose to learn, and our skill in telling the case study story.

Conclusion and Future Directions

In this chapter, I have presented an argument for case study research, making the case, in particular, for using qualitative methods to highlight what it is that qualitative case study research can bring to the study of social and educational programs. I outlined the various ways in which case study is commonly used before focusing directly on case study as a major mode of research inquiry, noting characteristics it shares with other qualitative methodologies, as well as itsdifference and the difficulties it is sometimes perceived to have. The chapter emphasizes the importance of thinking through what the case is, to be sure that the issues explored and the data generated do illuminate this case and not any other.

But there is still more to be done. In particular, I think we need to be more adventurous in how we craft and report the case. I suspect we may have been too cautious in the past in how we justified case study research, borrowing concepts from other disciplines and forms of educational research. More than 40 years on, it is time to take a greater risk—in demonstrating the intrinsic nature of case study and what it can offer to our understanding of human and social situations.

I have already drawn attention to the need to design the case, although this could be developed further to accentuate the uniqueness of the particular case. One way to do this is to feature individuals more in the design itself, not only to explore programs and policies through perspectives of key actors or groups and transactions between them, which to some extent happens already, but also to get them to characterize what makes the context unique. This is the reversal of many a design framework that starts with the logic of a program and takes forward the argument for personal evaluation ( Kushner, 2000 ), noted in the interlude on evaluation. Apart from this attention to design, there are three other issues I think we need to explore further: the warrant for creative methods in case study, more imaginative reporting; and how we learn from a study of the singular.

Warrant for More Creative Methods in Case Study Research

The promise that creative methods have for eliciting in-depth understanding and capturing the unusual, the idiosyncratic, the uniqueness of the case, was mentioned in the methods section. Yet, in case study research, particularly in program and policy contexts, we have few good examples of the use of artistic approaches for eliciting and interpreting data, although more, as acknowledged later, for presenting it. This may be because case study research is often conducted in academic or policy environments, where propositional ways of knowing are more valued.

Using creative and artistic forms in generating and interpreting case study data offers a form of evidence that acknowledges experiential understanding in illuminating the uniqueness of the case. The question is how to establish the warrant for this way of knowing and persuade others of its virtue. The answer is simple. By demonstrating the use of these methods in action, by arguing for a different form of validity that matches the intrinsic nature of the method, and, above all, by good examples.

Representing Findings to Engage Audiences in Learning

In evaluative and research policy contexts, where case study is often the main mode of inquiry or part of a broader study, case study reports often take a formal structure or sometimes, where the context is receptive, a portrayal or interpretative form. But, too often, the qualitative is an add-on to a story told by other means or reduced to issues in which the people who gave rise to the data are no longer seen. However, there are many ways to put them center stage.

Tell good stories and tell them well. Or, let key actors tell their own stories. Explore the different ways technology can help. Make video clips that demonstrate events in context, illustrate interactions between people, give voice to participants—show the reality of the program, in other words. Use graphics to summarize key issues and interactive, cartoon technology, as seen on some TED presentations, to summarize and visually show the complexity of the case. Video diaries were mentioned in the methods section: seeing individuals tell their tales directly is a powerful way of communicating, unhindered by “our” sense making. Tell photo stories. Let the photos convey the narrative, but make sure the structure of the narrative is evident to ensure coherence. These are just the beginnings. Those skilled in information technology could no doubt stretch our imagination further.

One problem and a further question concerns our audiences. Will they accept these modes of communication? Maybe not, in some contexts. However, there are three points I wish to leave you with. First, do not presume that they won’t. If people are fully present in the story and the complexity is not diminished, those reading, watching, or hearing about the case will get the message. If you are worried about how commissioners might respond, remember that they are no different from any other stakeholder or participant when it comes to how they learn from human experience. Witness the reference to Okri (1997) earlier about how we learn.

Second, when you detect that the context requires a more formal presentation of findings, respond according to expectation but also include elements of other forms of presentation. Nudge a little in the direction of creativity. Third, simply take a chance, that risk I spoke about earlier. Challenge the status quo. Find situations and contexts where you can fully represent the qualitative nature of the experience in the cases you study with creative forms of interpretation and representation. And let the audience decide.

Learning from a Study of the Singular

Finally, to return to the issue of “generalization” in case study that worries some audiences. I pointed out in the generalization section several ways in which it is possible to generalize from case study research, not in a formal propositional sense or from a case to a population, but by retaining a connection with the context in which the generalization first arose—that is, to realize in-depth understanding in context in different circumstances and situations. However, I also emphasized that, in many instances, it is particularization from which we learn. That is the point of the singular case study, and it is an art to perceive and craft the case in ways that we can.


Parts of this chapter build on ideas first explored in Simons, 2009 .

I am grateful to Bob Williams for pointing out the relevance of this quotation from Reynolds to remind us that “there is nothing new under the sun” and that we sometimes continue to engage endlessly in debates that have been well rehearsed before.

Adams, T. ( 2012 ) ‘ Olympics 2012: Team GB falters but London shines bright on opening day ’, Observer, 29.07.12.

Google Scholar

Google Preview

Bassey, M. ( 1999 ). Case study research in educational settings . Buckingham: Open University Press.

Bellah, R. N. , Madsen, R. , Sullivan, W. M. , Swidler, A. , & Tipton, S. M. ( 1985 ). Habits of the heart . London: Harper and Row.

Blake, W. (1798– 1809 ). Annotations to Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Discourses , pp. xvii–xcviii (c. 1798–1809) repr. In Complete Writings , ed.   Geoffrey Keynes   (1957). ‘Discourse II,’ annotations to Sir Joshua Reynolds, Discourses (c. 1808) .

Butler-Kisber, L. ( 2010 ). Qualitative inquiry: Thematic, narrative and arts-informed perspectives . London: Sage.

Cancienne, M. B. , & Snowber, C. N. ( 2003 ). Writing rhythm: Movement as method.   Qualitative Inquiry , 9 (2), 237–253.

Caulley, D. N. ( 2008 ). Making qualitative research reports less boring: The techniques of writing creative nonfiction.   Qualitative Inquiry , 14 (3) pp. 424–449.

Chadderton, C. , & Torrance, H. ( 2011 ). Case study. In B. Somekh & C. Lewin (Eds.), Theory and methods in social research . (2nd ed. pp 53–60). London and Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Clandinin, D. J. & Connelly, F. M. ( 2000 ) Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. Ist edn. SanFrancisco: Jossey Bass Publishers.

Collier, J., Jr. ( 1967 ). Visual anthropology: Photography as a research method . New York: Holt, Reinhart, & Winston.

Denzin, N. K. & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.) ( 1994 ) Handbook of Qualitative Research , London and Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage

Donmoyer, R. ( 1990 ). Generalization and the single case study. In E. W. Eisner & A. Peshkin (Eds.), Qualitative inquiry in education (pp. 175–200). New York: Teachers College Press.

Donmoyer, R. ( 2008 ). Generalizability. In L. M. Givens (Ed.), The Sage encyclopedia of qualitative inquiry (vol. 2, pp. 371–372). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Duke, S. (2007). A narrative case study evaluation of the role of the Nurse Consultant in palliative care. PhD thesis, University of Southampton, England.

Elliott, J. (2008). Dance mirrors: Embodying, actualizing and operationalizing a dance experience in a healthcare context. PhD thesis, University of Ulster, Belfast.

Frank. A. ( 1997 ). Enacting illness stories: When, what, why. In H. L. Nelson (Ed.), Stories and their limits (pp. 31–49). London: Routledge.

Flyvberg, B. ( 2006 ). Five misunderstandings about case-study research.   Qualitative Inquiry , 12 (2), 219–245.

Gomm, R. , Hammersley, M. , & Foster, P. (Eds.). ( 2004 ). Case study method: Key issues, key texts . [First published in 2000]. London and Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Greene, J. C. ( 2000 ). Understanding social programs through evaluation. In N. K. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 981–999). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Greene, J. C. ( 2007 ). Mixing methods in social inquiry . San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Greenhalgh, T. , & Worrall, J. G. ( 1997 ). From EBM to CSM: The evolution of context-sensitive medicine.   Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice , 3 (2), 105–108.

Harrington, W. ( 2003 ). What journalism can offer ethnography.   Qualitative Inquiry . 9 (1), 90–114.

Heron, J. ( 1992 ). Feeling and personhood . Sage: London.

Heron, J. ( 1999 ). The complete facilitator’s handbook . London: Kogan Page.

House, E. R. ( 1980 ). Evaluating with validity . London, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

House, E. R. ( 1993 ). Professional evaluation: Social impact and political consequences . Newbury Park and London: Sage

Kushner, S. ( 2000 ). Personalizing evaluation . London and Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Liamputtong, P. , & Rumbold, J. (Eds.). ( 2008 ). Knowing differently: Arts-based and collaborative research methods . New York: Nova Science Publishers.

MacDonald, B. ( 1976 ). Evaluation and the control of education. In D. Tawney (Ed.), Curriculum evaluation today: Trends and implications . Schools Council Research Studies (pp. 125– 136). London: Macmillan.

Matarasso, F. ( 2012 ). West Bromwich Operatic Society: fine art of musical theatre . West Bromwich, UK: Multistory.

Merriam, S. B. ( 1988 ). Case study research in education: A qualitative Approach . San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Mullen, C. A. , & Finley, S. (Eds.). ( 2003 ). Arts-based approaches to qualitative inquiry [Special Issue].   Qualitative Inquiry , 9 (2), 165–329.

Okri, B. ( 1997 ). A way of being free . London: Phoenix.

Parlett, M. , & Hamilton, D. ( 1976 ). Evaluation as illumination: A new approach to the study of innovatory programmes. In G. Glass (Ed.), Evaluation studies review annual, I (pp. 140–157). [First published in 1972 as Occasional Paper 9, Centre for Research in the Educational Sciences, University of Edinburgh.] Beverly Hills: CA: Sage.

Platt, J. ( 2007 ). Case study. In W. Outhwaite & S. P. Turner (Eds.), The Sage handbook of social science methodology (pp. 100–118). London: Sage.

Prosser, J. ( 2000 ). The moral maze of image ethics. In H. Simons & R. Usher (Eds.), Situated ethics in educational research (pp. 116–132). London and New York: Routledge/Falmer.

Ragin, C. C. ( 1992 ). Cases of “What is a case?” In C. C. Ragin & H. S. Becker (Eds.), What is a case?: Exploring the foundations of social inquiry (pp. 1–17). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Reynolds, S. S. (1908). A Poor Man’s House . The Project Guttenberg eBook, July 25, 2008 [eBook#26126]. Accessed February 26, 2013, http.//www.gutenberg.org

Richardson, L. ( 1994 ). Writing as a form of inquiry. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research (pp. 516–529). London: Sage.

Richardson, L. ( 1997 ). Fields of play (Constructing an academic life) . New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Rugang, L. (2006). Chinese culture in globalisation: A multi-modal case study on visual discourse. PhD thesis, University of Southampton, England.

Seale, C. ( 1999 ). The quality of qualitative research . London and Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sewell, K. ( 2011 ). Researching sensitive issues: A critical appraisal of “draw and write” as a data collection technique in eliciting children’s perceptions.   International Journal of Research Methods in Education 34(2), pp.175–191.

Shaw, I. , & Gould, N. ( 2001 ). Qualitative research in social work: Context and method . London: Sage.

Silverman, D. ( 2000 ). Doing qualitative research: A practical handbook . London and Thousand Oaks. CA: Sage.

Silverman, D. (Ed.). ( 2004 ). Qualitative research: Theory, methods and practice (2nd ed.). London and Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Simons, H. ( 1971 ). Innovation and the case study of schools.   Cambridge Journal of Education , 3 , 118–123.

Simons, H. (Ed.). ( 1980 ). Towards a science of the singular: Essays about case study in educational research and evaluation . Occasional Papers No. 10. Norwich, UK: Centre for Applied Research, University of East Anglia.

Simons, H. ( 1987 ). Getting to know schools in a democracy: The politics and process of evaluation . Lewes, UK: Falmer Press.

Simons, H. ( 1996 ). The paradox of case study.   Cambridge Journal of Education , 26 (2), 225–240.

Simons, H. ( 2000 ). Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: ethical and political dilemmas in evaluation. In H. Simons & R. Usher (Eds.) Situated ethics in educational research (pp.39– 55) London and New York: Routledge/Falmer.

Simons, H. ( 2002 ). School self-evaluation in a democracy. In D. Nevo (Ed.), School-based evaluation: An international perspective . Advances in Program Evaluation. London: Sage.

Simons, H. ( 2006 ). Ethics and evaluation. In I. F. Shaw , J. C. Greene , & M. M. Mark (Eds.), The international handbook of evaluation (pp. 243–265). London and Thousand Oaks, CA Sage.

Simons, H. ( 2009 ). Case study research in practice . London: Sage.

Simons, H. (2010). Democratic evaluation: Theory and practice. Paper prepared for Virtual Evaluation Conference, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, May, 2010.

Simons, H. , Kushner, S. , Jones, K. , & James, D. ( 2003 ). From evidence-based practice to practice-based evidence: The idea of situated generalization.   Research Papers in Education: Policy and Practice , 18 (4), 347–364.

Simons, H. , & McCormack, B. ( 2007 ). Integrating arts-based inquiry in evaluation methodology.   Qualitative Inquiry , 13 (2) 292–311.

Simons, H. , & Usher, R. (Eds.). ( 2000 ). Situated ethics in educational research . London and New York: Routledge/Falmer.

Smith, L. M. , & Pohland, P. A. ( 1974 ). Education, technology, and the rural highlands. In R. H. P. Kraft ., L. M. Smith ., P. A. Pohland ., C. J. Brauner , & C. Gjerde (Eds.), Four evaluation examples: Anthropological, economic, narrative and portrayal (pp. 5–54), AERA Monograph Series on Curriculum Evaluation 7. Chicago: Rand McNally.

Sparkes, A. ( 2002 ). Telling tales in sport and physical activity: A qualitative journey . Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Press.

Sparkes, A. C. , & Douglas, K. ( 2007 ). Making the case for poetic representations: An example in action.   The Sport Psychologist , 21(2) , 170–190.

Spouse, J. ( 2000 ). Talking pictures: Investigating personal knowledge though illuminating artwork.   Nursing Times Research Journal , 5 (4), 253–261.

Stake, R. E. ( 1978 ) The case study method in social inquiry.   Educational Researcher , 7(2), 5–9.

Stake, R. E. ( 1995 ). The art of case study research . Thousand Oaks, CA and London: Sage.

Stake, R. E. ( 2010 ). Qualitative research: Studying how things work . New York & London: Guildford Press.

Stenhouse, L. ( 1978 ). Case study and case records: Towards a contemporary history of education.   British Educational Research Journal , 4 (2), 21–39.

Thomas, G. ( 2011 b)). A typology for the case study in social science following a review of definition, discourse and structure.   Qualitative Inquiry , 17 (6) , 511–521.

Thomas, G. ( 2011 a). How to do your case study: A guide for students and researchers . London: Sage.

Walker, R. ( 1993 ). Finding a silent voice for the researcher: Using photographs in evaluation and research. In M. Schratz (Ed.), Qualitative voices in educational research (pp. 72–92). Lewes, UK: Falmer Press.

Wilson, E. G. ( 2008 ). Against happiness . New York: Sarah Crichton Books.

Yin, R. K. ( 2004 ). Case study research: Design and methods . Thousand Oaks, CA and London: Sage.

Zucker, D. M. ( 2001 ). Using case study methodology in nursing research.   Qualitative Report , 6 (2) June.

  • About Oxford Academic
  • Publish journals with us
  • University press partners
  • What we publish
  • New features  
  • Open access
  • Institutional account management
  • Rights and permissions
  • Get help with access
  • Accessibility
  • Advertising
  • Media enquiries
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford Languages
  • University of Oxford

Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide

  • Copyright © 2024 Oxford University Press
  • Cookie settings
  • Cookie policy
  • Privacy policy
  • Legal notice

This Feature Is Available To Subscribers Only

Sign In or Create an Account

This PDF is available to Subscribers Only

For full access to this pdf, sign in to an existing account, or purchase an annual subscription.

Case Study Research

  • First Online: 29 September 2022

Cite this chapter

Book cover

  • Robert E. White   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-8045-164X 3 &
  • Karyn Cooper 4  

1219 Accesses

As a footnote to the previous chapter, there is such a beast known as the ethnographic case study. Ethnographic case study has found its way into this chapter rather than into the previous one because of grammatical considerations. Simply put, the “case study” part of the phrase is the noun (with “case” as an adjective defining what kind of study it is), while the “ethnographic” part of the phrase is an adjective defining the type of case study that is being conducted. As such, the case study becomes the methodology, while the ethnography part refers to a method, mode or approach relating to the development of the study.

The experiential account that we get from a case study or qualitative research of a similar vein is just so necessary. How things happen over time and the degree to which they are subject to personality and how they are only gradually perceived as tolerable or intolerable by the communities and the groups that are involved is so important. Robert Stake, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Bartlett, L., & Vavrus, F. (2017). Rethinking case study research . Routledge.

Google Scholar  

Bauman, Z. (2000). Liquid modernity . Polity Press.

Bhaskar, R., & Danermark, B. (2006). Metatheory, interdisciplinarity and disability research: A critical realist perspective. Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, 8 (4), 278–297.

Article   Google Scholar  

Bulmer, M. (1986). The Chicago School of sociology: Institutionalization, diversity, and the rise of sociological research . University of Chicago Press.

Campbell, D. T. (1975). Degrees of freedom and the case study. Comparative Political Studies, 8 (1), 178–191.

Campbell, D. T., & Stanley, J. C. (1966). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for research . Houghton Mifflin.

Chua, W. F. (1986). Radical developments in accounting thought. The Accounting Review, 61 (4), 601–632.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed.). Sage.

Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N. (2017). Qualitative inquiry and research design . Sage.

Davey, L. (1991). The application of case study evaluations. Practical Assessment, Research, & Evaluation 2 (9) . Retrieved May 28, 2018, from http://PAREonline.net/getvn.asp?v=2&n=9

Demetriou, H. (2017). The case study. In E. Wilson (Ed.), School-based research: A guide for education students (pp. 124–138). Sage.

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2005). The Sage handbook of qualitative research . Sage.

Flyvbjerg, B. (2004). Five misunderstandings about case-study research. In C. Seale, G. Gobo, J. F. Gubrium, & D. Silverman (Eds.), Qualitative research practice (pp. 420–433). Sage.

Hamel, J., Dufour, S., & Fortin, D. (1993). Case study methods . Sage.

Book   Google Scholar  

Healy, M. E. (1947). Le Play’s contribution to sociology: His method. The American Catholic Sociological Review, 8 (2), 97–110.

Johansson, R. (2003). Case study methodology. [Keynote speech]. In International Conference “Methodologies in Housing Research.” Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, September 2003 (pp. 1–14).

Klonoski, R. (2013). The case for case studies: Deriving theory from evidence. Journal of Business Case Studies, 9 (31), 261–266.

McDonough, J., & McDonough, S. (1997). Research methods for English language teachers . Routledge.

Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education . Jossey-Bass.

Miles, M. B. (1979). Qualitative data as an attractive nuisance: The problem of analysis. Administrative Science Quarterly, 24 (4), 590–601.

Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook (2nd ed.). Sage.

Mills, A. J., Durepos, G. & E. Wiebe (Eds.) (2010). What is a case study? Encyclopedia of case study research, Volumes I and II. Sage.

National Film Board of Canada. (2012, April). Here at home: In search of the real cost of homelessness . [Web documentary]. Retrieved February 9, 2020, from http://athome.nfb.ca/#/athome/home

Popper, K. (2002). Conjectures and refutations: The growth of scientific knowledge . Routledge.

Ridder, H.-G. (2017). The theory contribution of case study research designs. Business Research, 10 (2), 281–305.

Rolls, G. (2005). Classic case studies in psychology . Hodder Education.

Seawright, J., & Gerring, J. (2008). Case-Selection techniques in case study research: A menu of qualitative and quantitative options. Political Research Quarterly, 61 , 294–308.

Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research . Sage.

Stake, R. E. (2005). Multiple case study analysis . Guilford Press.

Swanborn, P. G. (2010). Case study research: What, why and how? Sage.

Thomas, W. I., & Znaniecki, F. (1996). The Polish peasant in Europe and America: A classic work in immigration history . University of Illinois Press.

Yin, R. K. (1981). The case study crisis: Some answers. Administrative Science Quarterly, 26 (1), 58–65.

Yin, R. K. (1991). Advancing rigorous methodologies : A Review of “Towards Rigor in Reviews of Multivocal Literatures….”. Review of Educational Research, 61 (3), 299–305.

Yin, R. K. (1999). Enhancing the quality of case studies in health services research. Health Services Research, 34 (5) Part II, 1209–1224.

Yin, R. K. (2012). Applications of case study research (3rd ed.). Sage.

Yin, R. K. (2014). Case study research: Design and methods (5th ed.). Sage.

Zaretsky, E. (1996). Introduction. In W. I. Thomas & F. Znaniecki (Eds.), The Polish peasant in Europe and America: A classic work in immigration history (pp. vii–xvii). University of Illinois Press.

Download references

Author information

Authors and affiliations.

Faculty of Education, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, NS, Canada

Robert E. White

OISE, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

Karyn Cooper

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Robert E. White .

A Case in Case Study Methodology

Christine Benedichte Meyer

Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration

Meyer, C. B. (2001). A Case in Case Study Methodology. Field Methods 13 (4), 329-352.

The purpose of this article is to provide a comprehensive view of the case study process from the researcher’s perspective, emphasizing methodological considerations. As opposed to other qualitative or quantitative research strategies, such as grounded theory or surveys, there are virtually no specific requirements guiding case research. This is both the strength and the weakness of this approach. It is a strength because it allows tailoring the design and data collection procedures to the research questions. On the other hand, this approach has resulted in many poor case studies, leaving it open to criticism, especially from the quantitative field of research. This article argues that there is a particular need in case studies to be explicit about the methodological choices one makes. This implies discussing the wide range of decisions concerned with design requirements, data collection procedures, data analysis, and validity and reliability. The approach here is to illustrate these decisions through a particular case study of two mergers in the financial industry in Norway.

In the past few years, a number of books have been published that give useful guidance in conducting qualitative studies (Gummesson 1988; Cassell & Symon 1994; Miles & Huberman 1994; Creswell 1998; Flick 1998; Rossman & Rallis 1998; Bryman & Burgess 1999; Marshall & Rossman 1999; Denzin & Lincoln 2000). One approach often mentioned is the case study (Yin 1989). Case studies are widely used in organizational studies in the social science disciplines of sociology, industrial relations, and anthropology (Hartley 1994). Such a study consists of detailed investigation of one or more organizations, or groups within organizations, with a view to providing an analysis of the context and processes involved in the phenomenon under study.

As opposed to other qualitative or quantitative research strategies, such as grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss 1967) or surveys (Nachmias & Nachmias 1981), there are virtually no specific requirements guiding case research. Yin (1989) and Eisenhardt (1989) give useful insights into the case study as a research strategy, but leave most of the design decisions on the table. This is both the strength and the weakness of this approach. It is a strength because it allows tailoring the design and data collection procedures to the research questions. On the other hand, this approach has resulted in many poor case studies, leaving it open to criticism, especially from the quantitative field of research (Cook and Campbell 1979). The fact that the case study is a rather loose design implies that there are a number of choices that need to be addressed in a principled way.

Although case studies have become a common research strategy, the scope of methodology sections in articles published in journals is far too limited to give the readers a detailed and comprehensive view of the decisions taken in the particular studies, and, given the format of methodology sections, will remain so. The few books (Yin 1989, 1993; Hamel, Dufour, & Fortin 1993; Stake 1995) and book chapters on case studies (Hartley 1994; Silverman 2000) are, on the other hand, mainly normative and span a broad range of different kinds of case studies. One exception is Pettigrew (1990, 1992), who places the case study in the context of a research tradition (the Warwick process research).

Given the contextual nature of the case study and its strength in addressing contemporary phenomena in real-life contexts, I believe that there is a need for articles that provide a comprehensive overview of the case study process from the researcher’s perspective, emphasizing methodological considerations. This implies addressing the whole range of choices concerning specific design requirements, data collection procedures, data analysis, and validity and reliability.


Case studies are tailor-made for exploring new processes or behaviors or ones that are little understood (Hartley 1994). Hence, the approach is particularly useful for responding to how and why questions about a contemporary set of events (Leonard-Barton 1990). Moreover, researchers have argued that certain kinds of information can be difficult or even impossible to tackle by means other than qualitative approaches such as the case study (Sykes 1990). Gummesson (1988:76) argues that an important advantage of case study research is the opportunity for a holistic view of the process: “The detailed observations entailed in the case study method enable us to study many different aspects, examine them in relation to each other, view the process within its total environment and also use the researchers’ capacity for ‘verstehen.’ ”

The contextual nature of the case study is illustrated in Yin’s (1993:59) definition of a case study as an empirical inquiry that “investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context and addresses a situation in which the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident.”

The key difference between the case study and other qualitative designs such as grounded theory and ethnography (Glaser & Strauss 1967; Strauss & Corbin 1990; Gioia & Chittipeddi 1991) is that the case study is open to the use of theory or conceptual categories that guide the research and analysis of data. In contrast, grounded theory or ethnography presupposes that theoretical perspectives are grounded in and emerge from firsthand data. Hartley (1994) argues that without a theoretical framework, the researcher is in severe danger of providing description without meaning. Gummesson (1988) says that a lack of preunderstanding will cause the researcher to spend considerable time gathering basic information. This preunderstanding may arise from general knowledge such as theories, models, and concepts or from specific knowledge of institutional conditions and social patterns. According to Gummesson, the key is not to require researchers to have split but dual personalities: “Those who are able to balance on a razor’s edge using their pre-understanding without being its slave” (p. 58).


The study that will be used for illustrative purposes is a comparative and longitudinal case study of organizational integration in mergers and acquisitions taking place in Norway. The study had two purposes: (1) to identify contextual factors and features of integration that facilitated or impeded organizational integration, and (2) to study how the three dimensions of organizational integration (integration of tasks, unification of power, and integration of cultures and identities) interrelated and evolved over time. Examples of contextual factors were relative power, degree of friendliness, and economic climate. Integration features included factors such as participation, communication, and allocation of positions and functions.

Mergers and acquisitions are inherently complex. Researchers in the field have suggested that managers continuously underestimate the task of integrating the merging organizations in the postintegration process (Haspeslaph & Jemison 1991). The process of organizational integration can lead to sharp interorganizational conflict as the different top management styles, organizational and work unit cultures, systems, and other aspects of organizational life come into contact (Blake & Mounton 1985; Schweiger & Walsh 1990; Cartwright & Cooper 1993). Furthermore, cultural change in mergers and acquisitions is compounded by additional uncertainties, ambiguities, and stress inherent in the combination process (Buono & Bowditch 1989).

I focused on two combinations: one merger and one acquisition. The first case was a merger between two major Norwegian banks, Bergen Bank and DnC (to be named DnB), that started in the late 1980s. The second case was a study of a major acquisition in the insurance industry (i.e., Gjensidige’s acquisition of Forenede), that started in the early 1990s. Both combinations aimed to realize operational synergies though merging the two organizations into one entity. This implied disruption of organizational boundaries and threat to the existing power distribution and organizational cultures.

The study of integration processes in mergers and acquisitions illustrates the need to find a design that opens for exploration of sensitive issues such as power struggles between the two merging organizations. Furthermore, the inherent complexity in the integration process, involving integration of tasks, unification of power, and cultural integration stressed the need for in-depth study of the phenomenon over time. To understand the cultural integration process, the design also had to be linked to the past history of the two organizations.


In the introduction, I stressed that a case is a rather loose design that requires that a number of design choices be made. In this section, I go through the most important choices I faced in the study of organizational integration in mergers and acquisitions. These include: (1) selection of cases; (2) sampling time; (3) choosing business areas, divisions, and sites; and (4) selection of and choices regarding data collection procedures, interviews, documents, and observation.

Selection of Cases

There are several choices involved in selecting cases. First, there is the question of how many cases to include. Second, one must sample cases and decide on a unit of analysis. I will explore these issues subsequently.

Single or Multiple Cases

Case studies can involve single or multiple cases. The problem of single cases is limitations in generalizability and several information-processing biases (Eisenhardt 1989).

One way to respond to these biases is by applying a multi-case approach (Leonard-Barton 1990). Multiple cases augment external validity and help guard against observer biases. Moreover, multi-case sampling adds confidence to findings. By looking at a range of similar and contrasting cases, we can understand a single-case finding, grounding it by specifying how and where and, if possible, why it behaves as it does. (Miles & Huberman 1994)

Given these limitations of the single case study, it is desirable to include more than one case study in the study. However, the desire for depth and a pluralist perspective and tracking the cases over time implies that the number of cases must be fairly few. I chose two cases, which clearly does not support generalizability any more than does one case, but allows for comparison and contrast between the cases as well as a deeper and richer look at each case.

Originally, I planned to include a third case in the study. Due to changes in management during the initial integration process, my access to the case was limited and I left this case entirely. However, a positive side effect was that it allowed a deeper investigation of the two original cases and in hindsight turned out to be a good decision.

Sampling Cases

The logic of sampling cases is fundamentally different from statistical sampling. The logic in case studies involves theoretical sampling, in which the goal is to choose cases that are likely to replicate or extend the emergent theory or to fill theoretical categories and provide examples for polar types (Eisenhardt 1989). Hence, whereas quantitative sampling concerns itself with representativeness, qualitative sampling seeks information richness and selects the cases purposefully rather than randomly (Crabtree and Miller 1992).

The choice of cases was guided by George (1979) and Pettigrew’s (1990) recommendations. The aim was to find cases that matched the three dimensions in the dependent variable and provided variation in the contextual factors, thus representing polar cases.

To match the choice of outcome variable, organizational integration, I chose cases in which the purpose was to fully consolidate the merging parties’ operations. A full consolidation would imply considerable disruption in the organizational boundaries and would be expected to affect the task-related, political, and cultural features of the organizations. As for the contextual factors, the two cases varied in contextual factors such as relative power, friendliness, and economic climate. The DnB merger was a friendly combination between two equal partners in an unfriendly economic climate. Gjensidige’s acquisition of Forenede was, in contrast, an unfriendly and unbalanced acquisition in a friendly economic climate.

Unit of Analysis

Another way to respond to researchers’ and respondents’ biases is to have more than one unit of analysis in each case (Yin 1993). This implies that, in addition to developing contrasts between the cases, researchers can focus on contrasts within the cases (Hartley 1994). In case studies, there is a choice of a holistic or embedded design (Yin 1989). A holistic design examines the global nature of the phenomenon, whereas an embedded design also pays attention to subunit(s).

I used an embedded design to analyze the cases (i.e., within each case, I also gave attention to subunits and subprocesses). In both cases, I compared the combination processes in the various divisions and local networks. Moreover, I compared three distinct change processes in DnB: before the merger, during the initial combination, and two years after the merger. The overall and most important unit of analysis in the two cases was, however, the integration process.

Sampling Time

According to Pettigrew (1990), time sets a reference for what changes can be seen and how those changes are explained. When conducting a case study, there are several important issues to decide when sampling time. The first regards how many times data should be collected, while the second concerns when to enter the organizations. There is also a need to decide whether to collect data on a continuous basis or in distinct periods.

Number of data collections. I studied the process by collecting real time and retrospective data at two points in time, with one-and-a-half- and two-year intervals in the two cases. Collecting data twice had some interesting implications for the interpretations of the data. During the first data collection in the DnB study, for example, I collected retrospective data about the premerger and initial combination phase and real-time data about the second step in the combination process.

Although I gained a picture of how the employees experienced the second stage of the combination process, it was too early to assess the effects of this process at that stage. I entered the organization two years later and found interesting effects that I had not anticipated the first time. Moreover, it was interesting to observe how people’s attitudes toward the merger processes changed over time to be more positive and less emotional.

When to enter the organizations. It would be desirable to have had the opportunity to collect data in the precombination processes. However, researchers are rarely given access in this period due to secrecy. The emphasis in this study was to focus on the postcombination process. As such, the precombination events were classified as contextual factors. This implied that it was most important to collect real-time data after the parties had been given government approval to merge or acquire. What would have been desirable was to gain access earlier in the postcombination process. This was not possible because access had to be negotiated. Due to the change of CEO in the middle of the merger process and the need for renegotiating access, this took longer than expected.

Regarding the second case, I was restricted by the time frame of the study. In essence, I had to choose between entering the combination process as soon as governmental approval was given, or entering the organization at a later stage. In light of the previous studies in the field that have failed to go beyond the initial two years, and given the need to collect data about the cultural integration process, I chose the latter strategy. And I decided to enter the organizations at two distinct periods of time rather than on a continuous basis.

There were several reasons for this approach, some methodological and some practical. First, data collection on a continuous basis would have required use of extensive observation that I didn’t have access to, and getting access to two data collections in DnB was difficult in itself. Second, I had a stay abroad between the first and second data collection in Gjensidige. Collecting data on a continuous basis would probably have allowed for better mapping of the ongoing integration process, but the contrasts between the two different stages in the integration process that I wanted to elaborate would probably be more difficult to detect. In Table 1 I have listed the periods of time in which I collected data in the two combinations.

Sampling Business Areas, Divisions, and Sites

Even when the cases for a study have been chosen, it is often necessary to make further choices within each case to make the cases researchable. The most important criteria that set the boundaries for the study are importance or criticality, relevance, and representativeness. At the time of the data collection, my criteria for making these decisions were not as conscious as they may appear here. Rather, being restricted by time and my own capacity as a researcher, I had to limit the sites and act instinctively. In both cases, I decided to concentrate on the core businesses (criticality criterion) and left out the business units that were only mildly affected by the integration process (relevance criterion). In the choice of regional offices, I used the representativeness criterion as the number of offices widely exceeded the number of sites possible to study. In making these choices, I relied on key informants in the organizations.


The choice of data collection procedures should be guided by the research question and the choice of design. The case study approach typically combines data collection methods such as archives, interviews, questionnaires, and observations (Yin 1989). This triangulated methodology provides stronger substantiation of constructs and hypotheses. However, the choice of data collection methods is also subject to constraints in time, financial resources, and access.

I chose a combination of interviews, archives, and observation, with main emphasis on the first two. Conducting a survey was inappropriate due to the lack of established concepts and indicators. The reason for limited observation, on the other hand, was due to problems in obtaining access early in the study and time and resource constraints. In addition to choosing among several different data collection methods, there are a number of choices to be made for each individual method.

When relying on interviews as the primary data collection method, the issue of building trust between the researcher and the interviewees becomes very important. I addressed this issue by several means. First, I established a procedure of how to approach the interviewees. In most cases, I called them first, then sent out a letter explaining the key features of the project and outlining the broad issues to be addressed in the interview. In this letter, the support from the institution’s top management was also communicated. In most cases, the top management’s support of the project was an important prerequisite for the respondent’s input. Some interviewees did, however, fear that their input would be open to the top management without disguising the information source. Hence, it became important to communicate how I intended to use and store the information.

To establish trust, I also actively used my preunderstanding of the context in the first case and the phenomenon in the second case. As I built up an understanding of the cases, I used this information to gain confidence. The active use of my preunderstanding did, however, pose important challenges in not revealing too much of the research hypotheses and in balancing between asking open-ended questions and appearing knowledgeable.

There are two choices involved in conducting interviews. The first concerns the sampling of interviewees. The second is that you must decide on issues such as the structure of the interviews, use of tape recorder, and involvement of other researchers.

Sampling Interviewees

Following the desire for detailed knowledge of each case and for grasping different participant’s views the aim was, in line with Pettigrew (1990), to apply a pluralist view by describing and analyzing competing versions of reality as seen by actors in the combination processes.

I used four criteria for sampling informants. First, I drew informants from populations representing multiple perspectives. The first data collection in DnB was primarily focused on the top management level. Moreover, most middle managers in the first data collection were employed at the head offices, either in Bergen or Oslo. In the second data collection, I compensated for this skew by including eight local middle managers in the sample. The difference between the number of employees interviewed in DnB and Gjensidige was primarily due to the fact that Gjensidige has three unions, whereas DnB only has one. The distribution of interviewees is outlined in Table 2 .

The second criterion was to use multiple informants. According to Glick et al. (1990), an important advantage of using multiple informants is that the validity of information provided by one informant can be checked against that provided by other informants. Moreover, the validity of the data used by the researcher can be enhanced by resolving the discrepancies among different informants’ reports. Hence, I selected multiple respondents from each perspective.

Third, I focused on key informants who were expected to be knowledgeable about the combination process. These people included top management members, managers, and employees involved in the integration project. To validate the information from these informants, I also used a fourth criterion by selecting managers and employees who had been affected by the process but who were not involved in the project groups.

Structured versus unstructured. In line with the explorative nature of the study, the goal of the interviews was to see the research topic from the perspective of the interviewee, and to understand why he or she came to have this particular perspective. To meet this goal, King (1994:15) recommends that one have “a low degree of structure imposed on the interviewer, a preponderance of open questions, a focus on specific situations and action sequences in the world of the interviewee rather than abstractions and general opinions.” In line with these recommendations, the collection of primary data in this study consists of unstructured interviews.

Using tape recorders and involving other researchers. The majority of the interviews were tape-recorded, and I could thus concentrate fully on asking questions and responding to the interviewees’ answers. In the few interviews that were not tape-recorded, most of which were conducted in the first phase of the DnB-study, two researchers were present. This was useful as we were both able to discuss the interviews later and had feedback on the role of an interviewer.

In hindsight, however, I wish that these interviews had been tape-recorded to maintain the level of accuracy and richness of data. Hence, in the next phases of data collection, I tape-recorded all interviews, with two exceptions (people who strongly opposed the use of this device). All interviews that were tape-recorded were transcribed by me in full, which gave me closeness and a good grasp of the data.

When organizations merge or make acquisitions, there are often a vast number of documents to choose from to build up an understanding of what has happened and to use in the analyses. Furthermore, when firms make acquisitions or merge, they often hire external consultants, each of whom produces more documents. Due to time constraints, it is seldom possible to collect and analyze all these documents, and thus the researcher has to make a selection.

The choice of documentation was guided by my previous experience with merger and acquisition processes and the research question. Hence, obtaining information on the postintegration process was more important than gaining access to the due-diligence analysis. As I learned about the process, I obtained more documents on specific issues. I did not, however, gain access to all the documents I asked for, and, in some cases, documents had been lost or shredded.

The documents were helpful in a number of ways. First, and most important, they were used as inputs to the interview guide and saved me time, because I did not have to ask for facts in the interviews. They were also useful for tracing the history of the organizations and statements made by key people in the organizations. Third, the documents were helpful in counteracting the biases of the interviews. A list of the documents used in writing the cases is shown in Table 3 .


The major strength of direct observation is that it is unobtrusive and does not require direct interaction with participants (Adler and Adler 1994). Observation produces rigor when it is combined with other methods. When the researcher has access to group processes, direct observation can illuminate the discrepancies between what people said in the interviews and casual conversations and what they actually do (Pettigrew 1990).

As with interviews, there are a number of choices involved in conducting observations. Although I did some observations in the study, I used interviews as the key data collection source. Discussion in this article about observations will thus be somewhat limited. Nevertheless, I faced a number of choices in conducting observations, including type of observation, when to enter, how much observation to conduct, and which groups to observe.

The are four ways in which an observer may gather data: (1) the complete participant who operates covertly, concealing any intention to observe the setting; (2) the participant-as-observer, who forms relationships and participates in activities, but makes no secret of his or her intentions to observe events; (3) the observer-as-participant, who maintains only superficial contact with the people being studied; and (4) the complete observer, who merely stands back and eavesdrops on the proceedings (Waddington 1994).

In this study, I used the second and third ways of observing. The use of the participant-as-observer mode, on which much ethnographic research is based, was rather limited in the study. There were two reasons for this. First, I had limited time available for collecting data, and in my view interviews made more effective use of this limited time than extensive participant observation. Second, people were rather reluctant to let me observe these political and sensitive processes until they knew me better and felt I could be trusted. Indeed, I was dependent on starting the data collection before having built sufficient trust to observe key groups in the integration process. Nevertheless, Gjensidige allowed me to study two employee seminars to acquaint me with the organization. Here I admitted my role as an observer but participated fully in the activities. To achieve variation, I chose two seminars representing polar groups of employees.

As observer-as-participant, I attended a top management meeting at the end of the first data collection in Gjensidige and observed the respondents during interviews and in more informal meetings, such as lunches. All these observations gave me an opportunity to validate the data from the interviews. Observing the top management group was by far the most interesting and rewarding in terms of input.

Both DnB and Gjensidige started to open up for more extensive observation when I was about to finish the data collection. By then, I had built up the trust needed to undertake this approach. Unfortunately, this came a little late for me to take advantage of it.


Published studies generally describe research sites and data-collection methods, but give little space to discuss the analysis (Eisenhardt 1989). Thus, one cannot follow how a researcher arrives at the final conclusions from a large volume of field notes (Miles and Huberman 1994).

In this study, I went through the stages by which the data were reduced and analyzed. This involved establishing the chronology, coding, writing up the data according to phases and themes, introducing organizational integration into the analysis, comparing the cases, and applying the theory. I will discuss these phases accordingly.

The first step in the analysis was to establish the chronology of the cases. To do this, I used internal and external documents. I wrote the chronologies up and included appendices in the final report.

The next step was to code the data into phases and themes reflecting the contextual factors and features of integration. For the interviews, this implied marking the text with a specific phase and a theme, and grouping the paragraphs on the same theme and phase together. I followed the same procedure in organizing the documents.

I then wrote up the cases using phases and themes to structure them. Before starting to write up the cases, I scanned the information on each theme, built up the facts and filled in with perceptions and reactions that were illustrative and representative of the data.

The documents were primarily useful in establishing the facts, but they also provided me with some perceptions and reactions that were validated in the interviews. The documents used included internal letters and newsletters as well as articles from the press. The interviews were less factual, as intended, and gave me input to assess perceptions and reactions. The limited observation was useful to validate the data from the interviews. The result of this step was two descriptive cases.

To make each case more analytical, I introduced the three dimensions of organizational integration—integration of tasks, unification of power, and cultural integration—into the analysis. This helped to focus the case and to develop a framework that could be used to compare the cases. The cases were thus structured according to phases, organizational integration, and themes reflecting the factors and features in the study.

I took all these steps to become more familiar with each case as an individual entity. According to Eisenhardt (1989:540), this is a process that “allows the unique patterns of each case to emerge before the investigators push to generalise patterns across cases. In addition it gives investigators a rich familiarity with each case which, in turn, accelerates cross-case comparison.”

The comparison between the cases constituted the next step in the analysis. Here, I used the categories from the case chapters, filled in the features and factors, and compared and contrasted the findings. The idea behind cross-case searching tactics is to force investigators to go beyond initial impressions, especially through the use of structural and diverse lenses on the data. These tactics improve the likelihood of accurate and reliable theory, that is, theory with a close fit to the data (Eisenhardt 1989).

As a result, I had a number of overall themes, concepts, and relationships that had emerged from the within-case analysis and cross-case comparisons. The next step was to compare these emergent findings with theory from the organizational field of mergers and acquisitions, as well as other relevant perspectives.

This method of generalization is known as analytical generalization. In this approach, a previously developed theory is used as a template with which to compare the empirical results of the case study (Yin 1989). This comparison of emergent concepts, theory, or hypotheses with the extant literature involves asking what it is similar to, what it contradicts, and why. The key to this process is to consider a broad range of theory (Eisenhardt 1989). On the whole, linking emergent theory to existent literature enhances the internal validity, generalizability, and theoretical level of theory-building from case research.

According to Eisenhardt (1989), examining literature that conflicts with the emergent literature is important for two reasons. First, the chance of neglecting conflicting findings is reduced. Second, “conflicting results forces researchers into a more creative, frame-breaking mode of thinking than they might otherwise be able to achieve” (p. 544). Similarly, Eisenhardt (1989) claims that literature discussing similar findings is important because it ties together underlying similarities in phenomena not normally associated with each other. The result is often a theory with a stronger internal validity, wider generalizability, and a higher conceptual level.

The analytical generalization in the study included exploring and developing the concepts and examining the relationships between the constructs. In carrying out this analytical generalization, I acted on Eisenhardt’s (1989) recommendation to use a broad range of theory. First, I compared and contrasted the findings with the organizational stream on mergers and acquisition literature. Then I discussed other relevant literatures, including strategic change, power and politics, social justice, and social identity theory to explore how these perspectives could contribute to the understanding of the findings. Finally, I discussed the findings that could not be explained either by the merger and acquisition literature or the four theoretical perspectives.

In every scientific study, questions are raised about whether the study is valid and reliable. The issues of validity and reliability in case studies are just as important as for more deductive designs, but the application is fundamentally different.


The problems of validity in qualitative studies are related to the fact that most qualitative researchers work alone in the field, they focus on the findings rather than describe how the results were reached, and they are limited in processing information (Miles and Huberman 1994).

Researchers writing about qualitative methods have questioned whether the same criteria can be used for qualitative and quantitative studies (Kirk & Miller 1986; Sykes 1990; Maxwell 1992). The problem with the validity criteria suggested in qualitative research is that there is little consistency across the articles as each author suggests a new set of criteria.

One approach in examining validity and reliability is to apply the criteria used in quantitative research. Hence, the criteria to be examined here are objectivity/intersubjectivity, construct validity, internal validity, external validity, and reliability.


The basic issue of objectivity can be framed as one of relative neutrality and reasonable freedom from unacknowledged research biases (Miles & Huberman 1994). In a real-time longitudinal study, the researcher is in danger of losing objectivity and of becoming too involved with the organization, the people, and the process. Hence, Leonard-Barton (1990) claims that one may be perceived as, and may even become, an advocate rather than an observer.

According to King (1994), however, qualitative research, in seeking to describe and make sense of the world, does not require researchers to strive for objectivity and distance themselves from research participants. Indeed, to do so would make good qualitative research impossible, as the interviewer’s sensitivity to subjective aspects of his or her relationship with the interviewee is an essential part of the research process (King 1994:31).

This does not imply, however, that the issue of possible research bias can be ignored. It is just as important as in a structured quantitative interview that the findings are not simply the product of the researcher’s prejudices and prior experience. One way to guard against this bias is for the researcher to explicitly recognize his or her presuppositions and to make a conscious effort to set these aside in the analysis (Gummesson 1988). Furthermore, rival conclusions should be considered (Miles & Huberman 1994).

My experience from the first phase of the DnB study was that it was difficult to focus the questions and the analysis of the data when the research questions were too vague and broad. As such, developing a framework before collecting the data for the study was useful in guiding the collection and analysis of data. Nevertheless, it was important to be open-minded and receptive to new and surprising data. In the DnB study, for example, the positive effect of the reorganization process on the integration of cultures came as a complete surprise to me and thus needed further elaboration.

I also consciously searched for negative evidence and problems by interviewing outliers (Miles & Huberman 1994) and asking problem-oriented questions. In Gjensidige, the first interviews with the top management revealed a much more positive perception of the cultural integration process than I had expected. To explore whether this was a result of overreliance on elite informants, I continued posing problem-oriented questions to outliers and people at lower levels in the organization. Moreover, I told them about the DnB study to be explicit about my presuppositions.

Another important issue when assessing objectivity is whether other researchers can trace the interpretations made in the case studies, or what is called intersubjectivity. To deal with this issue, Miles & Huberman (1994) suggest that: (1) the study’s general methods and procedures should be described in detail, (2) one should be able to follow the process of analysis, (3) conclusions should be explicitly linked with exhibits of displayed data, and (4) the data from the study should be made available for reanalysis by others.

In response to these requirements, I described the study’s data collection procedures and processing in detail. Then, the primary data were displayed in the written report in the form of quotations and extracts from documents to support and illustrate the interpretations of the data. Because the study was written up in English, I included the Norwegian text in a separate appendix. Finally, all the primary data from the study were accessible for a small group of distinguished researchers.

Construct Validity

Construct validity refers to whether there is substantial evidence that the theoretical paradigm correctly corresponds to observation (Kirk & Miller 1986). In this form of validity, the issue is the legitimacy of the application of a given concept or theory to established facts.

The strength of qualitative research lies in the flexible and responsive interaction between the interviewer and the respondents (Sykes 1990). Thus, meaning can be probed, topics covered easily from a number of angles, and questions made clear for respondents. This is an advantage for exploring the concepts (construct or theoretical validity) and the relationships between them (internal validity). Similarly, Hakim (1987) says the great strength of qualitative research is the validity of data obtained because individuals are interviewed in sufficient detail for the results to be taken as true, correct, and believable reports of their views and experiences.

Construct validity can be strengthened by applying a longitudinal multicase approach, triangulation, and use of feedback loops. The advantage of applying a longitudinal approach is that one gets the opportunity to test sensitivity of construct measures to the passage of time. Leonard-Barton (1990), for example, found that one of her main constructs, communicability, varied across time and relative to different groups of users. Thus, the longitudinal study aided in defining the construct more precisely. By using more than one case study, one can validate stability of construct across situations (Leonard-Barton 1990). Since my study only consists of two case studies, the opportunity to test stability of constructs across cases is somewhat limited. However, the use of more than one unit of analysis helps to overcome this limitation.

Construct validity is strengthened by the use of multiple sources of evidence to build construct measures, which define the construct and distinguish it from other constructs. These multiple sources of evidence can include multiple viewpoints within and across the data sources. My study responds to these requirements in its sampling of interviewees and uses of multiple data sources.

Use of feedback loops implies returning to interviewees with interpretations and developing theory and actively seeking contradictions in data (Crabtree & Miller 1992; King 1994). In DnB, the written report had to be approved by the bank’s top management after the first data collection. Apart from one minor correction, the bank had no objections to the established facts. In their comments on my analysis, some of the top managers expressed the view that the political process had been overemphasized, and that the CEO’s role in initiating a strategic process was undervalued. Hence, an important objective in the second data collection was to explore these comments further. Moreover, the report was not as positive as the management had hoped for, and negotiations had to be conducted to publish the report. The result of these negotiations was that publication of the report was postponed one-and-a-half years.

The experiences from the first data collection in the DnB had some consequences. I was more cautious and brought up the problems of confidentiality and the need to publish at the outset of the Gjensidige study. Also, I had to struggle to get access to the DnB case for the second data collection and some of the information I asked for was not released. At Gjensidige, I sent a preliminary draft of the case chapter to the corporation’s top management for comments, in addition to having second interviews with a small number of people. Beside testing out the factual description, these sessions gave me the opportunity to test out the theoretical categories established as a result of the within-case analysis.

Internal Validity

Internal validity concerns the validity of the postulated relationships among the concepts. The main problem of internal validity as a criterion in qualitative research is that it is often not open to scrutiny. According to Sykes (1990), the researcher can always provide a plausible account and, with careful editing, may ensure its coherence. Recognition of this problem has led to calls for better documentation of the processes of data collection, the data itself, and the interpretative contribution of the researcher. The discussion of how I met these requirements was outlined in the section on objectivity/subjectivity above.

However, there are some advantages in using qualitative methods, too. First, the flexible and responsive methods of data collection allow cross-checking and amplification of information from individual units as it is generated. Respondents’ opinions and understandings can be thoroughly explored. The internal validity results from strategies that eliminate ambiguity and contradiction, filling in detail and establishing strong connections in data.

Second, the longitudinal study enables one to track cause and effect. Moreover, it can make one aware of intervening variables (Leonard-Barton 1990). Eisenhardt (1989:542) states, “Just as hypothesis testing research an apparent relationship may simply be a spurious correlation or may reflect the impact of some third variable on each of the other two. Therefore, it is important to discover the underlying reasons for why the relationship exists.”


According to Mitchell (1983), case studies are not based on statistical inference. Quite the contrary, the inferring process turns exclusively on the theoretically necessary links among the features in the case study. The validity of the extrapolation depends not on the typicality or representativeness of the case but on the cogency of the theoretical reasoning. Hartley (1994:225) claims, “The detailed knowledge of the organization and especially the knowledge about the processes underlying the behaviour and its context can help to specify the conditions under which behaviour can be expected to occur. In other words, the generalisation is about theoretical propositions not about populations.”

Generalizability is normally based on the assumption that this theory may be useful in making sense of similar persons or situations (Maxwell 1992). One way to increase the generalizability is to apply a multicase approach (Leonard-Barton 1990). The advantage of this approach is that one can replicate the findings from one case study to another. This replication logic is similar to that used on multiple experiments (Yin 1993).

Given the choice of two case studies, the generalizability criterion is not supported in this study. Through the discussion of my choices, I have tried to show that I had to strike a balance between the need for depth and mapping changes over time and the number of cases. In doing so, I deliberately chose to provide a deeper and richer look at each case, allowing the reader to make judgments about the applicability rather than making a case for generalizability.


Reliability focuses on whether the process of the study is consistent and reasonably stable over time and across researchers and methods (Miles & Huberman 1994). In the context of qualitative research, reliability is concerned with two questions (Sykes 1990): Could the same study carried out by two researchers produce the same findings? and Could a study be repeated using the same researcher and respondents to yield the same findings?

The problem of reliability in qualitative research is that differences between replicated studies using different researchers are to be expected. However, while it may not be surprising that different researchers generate different findings and reach different conclusions, controlling for reliability may still be relevant. Kirk and Miller’s (1986:311) definition takes into account the particular relationship between the researcher’s orientation, the generation of data, and its interpretation:

For reliability to be calculated, it is incumbent on the scientific investigator to document his or her procedure. This must be accomplished at such a level of abstraction that the loci of decisions internal to the project are made apparent. The curious public deserves to know how the qualitative researcher prepares him or herself for the endeavour, and how the data is collected and analysed.

The study addresses these requirements by discussing my point of departure regarding experience and framework, the sampling and data collection procedures, and data analysis.

Case studies often lack academic rigor and are, as such, regarded as inferior to more rigorous methods where there are more specific guidelines for collecting and analyzing data. These criticisms stress that there is a need to be very explicit about the choices one makes and the need to justify them.

One reason why case studies are criticized may be that researchers disagree about the definition and the purpose of carrying out case studies. Case studies have been regarded as a design (Cook and Campbell 1979), as a qualitative methodology (Cassell and Symon 1994), as a particular data collection procedure (Andersen 1997), and as a research strategy (Yin 1989). Furthermore, the purpose for carrying out case studies is unclear. Some regard case studies as supplements to more rigorous qualitative studies to be carried out in the early stage of the research process; others claim that it can be used for multiple purposes and as a research strategy in its own right (Gummesson 1988; Yin 1989). Given this unclear status, researchers need to be very clear about their interpretation of the case study and the purpose of carrying out the study.

This article has taken Yin’s (1989) definition of the case study as a research strategy as a starting point and argued that the choice of the case study should be guided by the research question(s). In the illustrative study, I used a case study strategy because of a need to explore sensitive, ill-defined concepts in depth, over time, taking into account the context and history of the mergers and the existing knowledge about the phenomenon. However, the choice of a case study strategy extended rather than limited the number of decisions to be made. In Schramm’s (1971, cited in Yin 1989:22–23) words, “The essence of a case study, the central tendency among all types of case study, is that it tries to illuminate a decision or set of decisions, why they were taken, how they were implemented, and with what result.”

Hence, the purpose of this article has been to illustrate the wide range of decisions that need to be made in the context of a particular case study and to discuss the methodological considerations linked to these decisions. I argue that there is a particular need in case studies to be explicit about the methodological choices one makes and that these choices can be best illustrated through a case study of the case study strategy.

As in all case studies, however, there are limitations to the generalizability of using one particular case study for illustrative purposes. As such, the strength of linking the methodological considerations to a specific context and phenomenon also becomes a weakness. However, I would argue that the questions raised in this article are applicable to many case studies, but that the answers are very likely to vary. The design choices are shown in Table 4 . Hence, researchers choosing a longitudinal, comparative case study need to address the same set of questions with regard to design, data collection procedures, and analysis, but they are likely to come up with other conclusions, given their different research questions.

Adler, P. A., and P. Adler. 1994. Observational techniques. In Handbook of qualitative research, edited by N. K. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln, 377–92. London: Sage.

Andersen, S. S. 1997. Case-studier og generalisering: Forskningsstrategi og design (Case studies and generalization: Research strategy and design). Bergen, Norway: Fagbokforlaget.

Blake, R. R., and J. S. Mounton. 1985. How to achieve integration on the human side of the merger. Organizational Dynamics 13 (3): 41–56.

Bryman, A., and R. G. Burgess. 1999. Qualitative research. London: Sage.

Buono, A. F., and J. L. Bowditch. 1989. The human side of mergers and acquisitions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cartwright, S., and C. L. Cooper. 1993. The psychological impact of mergers and acquisitions on the individual: A study of building society managers. Human Relations 46 (3): 327–47.

Cassell, C., and G. Symon, eds. 1994. Qualitative methods in organizational research: A practical guide. London: Sage.

Cook, T. D., and D. T. Campbell. 1979. Quasi experimentation: Design & analysis issues for field settings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Crabtree, B. F., and W. L. Miller. 1992. Primary care research: A multimethod typology and qualitative road map. In Doing qualitative research: Methods for primary care, edited by B. F. Crabtree and W. L. Miller, 3–28. Vol. 3. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Creswell, J. W. 1998. Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Denzin, N. K., and L. S. Lincoln. 2000. Handbook of qualitative research. London: Sage.

Eisenhardt, K. M. 1989. Building theories from case study research. Academy of Management Review 14 (4): 532–50.

Flick, U. 1998. An introduction to qualitative research. London: Sage.

George, A. L. 1979. Case studies and theory development: The method of structured, focused comparison. In Diplomacy: New approaches in history, theory, and policy, edited by P. G. Lauren, 43–68. New York: Free Press.

Gioia, D. A., and K. Chittipeddi. 1991. Sensemaking and sensegiving in strategic change initiation. Strategic Management Journal 12:433–48.

Glaser, B. G., and A. L. Strauss. 1967. The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine.

Glick, W. H, G. P. Huber, C. C. Miller, D. H. Doty, and K. M. Sutcliffe. 1990. Studying changes in organizational design and effectiveness: Retrospective event histories and periodic assessments. Organization Science 1 (3): 293–312.

Gummesson, E. 1988. Qualitative methods in management research. Lund, Norway: Studentlitteratur, Chartwell-Bratt.

Hakim, C. 1987. Research design. Strategies and choices in the design of social research. Boston: Unwin Hyman.

Hamel, J., S. Dufour, and D. Fortin. 1993. Case study methods. London: Sage.

Hartley, J. F. 1994. Case studies in organizational research. In Qualitative methods in organizational research: A practical guide, edited by C. Cassell and G. Symon, 209–29. London: Sage.

Haspeslaph, P., and D. B. Jemison. 1991. The challenge of renewal through acquisitions. Planning Review 19 (2): 27–32.

King, N. 1994. The qualitative research interview. In Qualitative methods in organizational research: A practical guide, edited by C. Cassell and G. Symon, 14–36. London: Sage.

Kirk, J., and M. L. Miller. 1986. Reliability and validity in qualitative research. Qualitative Research Methods Series 1. London: Sage.

Leonard-Barton, D. 1990.Adual methodology for case studies: Synergistic use of a longitudinal single site with replicated multiple sites. Organization Science 1 (3): 248–66.

Marshall, C., and G. B. Rossman. 1999. Designing qualitative research. London: Sage.

Maxwell, J. A. 1992. Understanding and validity in qualitative research. Harvard Educational Review 62 (3): 279–99.

Miles, M. B., and A. M. Huberman. 1994. Qualitative data analysis. 2d ed. London: Sage.

Mitchell, J. C. 1983. Case and situation analysis. Sociology Review 51 (2): 187–211.

Nachmias, C., and D. Nachmias. 1981. Research methods in the social sciences. London: Edward Arnhold.

Pettigrew, A. M. 1990. Longitudinal field research on change: Theory and practice. Organization Science 1 (3): 267–92.

___. (1992). The character and significance of strategic process research. Strategic Management Journal 13:5–16.

Rossman, G. B., and S. F. Rallis. 1998. Learning in the field: An introduction to qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Schramm, W. 1971. Notes on case studies for instructional media projects. Working paper for Academy of Educational Development, Washington DC.

Schweiger, D. M., and J. P. Walsh. 1990. Mergers and acquisitions: An interdisciplinary view. In Research in personnel and human resource management, edited by G. R. Ferris and K. M. Rowland, 41–107. Greenwich, CT: JAI.

Silverman, D. 2000. Doing qualitative research: A practical handbook. London: Sage.

Stake, R. E. 1995. The art of case study research. London: Sage.

Strauss, A. L., and J. Corbin. 1990. Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Sykes, W. 1990. Validity and reliability in qualitative market research: A review of the literature. Journal of the Market Research Society 32 (3): 289–328.

Waddington, D. 1994. Participant observation. In Qualitative methods in organizational research, edited by C. Cassell and G. Symon, 107–22. London: Sage.

Yin, R. K. 1989. Case study research: Design and methods. Applied Social Research Series, Vol. 5. London: Sage.

___. 1993. Applications of case study research. Applied Social Research Series, Vol. 34. London: Sage.

Christine Benedichte Meyer is an associate professor in the Department of Strategy and Management in the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, Bergen-Sandviken, Norway. Her research interests are mergers and acquisitions, strategic change, and qualitative research. Recent publications include: “Allocation Processes in Mergers and Acquisitions: An Organisational Justice Perspective” (British Journal of Management 2001) and “Motives for Acquisitions in the Norwegian Financial Industry” (CEMS Business Review 1997).

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2022 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this chapter

White, R.E., Cooper, K. (2022). Case Study Research. In: Qualitative Research in the Post-Modern Era. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-85124-8_7

Download citation

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-85124-8_7

Published : 29 September 2022

Publisher Name : Springer, Cham

Print ISBN : 978-3-030-85126-2

Online ISBN : 978-3-030-85124-8

eBook Packages : Education Education (R0)

Share this chapter

Anyone you share the following link with will be able to read this content:

Sorry, a shareable link is not currently available for this article.

Provided by the Springer Nature SharedIt content-sharing initiative

  • Publish with us

Policies and ethics

  • Find a journal
  • Track your research

what is case study qualitative research

9 methodologies for a successful qualitative research assignment

Qualitative research is important in the educational and scientific domains. It enables a deeper understanding of phenomena, experiences, and context. Many researchers employ such research activities in the fields of history, sociology, and anthropology. For such researchers, learning quality analysis insights is crucial. This way, they can perform well throughout their research journey. Writing a qualitative research assignment is one such way to practice qualitative interpretations. When students address various qualitative questions in these projects, they become efficient in conducting these activities at a higher level, such as for a master’s or Ph.D. thesis.

The FormPlus highlights why researchers prefer qualitative research over quantitative research. It is faster, scientific, objective, focused, and acceptable. Researchers who don’t know what to expect from the research outcomes usually choose qualitative research. In this guide, we will discuss the top methodologies that students can employ while writing their qualitative research assignments. This way, you can write an appealing document that perfectly demonstrates your qualitative research skills.

However, being stressed with academic and daily life commitments, if you find it challenging to manage time exclusively for such projects, availing of assignment writing services can make it manageable. Instead of doing anything wrong in the hustle, get it done by the professionals specifically working to handle these academic write-ups. Now, let’s define quality research before we discuss the actual topic.

What is meant by qualitative research?

Quality research is a market research method that gathers data from conversational and open-ended communication. In simple words, it is about what people think and why they think so. It relates to the nature or standard of something rather than dealing with its quantity. Such researchers collect nonnumerical data to understand opinions, concepts, and ideas.

How do you write a qualitative research assignment? Top 9 methodologies

Writing an assignment requires your command of various tasks. Qualitative research assignment design involves research, writing, structuring, and providing citations of the resources used. Assignment writing plays a crucial role in upgrading your grades.

So, you must make it accurate and authentic. Write it with the utmost care without skipping any important aspects. Sometimes, it can be hard, but it becomes easy if you correctly use effective methodologies. This is why we have brought together some of the common methodologies you can use to write your qualitative research assignments.

1. Interviews

A qualitative interview is mostly used in projects that involve market research. In this study personal interaction is required to collect in-depth information of the participants. In qualitative research for assignment, consider the interview as a personal form of research agenda rather than a focused group study. A qualitative interview requires careful planning so that you can gather meaningful data.

Here are the simple steps to consider for its implementation in a qualitative research assignment:

  • Define research objectives.
  • Identify the target population.
  • Obtain informed consent of participants.
  • Make an interview guideline.
  • Select a suitable location.
  • Conduct the interview.
  • Show respect for participant’s perspectives.
  • Analyse the data.

2. Observation

In qualitative observation, the researcher gathers data from five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. It is a subject approach that depends on the sensory organ of the researcher. This method allows you to better understand the culture, process, and people under study. Some of its characteristics to consider for writing a qualitative research assignment include,

  • It is a naturalistic inquiry of the participants in a natural environment.
  • This approach is subjective and depends on the researcher’s observation.
  • It does not seek a definite answer to a query.
  • The researcher can recognise their own biases when compiling findings.

3. Questionnaires

In this type of survey, the researcher asks open-ended questions to participants. This way, they price the long written or typed document. In writing qualitative research assignments, these questions aim to reveal the participants’ narratives and experiences. Once you know what type of information you need, you can start curating your questionnaire form. The questions must be specific and clear enough that the participants can comprehend them.

Below are the main points that must be considered when creating qualitative research questionnaires.

  • Avoid jargon and ambiguity in the questions.
  • Each question should contribute to the research objectives.
  • Use simple language.
  • The questions should be neutral and unbiased.
  • Be precise, as the complex questions can overwhelm the respondents.
  • Always conduct a pilot test.
  • Put yourself in the respondent’s shoes while asking questions.

4. Case Study

A case study is a detailed analysis of a person, place, thing, organisation, or phenomenon. This method is appropriate when you want to gain a contextual, concrete, and in-depth understanding of the real-world problem for writing your qualitative research assignment. This method is especially helpful when you need more time to conduct large-scale research activities.

The four crucial steps below can be followed up with this methodology.

  • Select a case that has the potential to provide new and unexpected insights into the subject.
  • Make a theoretical framework.
  • Collect your data from various primary and secondary resources.
  • Describe and analyse the case to provide a clear picture of the subject.

5. Focus Groups

Focused group research has some interesting properties. In this method, a planned interview is conducted within a small group. For this purpose, some of the participants are sampled from the study population to record data for writing a qualitative research assignment. Typically, a focused group has features like,

  • At least four to ten participants must meet for up to two hours.
  • There must be a facilitator who can guide the discussion by asking open-ended questions.
  • The emphasis must be put on the group discussion rather than the discussion of the group members with the facilitator.
  • The discussion should be recorded and transcribed by the researchers.

6. Ethnographic Research

It is the most in-depth research method that involves studying people in their natural environment. It requires the researcher to adopt the target audience environment. The environment can be anything from an organisation to a city or any remote location.

However, the geographical constraints can be a problem in this study. For students who are writing their qualitative research assignment, some of the features of ethnographic research to write in their document include,

  • The researcher can get a more realistic picture of the study.
  • It uncovers extremely valuable insights.
  • Provides accurate predictions.
  • You can extend the observation to create more in-depth data.
  • You can interact with people within a particular context.

7. Record Keeping

This method is similar to going to the library to collect data from books. You consult various relayed books, note the important points, and take note of the referencing. So, the researcher uses already existing data rather than introducing new things in the field.

Later on, this data can be used to conduct new research. Yet, when faced with the vast resources available in your institution’s library, seeking assistance from UK-based assignment writing services is an excellent solution if you need help pinpointing the most relevant information for your topic. Proficient in data gathering and adept at structuring qualitative research assignments, these professionals can significantly elevate your academic results.

This method is mostly used by companies to understand a group of customers’ behaviour, characteristics, and motivation. It allows respondents to ask in-depth questions about their experience. In a business market, it helps you understand how your customers make decisions. The intent is to understand them at their level and make related changes in your setup. The researcher must ask generic and precise questions that have a clear purpose.

Consider the below examples of qualitative survey questions. It can be useful in recording data and writing qualitative research assignments.

  • Why did you buy this skin care product?
  • What is the overall narrative of this brand?
  • How do you feel after buying this product?
  • What sets this brand apart from others?
  • How will this product fulfil your needs?
  • What are the things that you expect from this brand to grant you?

9. Action Research

This method involves collaboration and empowerment of the participants. It is mostly appropriate for marginalised groups where there is no flexibility.

The primary characteristics of the action research that can be quoted in your qualitative research assignment include,

  • It is action-oriented, and participants are actively involved in the research.
  • There is a collaborative process between participants and researchers.
  • The nature of action research is flexible to the changing situation.

However, the survey also accompanies some of the limitations, including,

  • The researcher can misinterpret the open-ended questions.
  • The data ownership between the researcher and participants needs to be negotiated.
  • The ethical considerations must be kept.
  • It is not considered a scientific method as it is fluid in data collection. Consequently, it may not attract the finding.

What is the difference between quantitative and qualitative research?

Both research types share the common aim of knowledge acquisition. In quantitative research, the use of numbers and objective measures is used. It seeks answers to questions like when and where.

On the other hand, in qualitative research, the researcher is concerned with subjective phenomena. Such data can’t be numerically measured. For example, you might conduct a survey to analyse how different people experience grief.

What are the 4 types of qualitative research?

There are various types of qualitative research. It may include,

● Phenomenological studies:

It examines the human experience via description provided by the people involved. These are the lived experiences of the people. It is usually used in research areas where little knowledge is known.

● Ethnographic studies:

It involves the analysis of data about cultural groups. In such analysis, the researcher mostly lives with different communities and becomes part of their culture to provide solid interpretations.

● Grounded theory studies:

In this qualitative approach, the researcher collects and analyses the data. Later on, a theory is developed that is grounded in the data. It used both inductive and deductive approaches for theory development.

● Historical studies:

It is concerned with the location, identification, evaluation, and synthesis of data from the past. These researchers are not concerned with discovering past events but with relating these events to the present happenings.

The Research Gate provides a flow chart illustrating various qualitative research methods.

What are The 7 characteristics of qualitative research?

The following are some of the distinct features of qualitative research. You can write about them in your qualitative research assignment, as they are collected from reliable sources.

  • It can even capture the changing attitude within the target group.
  • It is beyond the limitations associated with quantitative research
  • It explains something that numbers alone can’t describe.
  • It is a flexible approach to improve the outcomes.
  • A researcher is not supposed to become more speculative about the results.
  • This approach is more targeted.
  • It keeps the cost of data collection down.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of qualitative research?

The pros of qualitative research can’t be denied. However, some cons are also associated with this research.

  • Explore attitudes and behaviours in depth.
  • It encourages discussions for better results.
  • Generate descriptive data that can formulate new theories.
  • The small sample size can be a problem.
  • Bias in the sample collection.
  • Lack of privacy if you are covering a sensitive topic.

Qualitative research assignment examples

The Afe Babalola University ePortal provides an example of a qualitative assignment. Here is the description of quality questions and related answers. You can get an idea about how to handle your quality research assignment project with this sample.

The questions asked in the paper are displayed below.

The Slide Team presents a template for further compressing other details, such as the qualitative research assignment template. You can use it to make your presentation look professional.

Writing a qualitative research assignment is crucial, especially if you want to engage in research activities for your master’s thesis. Most researchers choose this method because of the associated credibility and reliability of the results. In the above guide, we have discussed some of the prominent features of this method. All of the given data can help you in writing your assignments. We have discussed the benefits of each methodology and a brief account of how you can carry it.

However, even after going through this whole guideline, if the concepts of the Qualitative Research methods assignment seem ambiguous and you think you can’t write a good project, then ask professional to “ write my assignment .” These experts can consult the best sources for the data collection of your project. Consequently, they will deliver you the winning document that can stand out among other write-ups.

  • Open access
  • Published: 05 April 2024

One Health communication channels: a qualitative case study of swine influenza in Canada in 2020

  • José Denis-Robichaud 1 , 6 ,
  • Suzanne Hindmarch 2 ,
  • Nancy N. Nswal 1 , 5 ,
  • Jean Claude Mutabazi 3 ,
  • Mireille D’Astous 1 , 5 ,
  • Marcellin Gangbè 3 , 6 ,
  • Andrea Osborn 4 ,
  • Christina Zarowsky 1 , 5 ,
  • Erin E. Rees 1 , 3 , 5 , 6 &
  • Hélène Carabin 1 , 5 , 6  

BMC Public Health volume  24 , Article number:  964 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

Metrics details

With increased attention to the importance of integrating the One Health approach into zoonotic disease surveillance and response, a greater understanding of the mechanisms to support effective communication and information sharing across animal and human health sectors is needed. The objectives of this qualitative case study were to describe the communication channels used between human and animal health stakeholders and to identify the elements that have enabled the integration of the One Health approach.

We combined documentary research with interviews with fifteen stakeholders to map the communication channels used in human and swine influenza surveillance in Alberta, Canada, as well as in the response to a human case of H1N2v in 2020. A thematic analysis of the interviews was also used to identify the barriers and facilitators to communication among stakeholders from the animal and human health sectors.

When a human case of swine influenza emerged, the response led by the provincial Chief Medical Officer of Health involved players at various levels of government and in the human and animal health sectors. The collaboration of public and animal health laboratories and of the swine sector, in addition to the information available through the surveillance systems in place, was swift and effective. Elements identified as enabling smooth communication between the human and animal health systems included preexisting relationships between the various stakeholders, a relationship of trust between them (e.g., the swine sector and their perception of government structures), the presence of stakeholders acting as permanent liaisons between the ministries of health and agriculture, and stakeholders' understanding of the importance of the One Health approach.


Information flows through formal and informal channels and both structural and relational features that can support rapid and effective communication in infectious disease surveillance and outbreak response.

Peer Review reports

Influenza virus surveillance and response to spillover between species are situations that can benefit from a One Health (OH) approach, as they occur at the intersection of animal, human, and ecosystem health sectors [ 1 ]. An improved understanding of intersectoral communication across OH domains is important because many emerging diseases are of animal origin [ 2 ], and many global forces (increased mobility of people, animals, animal products and goods, climate change, agribusiness expansion, deforestation, etc.) are increasingly altering environments to put animals and humans in close contact, facilitating disease spillover in both directions. Identifying formal and informal structures, processes or practices that support OH communication could improve the integration of the OH approach in different systems.

Human infections with swine influenza virus subtypes have been reported in North America [ 3 , 4 ], and these are reportable under the International Health Regulations (IHR), although data suggest that transmission of influenza from humans to pigs is more frequent [ 5 ]. Here, we report a human case of influenza A H1N2v occurring in Alberta in October 2020. It resulted in rapid collaboration and investigation by human and animal health sectors, but there is limited information about how and why effective communication and coordination occurred between and within these sectors during this event. Bridging this gap requires gathering information from multiple points of view, to which qualitative methods are well suited [ 6 ]. Describing the context and narrative of a specific case study enables identification of patterns that can then be validated in other contexts. Our study objectives were to describe the OH communication channels and flow of information among stakeholders involved in human and swine influenza surveillance and response activities in Alberta (Canada) and to identify elements encouraging and inhibiting OH communication, specifically related to information sharing between livestock Footnote 1 and public health professionals. Our research question was therefore to determine what factors impede or support information sharing between sectors during the occurrence of a human case of zoonotic influenza.

To describe the mechanisms and performance of communication channels, we used interpretive process tracing [ 6 , 7 , 8 ]. We started from the detection of the emergence of a human case of influenza A H1N2v in Alberta in October 2020. We then sought to understand the communication channels related to the surveillance of influenza in pigs and humans generally and how these and other channels operated in this specific case. Our research team included animal and public health researchers and government employees, but none were directly involved in case management or regional surveillance systems related to this event. We relied on the experience and knowledge from our collaborator from the Animal Health Science Directorate of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to identify some key stakeholders.

Documentary research and interviews with stakeholders influenced each other in an iterative process. The Canadian Animal Health Surveillance System (CAHSS) was a starting point for documentary research, as it already mapped the surveillance system within multiple animal production industries [ 9 ]. Additionally, we used a report created after the 2009 H1N1 pandemic [ 10 ] and a recent study about laboratory and syndromic surveillance in the swine sector [ 11 ] to create a preliminary outline of Canadian influenza communication channels.

We initially identified ten stakeholders occupying strategic positions in the case study communications channels, representing federal and provincial governments, animal and public health, and Canadian swine health surveillance systems. Additional stakeholders were identified through snowballing and findings from concurrent documentary research [ 12 , 13 ]. Interviewees were invited to participate in a one-hour individual semistructured interview to identify and explore structural links and information channels.

We developed semistructured interview questions during the initial phases of the documentary research and created a general interview guide to identify the case study communication channels and the barriers and facilitators for communication between animal and human health stakeholders (Table  1 ). The guide was tested with a team member involved in animal health surveillance who did not participate in developing the questions. The data from this pilot were kept for the analyses. The research team met throughout the project to discuss and assess the guide and minimize biases [ 14 ]. For example, interviewers adapted the guide to make it relevant to each interviewed stakeholder by choosing questions that aligned with their work and position. Some questions were also rephrased or complemented to fill gaps identified during previous interviews. Changes and additions were reviewed by members of the research team, all of whom assessed the questions from their own disciplinary vantage point to ensure these alterations were consistent with the global objectives of the study and did not reflect the implicit assumptions or biases of any one discipline or sector. While the main interviewer was an animal health specialist, she was joined by at least one other member of the team from another discipline during all interviews. Having one interviewer with deep subject matter expertise ensured continuity and rigour across interviews; having a second research team member from a different disciplinary vantage point served as a check to reduce confirmation bias.

Interviews were conducted in English or French between September and December 2021, and (with permission) audio recorded on Zoom (Zoom Video Communications, Inc.) or Teams (Microsoft corp.). Interviews were transcribed and cleaned and then coded and analyzed in NVivo (Luminvero©). To protect anonymity, all interview quotes in this report are presented in English. Participants did not receive compensation. We contacted 23 stakeholders from the human ( n =13) and animal health ( n =10) sectors, of whom eight (human: n = 6, and animal: n = 2) declined or did not reply to our invitations (nonparticipation proportion = 35%). Fifteen participants from the human ( n = 7) and animal ( n = 8) health sectors were interviewed in November and December 2021. Employees of the federal (Public Health Agency of Canada and CFIA) and provincial (Alberta Health Services and Alberta Ministry of Agriculture) governments, stakeholders from the swine health surveillance system and from academia participated in the interviews (Table  2 ).

Through an interpretive process tracing approach, we explored how actors described their practices, how they perceived their actions, and how information flows [ 8 , 15 ]. We used interview transcripts combined with documentary research to create a map of the communication channels among stakeholders involved in human and swine influenza surveillance in Alberta and in the specific H1N2v zoonotic human influenza case. We then synthesized this information graphically using an online collaborative platform (Miro; RealtimeBoard, Inc.). We identified two distinct categories of communication channels: formal and informal. Formal channels were those that entailed an institutionalized, official structure, often including established written protocols, guidance documents, or terms of reference specifying how actors holding specific positions of authority were to communicate with each other. Informal channels were ad hoc, created by the involved stakeholders to suit a particular situation, and were often dependent on personal relationships between individuals, rather than institutionalized relationships between offices or job functions. We used an iterative thematic analysis [ 16 , 17 ] to identify barriers and facilitators to information sharing in this case. Themes and subthemes summarizing participants’ perspectives were discussed among members of our research team, and representative quotes were selected. We used this information about facilitators and barriers to identify elements that, more broadly, may support or impede information sharing between animal health and human health stakeholders.

While our study focused on a human case of swine influenza, it quickly became clear that the surveillance systems in place prior to the event were important. Surveillance systems have multiple goals. For influenza in Canada, surveillance aims to detect and monitor the viruses, and to inform vaccines and policies [ 18 , 19 ].

Routine communication structures

We describe below the usual communication channels in the swine sector, the human health sector, and across these two sectors.

Routine communication channels for the surveillance of influenza virus infection in the swine sector in Alberta

Figure  1 B shows communication channels as they flow (from left to right) in Alberta. Influenza virus in pigs is provincially notifiable Footnote 2 in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, but it is not federally notifiable. At the regional level, the Canada West Swine Health Intelligence Network (CWSHIN) combines and analyzes the data from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. It includes clinical impression surveys from swine veterinarians, laboratory diagnostic data from provincial and university laboratories (presence of pathogens, or serological or anatomical indicators), and condemnation rates from federally inspected slaughterhouses [ 11 ]. Once analyzed, the information is shared quarterly with veterinarians (reports, as private communications) and producers (reports, as public communications) and, when requested to address animal, human, or ecosystem concerns, with provincial governments (Fig.  1 B). While some analyzed data are publicly available via reports for producers, our participants stated that there are no other direct communication channels between the CWSHIN and public health stakeholders. However, the regional surveillance networks (CWSHIN, Ontario Animal Health Network, and Réseau d’alerte et d’information zoosanitaire) are part of the Canadian Swine Health Intelligence Network (CSHIN) and the CAHSS, which include members from the National and Provincial pork councils, veterinary colleges, diagnostic laboratories, provincial governments, CFIA, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and national and regional veterinary organizations and networks.

figure 1

Structural communication links identified for human ( A ) and swine ( B ) influenza surveillance in Alberta. Information is usually shared from left to right: from laboratories, through the Provincial Surveillance Initiative system, back to the patients and referring physicians, as well as surveillance groups within the provincial government. Some information (anonymized) also flows to the federal government: from veterinarians, laboratories, and abattoirs to Swine Health Intelligence Networks (e.g., CWSHIN and CSHIN) to governments (provincial and federal). There is also publicly available information shared by the Community for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases to various stakeholders (from right to left). Dashed lines: samples; Full lines: data; Dotted lines: results/summaries. Blue: field stakeholders; Yellow: laboratories; Purple: intelligence; Red: government. CAHSS Canadian Animal Health Surveillance System; CEZD Community for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases; CFIA Canadian Food Inspection Agency; CSHIN Canadian Swine Health Intelligence Network; CWSHIN Canada West Swine Health Intelligence Network; GPHIN Global Public Health Intelligence Network; PHAC Public Health Agency of Canada; PSI Provincial Surveillance Initiative

Routine communication channels for the surveillance of influenza virus infection in the human sector in Alberta

In Alberta, laboratory data flow through a single laboratory information system (Provincial Surveillance Initiative; PSI), and information is automatically transmitted to stakeholders (e.g., physicians, patients, and surveillance units within the Ministry of Health; Fig.  1 A) via an online platform. This system allows the linkage of clinical and epidemiological data with laboratory data at the provincial level.

The data about influenza collected by the healthcare system are gathered provincially and then anonymized and shared with FluWatch, a national surveillance program for influenza and influenza-like illnesses (ILI) [ 18 ]. The program monitors, inter alia, health care admission for influenza or ILI, laboratory-confirmed detection, syndromic surveillance, outbreak and severe outcome surveillance, and vaccine coverage; it shares weekly reports online [ 18 ]. At the provincial and federal levels, we were unable to identify other communication channels for providing human influenza surveillance information to animal health stakeholders.

Routine communication channels between the swine and human sectors for the surveillance of influenza in Alberta

Many swine health surveillance stakeholders are members of the Community for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases (CEZD). This multidisciplinary network of public and animal health experts from government, industry and academia was developed to support early warning, preparedness, and response for animal emerging and zoonotic diseases [ 20 ]. Open source signals are extracted automatically via the Knowledge Integration using Web Based Intelligence (KIWI) [ 21 ] and manually by the CEZD core team (CFIA employees). This team assesses signals daily, with rolling support from volunteer members and from expert partners from federal and provincial governments, academia, and industry when needed. Signals are then shared with the CEZD community, including through immediate notifications of important disease events, group notifications and pings, quarterly sector-specific intelligence reports and weekly intelligence reports.

Although CEZD was growing during the 2020-2021 period [ 22 ], membership is voluntary, as it is the case for CAHSS. Moreover, both networks cover multiple species and diseases, which serves to maximize the reach of the communities but can result in an overwhelming amount of information for members whose main interest is in another sector, such as human or ecosystem health. This large amount of information primarily relevant to other sectors can lead members to leave or not join these two networks.

Communication channels between sectors during a human case of swine influenza in Alberta

In all cases where a new influenza subtype, including an animal influenza subtype, is identified from a human case, this must be reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) under the IHR [ 23 ]. In Canada, PHAC is the body responsible for notifying the WHO of such cases. We examined the IHR-reportable case of a human infected with an animal influenza subtype identified in October 2020 in Alberta. The event we examined happened during an exceptional period for ILI as it was less than a year after the WHO declared the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) a global pandemic. At that time, influenza activity remained below average, most ILI symptoms were due to COVID-19 cases, and most public health and human health resources were dedicated to managing the pandemic [ 24 ].

In the case we investigated, the influenza subtype identified through sequencing performed at a provincial laboratory on October 29, 2020 (Fig.  2 ) in the human case was a variant similar to a swine influenza virus (A H1N2v). Samples from the human case were then sent to a reference laboratory, the National Laboratory of Microbiology (NLM) of PHAC, for confirmation. A provincial laboratory stakeholder also contacted a University Animal Health Laboratory colleague and sent the human sample in parallel for sequencing and confirmation that the variant was a swine virus.

figure 2

Timeline and communication links during the human influenza A H1N2v case in Alberta. Dashed lines: samples; Full lines: data; Dotted lines: results/summaries Blue: field stakeholders; Yellow: laboratories; Green: intelligence; Red: government, Purple: international.  CEZD Community for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases; CFIA Canadian Food Inspection Agency; CMOH Chief Medical Officer of Health; CSHIN Canadian Swine Health Intelligence Network; CVO  Chief Veterinary Officer; CWSHIN Canada West Swine Health Intelligence Network; GPHIN Global Public Health Intelligence Network; PHAC Public Health Agency of Canada; PSI Provincial Surveillance Initiative; WHO World Health Organization

Because the human case was IHR reportable and had potential for high visibility, the provincial laboratory immediately contacted the Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH). Provincial and federal government stakeholders (Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, PHAC, CFIA) were called to an evening meeting to raise awareness and ensure that the situation was managed in a way that satisfied provincial, federal and international obligations. This “H1N2v working group” was put in place quickly, apparently following the initiative of the Alberta CMOH (not confirmed as no interview was conducted with the initiators of this working group).

The information PHAC received through formal communication channels (e.g., from the NLM) took longer compared to the original call by the CMOH and the H1N2v working group. For this study, we did not have access to the guidelines in place for such an event, and it is unclear if the other stakeholders (provincial Ministry of Agriculture and CFIA) were officially needed to be involved.

Because swine influenza is endemic in the porcine population and this case was of importance for human health, the provincial public health stakeholders led the initiative, with the support of other stakeholders. The H1N2v working group met at least twice following the initial meeting. Additionally, follow-up data was gathered at the provincial level via multiple channels (public health, animal health, epidemiological, and laboratory investigations), and findings from the various investigations were shared with PHAC daily for a week and then weekly for two additional weeks. Information sharing between provincial and federal public health entities seemed to follow a formal process, but while we had access to the communication template, none of the interviewed participants had information about the structure supporting this initiative.

In the meantime, regional public health partners (within Alberta Health Services) were mandated to conduct the field investigation for the human case and its contacts with humans and pigs, supported by Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and stakeholders from the swine sector (e.g., Alberta Pork). The investigation’s goal was to clarify whether the infection was contracted from animal-to-person (directly or indirectly) or person-to-person. The public health investigation, the available information about swine influenza in the province (obtained from the CSHIN report), and the farm investigation performed in collaboration with an Animal Health Laboratory all provided supporting data.

The human and animal investigation data were collected by multiple stakeholders. The communication of results followed formal structures through Alberta Health (case, laboratory and epidemiological investigation results) and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (farm investigation results) and were ultimately shared with PHAC. Interviewees reported that coordination of the two provincial ministries in this case was facilitated by the public health veterinarian, whose position is shared between the two ministries. Interviewees also said that in the investigation’s early stages, the swine sector’s participation in the farm investigation (an informal channel, via Alberta Pork) facilitated communication between the government and the farm involved. This highlights the importance of strong formal and informal government-industry relationships, which ensured that farmers and stakeholders trusted the system enough to support the investigation.

While the investigation was still ongoing and a clearer picture of the case and its transmission was emerging, a decision was made to make the information public. Our interviews did not identify the process leading to this decision, but six days after the initial notification to the government officials, an Alberta CMOH press release was distributed, with information stating there was limited risk for the general population. This now-public information was then identified by at least two Canadian event-based surveillance (EBS) systems that distributed the information to their communities. One of the EBS interviewees mentioned, however, that they received an email from the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry the night before the press release so they could prepare for it and have a notification ready to be shared. This informal communication channel seemed to arise from a preexisting relationship between stakeholders involved.

Encouraging and inhibiting elements involved in OH communication

The communication channels evident in our case study allowed us to identify elements involved in the information flow between animal and human health stakeholders (Table  3 ). Identifying what information needed to be shared between sectors was influenced by actors’ understanding of the evidence needed to trigger decisions and actions. During the surveillance phase, information was available online from the animal health (CWSHIN, CSHIN, CAHSS, CEZD) and human health (FluWatch, Global Public Health Intelligence Network) sectors. However, it was difficult to quantify how much these sources were used by different stakeholders. We identified little other communication between animal and human health stakeholders during this phase. Stakeholders reported having very limited time and resources to consult and use information from other sectors, suggesting a need for policies and structural integration of OH. For example, having a public health veterinarian appointed at both the provincial agriculture and health ministries was mentioned as a key element facilitating communication and coordination (Quote 1).

Quote 1. “When the pandemic started, we had our public health veterinarian position empty. […] That position is essentially fully dedicated to working between the two ministries [Agriculture and Health]. It [the impact of this vacancy] showed itself in terms of just some gaps for them working on things without consulting us, but then [when] that position was filled and the other relationships were in place, everything just went really smoothly. […] it demonstrated the importance of those relationships and… having a good liaison between the two departments.”

During the outbreak, surveillance, laboratory, and industry information on swine influenza was quickly available to human health stakeholders. Animal health stakeholders, however, noted that the communication was, unfortunately and as in many cases, only one way. Barriers to within- and cross-sector communication included complicated or lacking communication channels. In our case study, there was a formal channel between the provincial and federal government due to the IHR requirements, but this is not the case for non-IHR-reportable zoonotic diseases. Moreover, the CMOH’s phone call to other stakeholders to create the H1N2v working group occurred faster than the formal communication channels.

Established professional connections facilitated information flow between stakeholders who understood each other’s needs and interests. While a lack of formal channels was identified as a pitfall due to potentially missed communication opportunities, many participants mentioned that established, informal relationships and networks facilitated information sharing – both the assessment of how much and what type of information to share and with whom it should be shared. Informal and formal communication channels were also affected by privacy and ethical concerns. Raw data, usually confidential, obtained from either the animal or human health sectors cannot easily be shared, adding to the complexity of formal communication channels. Analyzed or summarized data (i.e., information) were easier for both animal and human health sectors to share in reports or online platforms.

Trust, which can be defined as the perceived benevolence, integrity, competence and predictability of the other [ 25 ], was identified as the foundation for good communication among different stakeholders, whether via formal or informal channels. Here, previous interactions between stakeholders likely served as a basis for trusting that the person receiving the information would be kind, competent, honest, and predictable when using it. From the perspective of animal health stakeholders, however, trust was more difficult: the perceived anthropocentric perspective of health initiatives, including OH initiatives [ 26 ], created fear that shared information might not be reciprocated and would have negative repercussions on animals and producers (Quote 2).

Quote 2. “You need to build trust and it takes a long time […] you need to build that trust with individual livestock sectors, that human health is not going to destroy the sector a . The [animal health] sector is generally very cautious because their perspective is very rarely considered […] if you have a human pathogen […] in livestock and it can potentially transfer to people, all the burden is very often on the livestock. […] Human health has a lot of resources and animal health doesn't, but they get all [the burden]. It's a matter of who [has] the cost and who's benefiting.” a While the stakeholder interviewed did not give additional details, they could have been referring to the case of a herd where an emerging influenza virus (H1N1v) was identified, which resulted in depopulation of the herd [ 4 ]. This was a severe consequence for the farmer, while the source of the virus was determined to be an infected human. They could also have been referring to the possibility of zoonotic events decreasing the marketability of meat because of public perception or export restrictions. This was unfortunately not discussed further in the interview

Interviewees suggested that information sharing requires two main steps: (1) identifying what information must be shared and (2) sharing that information with another sector (Fig.  3 ). Once stakeholders within a sector had information, the first step was identifying what should and can be shared, with whom, and through what channels. This could be facilitated or impeded by actors’ perceptions of other sectors’ needs, the type of information that is available, and the resources available. For sharing information itself, both the presence and type of communication channels were critical for external information sharing with other sectors – but so were trust and the availability of resources. Preexisting relationships among stakeholders also shaped actors’ understanding of each other’s needs, the presence of informal channels, and trust.

figure 3

Elements linking the steps involved between obtaining information and sharing information to another health sector

* The two sectors examined in the present case study are animal health and human health

This case study highlights the complex communication structures for influenza surveillance and response in both human and animal health sectors and the limited links between these sectors. It illustrates the importance of rapid and open communication channels between these sectors in both surveillance and response contexts. While day-to-day surveillance aims to detect and monitor influenza viruses, the detection of a human case harboring an animal subtype resulted in a specific response, which triggered different channels. While information flows through formal and informal channels, trust is a critical component in all types of communication: between animal and human health actors, between government and livestock sectors, and between international, federal, provincial and territorial, and regional jurisdictional levels. Developing and maintaining relationships among stakeholders requires time and resources but is essential for mutual understanding of information needs and rapid communication.

While previous studies found that communication is a key factor for OH initiatives [ 27 , 28 ], we were able to identify processes that were in place when good communication occurred. These findings offer a new perspective that could be useful to many surveillance and response programs. For example, networks and structures are often described for influenza programs, but the communication channels and information flow are not detailed [ 29 , 30 , 31 ]. This is a gap that would be useful to address, especially as we found that while formal structures are necessary, informal structures allow for quicker and more efficient communication and coordination.


While the findings from this study highlight key elements of good One Health communication, the retrospective interpretive process tracing of a case study has certain limitations. First, our study was based on an influenza case, for which there are established surveillance systems and protocols [ 11 , 18 , 23 ]. This likely contributed to the effective response but also influenced our findings. We think this could have hidden or minimized some of the challenges faced by stakeholders regarding OH communication. For example, in the case of a disease that has no formal surveillance system reporting guidelines, challenges might be different. Second, we purposively selected a “success story” to illustrate what happens when OH communication goes well. Due to this retrospective selection of our case study, we suspected that communication and coordination went well prior to starting the project. This could have influenced our findings, and it is possible that we would have had different conclusions if we used a case study for which communication and coordination were suboptimal. To mitigate this, we designed the study with an interpretive approach focusing on the interviewees’ own perspectives, with as little preconceived bias as possible [ 8 ]. Third, the case we chose happened during the COVID-19 pandemic. The high focus on ILI during this period could have strengthened some communication channels. For example, many resources were deployed to manage the pandemic, which may have facilitated communication and integration among sectors. Fourth, this could have also affected the stakeholders who agreed to participate in the interviews, which were conducted at a later stage of the pandemic. Indeed, six human health stakeholders who had key positions in this case declined or did not reply to our invitation, and our findings lack their perspective. It is possible that more communication channels between human and animal health exist, but we were not able to identify them. The barriers and limitations we identified are possibly different for stakeholders in the human health sector; additional research related to the involvement of these actors in OH communication would be beneficial. Fifth, due to the limited resources available for this project, the focus of the case study (swine and public health), and the process we used to identify the stakeholders to interview, we did not identify stakeholders from the environment and wildlife health sector, or from other livestock health sectors (e.g., poultry). This is, in itself, a finding, highlighting the limited communication channels among these stakeholders. It is however unclear if our findings about facilitators and barriers are generalizable to all sectors.

While additional research, including larger comparative studies, is needed, our findings highlight the importance of investing time and resources in supporting relationship building, as well as formal communication mechanisms, among stakeholders in the human, animal, and ecosystem health sectors.

Availability of data and materials

No datasets were generated or analysed during the current study.

While the One Health approach should in principle engage stakeholders from human, environmental, and animal health sectors, the scope of the current study focused on public health and livestock health sectors. Throughout the manuscript, we used public and human health interchangeably, as for animal and livestock health.

Reportable and notifiable diseases must be reported to federal and/or provincial governments. Reportable diseases generally pose significant threats to animal health, public health, or food safety, while notifiable diseases are monitored for trends or changes.


Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Canadian Animal Health Surveillance System

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Chief Medical Officer of Health

Canadian Swine Health Intelligence Network

Canada West Swine Health Intelligence Network

Community for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases

Event-based surveillance

International Health Regulations

Influenza-like illnesses

Knowledge Integration using Web Based Intelligence

National Laboratory of Microbiology

Public Health Agency of Canada

Provincial Surveillance Initiative

World Health Organization

One Health High Level Expert Panel. Tripartite and UNEP support OHHLEP’s definition of “One Health”. 2021 [cited 2022 Feb 8]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news/item/01-12-2021-tripartite-and-unep-support-ohhlep-s-definition-of-one-health .

EFSA and ECDC (European Food Safety Authority and European Centre forDisease Prevention and Control), 2019. The European Union One Health 2018 Zoonoses Report. EFSA J. 2019;17(12):5926, 276. https://doi.org/10.2903/j.efsa.2019.5926 .

CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022. CDC Confirms Another Human Infection with Flu Virus from Pigs. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/swineflu/spotlights/swineflu-infection.htm .Cited 2022 Sep 30.

Howden KJ, Brockhoff EJ, Caya FD, McLeod LJ, Lavoie M, Ing JD, et al. An investigation into human pandemic influenza virus (H1N1) 2009 on an Alberta swine farm. Can Vet J. 2009;50(11):1153–61.

PubMed   PubMed Central   Google Scholar  

Nelson MI, Vincent AL. Reverse zoonosis of influenza to swine: new perspectives on the human-animal interface. Trends Microbiol. 2015;23(3):142–53.

Article   CAS   PubMed   PubMed Central   Google Scholar  

Tenny S, Brannan JM, Brannan GD. Qualitative Study. St. Peterburg, FL, US: StatPearls Publishing; 2022. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470395/ . Cited 28 Apr 2023.

Creswell JW, Poth CN. Qualitative inquiry and research design: choosing among five approaches. SAGE Publications; 2016. p. 489.

Beach D. Process Tracing Methods in the Social Sciences. Oxford: Oxford Research Encyclopedias; 2022. Politics:21.

CAHSS. Canadian Animal Health Surveillance System. 2020 . Available from: https://cahss.ca/ . Cited 2021 Sep 1.

Wisener L. Interviews d’intervenants clés : Les défis et les possibilités en matière de prévention, de dépistage précoce et d’atténuation des grippes zoonotiques aux points de contact entre humains et porcs au Canada. Centre de collaboration nationale des maladies infectieuses; 2014 [cited 2021 Oct 18]. Available from: https://ccnmi.ca/publications/prevention-de-depistage-precoce-et-dattenuation-des-grippes-zoonotiques-aux-points-de-contact-entre-humains-et-porcs-au-canada/ .

Christensen J, Byra C, Keenliside J, Huang Y, Harding JCS, Duizer G, et al. Development and evaluation of a new method to combine clinical impression survey data with existing laboratory data for veterinary syndromic surveillance with the Canada West Swine Health Intelligence Network (CWSHIN). Prev Vet Med. 2021;194:105444.

Corbin J, Strauss A. Basics of Qualitative Research. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications; 2022 [cited 2022 Oct 1]. Available from: https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/basics-of-qualitative-research/book235578 .

Parker C, Scott S, Geddes A. Snowball Sampling. In: Research Design for Qualitative Research [Internet]. London: SAGE Publications Ltd; 2020 [cited 2022 Jan 10]. Available from: https://methods.sagepub.com/foundations/snowball-sampling .

Kohn L, Christiaens W. Les méthodes de recherches qualitatives dans la recherche en soins de santé : apports et croyances. Reflets et perspectives de la vie économique. 2014;LIII(4):67–82.

Article   Google Scholar  

Bennett A, Checkel JT. Process tracing: from metaphor to analytic tool [Internet]. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2015. 342 p. Available from: www.cambridge.org/9781107686373 .

Srivastava P, Hopwood N. A Practical Iterative Framework for Qualitative Data Analysis. Int J Qual Methods. 2009;8(1):76–84.

Nowell LS, Norris JM, White DE, Moules NJ. Thematic Analysis: Striving to Meet the Trustworthiness Criteria. Int J Qualitative Methods. 2017;16(1):1609406917733847.

Public Health Agency of Canada. Overview of influenza monitoring in Canada. 2014 [cited 2021 Nov 24]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/flu-influenza/influenza-surveillance/about-fluwatch.html .

Detmer S, Gramer M, Goyal S, Torremorell M, Torrison J. Diagnostics and Surveillance for Swine Influenza. Swine Influenza. 2012;370:85–112.

Article   PubMed Central   Google Scholar  

CEZD. Community for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases. 2021 [cited 2023 May 30]. Available from: https://cezd.ca .

Mukhi SN. KIWI: A technology for public health event monitoring and early warning signal detection. Online J Public Health Inform. 2016;8(3):e208.

Article   PubMed   PubMed Central   Google Scholar  

Community for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases (CEZD). CEZD Annual Performance Report 2020-2021. 2021 Nov [cited 2023 Aug 1] p. 19. Available from: https://www.cezd.ca/reports/cezd-annual-report-20202021 .

WHO. International Health Regulations (2005) Third Edition. 2016 [cited 2022 Jan 10]. Available from: https://www.who.int/publications-detail-redirect/9789241580496 .

Canada PHA of. FluWatch report: October 25, 2020 to October 31, 2020 (week 44). 2020 [cited 2024 Mar 10]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/fluwatch/2020-2021/week-44-october-25-october-31-2020.html .

Fiske ST, Cuddy AJC, Glick P. Universal dimensions of social cognition: warmth and competence. Trends Cogn Sci. 2007;11(2):77–83.

Article   PubMed   Google Scholar  

Wolf M. Is there really such a thing as “one health”? Thinking about a more than human world from the perspective of cultural anthropology. Soc Sci Med. 2015;129:5–11.

Allen HA. Governance and One Health: Exploring the Impact of Federalism and Bureaucracy on Zoonotic Disease Detection and Reporting. Vet Sci. 2015;2(2):69–83.

Hanin MCE, Queenan K, Savic S, Karimuribo E, Rüegg SR, Häsler B. A One Health Evaluation of the Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance. Front Vet Sci. 2018;5:33.

Rambo-Martin BL, Keller MW, Wilson MM, Nolting JM, Anderson TK, Vincent AL, et al. Influenza A Virus Field Surveillance at a Swine-Human Interface. mSphere. 2020;5(1):e00822. https://doi.org/10.1128/msphere.00822-19 .

Simon G, Larsen LE, Dürrwald R, Foni E, Harder T, Reeth KV, et al. European Surveillance Network for Influenza in Pigs: Surveillance Programs, Diagnostic Tools and Swine Influenza Virus Subtypes Identified in 14 European Countries from 2010 to 2013. PLoS One. 2014;9(12):e115815.

Stöhr K. The WHO Global Influenza Program and Its Animal Influenza Network. Avian Dis. 2003;47(s3):934–8.

Download references


We want to thank the different stakeholders who generously participated to this project.

This project was funded by the Canadian Safety and Security Program from Defence Research and Development Canada, project 'Improving early warning of emerging threats' (CSSP-2020-TI-2469). This work was supported in part by the Canada Research Chair in Epidemiology and One Health (H.C., grant number: CRC 950-231857).

Author information

Authors and affiliations.

Université de Montréal, QC, Montréal, Canada

José Denis-Robichaud, Nancy N. Nswal, Mireille D’Astous, Christina Zarowsky, Erin E. Rees & Hélène Carabin

University of New Brunswick, NB, Fredericton, Canada

Suzanne Hindmarch

Public Health Agency of Canada, QC, Saint-Hyacinthe, Canada

Jean Claude Mutabazi, Marcellin Gangbè & Erin E. Rees

Canadian Food Inspection Agency, BC, Parksville, Canada

Andrea Osborn

Centre de Recherche en Santé Publique, QC, Montréal, Canada

Nancy N. Nswal, Mireille D’Astous, Christina Zarowsky, Erin E. Rees & Hélène Carabin

Groupe de recherche en épidémiologie des zoonoses et santé publique, Saint-Hyacinthe, QC, Canada

José Denis-Robichaud, Marcellin Gangbè, Erin E. Rees & Hélène Carabin

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar


HC, ER, CZ, and SH formulated overarching research goals, supervised the research activity planning and execution, and acquired funding. They managed and coordinated responsibility for the research activity planning and execution with the support of MG. SH and CZ developed the methodology, and all authors contributed to the qualitative analysis processes. The investigation and the formal analyses were done by JDR, MD, JCM, and NNN. JCM and NNN curated the data and JDR created the Tables and Figures. JDR wrote the initial manuscript, and all co-authors revised it.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hélène Carabin .

Ethics declarations

Ethics approval and consent to participate.

Ethics review and approval were obtained from the Université de Montréal (CERSES, protocol code 2021-1152, approved on September 15, 2021) and Public Health Agency of Canada (protocol code REB 2021-047P, approved on February 8, 2022) ethics committees. Written informed consent to participate was obtained from all interviewees.

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Competing interests

The co-author JDR was hired by the Université de Montréal and the Public Health Agency of Canada as an independent research for part of her work in this project. The other authors declare no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s note.

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ . The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/ ) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article.

Denis-Robichaud, J., Hindmarch, S., Nswal, N.N. et al. One Health communication channels: a qualitative case study of swine influenza in Canada in 2020. BMC Public Health 24 , 964 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-024-18460-7

Download citation

Received : 04 December 2023

Accepted : 27 March 2024

Published : 05 April 2024

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-024-18460-7

Share this article

Anyone you share the following link with will be able to read this content:

Sorry, a shareable link is not currently available for this article.

Provided by the Springer Nature SharedIt content-sharing initiative

  • Public health
  • Information dissemination
  • Agriculture
  • Disease outbreak
  • Health services
  • Veterinarians

BMC Public Health

ISSN: 1471-2458

what is case study qualitative research

  • Open access
  • Published: 02 April 2024

Towards universal health coverage in Vietnam: a mixed-method case study of enrolling people with tuberculosis into social health insurance

  • Rachel Forse   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-0716-3342 1 , 2 ,
  • Clara Akie Yoshino 2 ,
  • Thanh Thi Nguyen 1 ,
  • Thi Hoang Yen Phan 3 ,
  • Luan N. Q. Vo 1 , 2 ,
  • Andrew J. Codlin 1 , 2 ,
  • Lan Nguyen 4 ,
  • Chi Hoang 4 ,
  • Lopa Basu 5 ,
  • Minh Pham 5 ,
  • Hoa Binh Nguyen 6 ,
  • Luong Van Dinh 6 ,
  • Maxine Caws 7 , 8 ,
  • Tom Wingfield 2 , 7 ,
  • Knut Lönnroth 2 &
  • Kristi Sidney-Annerstedt 2  

Health Research Policy and Systems volume  22 , Article number:  40 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

37 Accesses

4 Altmetric

Metrics details

Vietnam’s primary mechanism of achieving sustainable funding for universal health coverage (UHC) and financial protection has been through its social health insurance (SHI) scheme. Steady progress towards access has been made and by 2020, over 90% of the population were enrolled in SHI. In 2022, as part of a larger transition towards the increased domestic financing of healthcare, tuberculosis (TB) services were integrated into SHI. This change required people with TB to use SHI for treatment at district-level facilities or to pay out of pocket for services. This study was conducted in preparation for this transition. It aimed to understand more about uninsured people with TB, assess the feasibility of enrolling them into SHI, and identify the barriers they faced in this process.

A mixed-method case study was conducted using a convergent parallel design between November 2018 and January 2022 in ten districts of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Quantitative data were collected through a pilot intervention that aimed to facilitate SHI enrollment for uninsured individuals with TB. Descriptive statistics were calculated. Qualitative interviews were conducted with 34 participants, who were purposively sampled for maximum variation. Qualitative data were analyzed through an inductive approach and themes were identified through framework analysis. Quantitative and qualitative data sources were triangulated.

We attempted to enroll 115 uninsured people with TB into SHI; 76.5% were able to enroll. On average, it took 34.5 days to obtain a SHI card and it cost USD 66 per household. The themes indicated that a lack of knowledge, high costs for annual premiums, and the household-based registration requirement were barriers to SHI enrollment. Participants indicated that alternative enrolment mechanisms and greater procedural flexibility, particularly for undocumented people, is required to achieve full population coverage with SHI in urban centers.


Significant addressable barriers to SHI enrolment for people affected by TB were identified. A quarter of individuals remained unable to enroll after receiving enhanced support due to lack of required documentation. The experience gained during this health financing transition is relevant for other middle-income countries as they address the provision of financial protection for the treatment of infectious diseases.

Peer Review reports

Contributing to universal health coverage (UHC) by improving access to fair and sustainable health financing, of which one mechanism is health insurance, has become a priority among low- and middle-income countries [ 1 , 2 ]. Many countries in the Asia Pacific region have made steady progress towards UHC coverage through sustained political commitments and fiscal policy aligned with their commitment [ 3 ]. By 2020, 27 countries had implemented a social health insurance (SHI) financing mechanism, which typically includes open enrollment for the full population along with partial or full subsidization of healthcare costs for vulnerable groups [ 4 ].

Vietnam’s first SHI scheme was piloted in 1989 and grew through successive pilots and expansions. In 2009 the national-level Health Insurance Law (HIL) went into effect, uniting the existing health insurance programs and schemes for the poor [ 5 ]. Amendments to the HIL effective in 2015 made SHI compulsory for all and pooled risk by re-structuring registration around the household unit [ 4 ]. A household in Vietnam is defined by inclusion in the ‘family book ’, the national system of family and address registration [ 6 ].

Access to SHI in Vietnam increased rapidly, principally through subsidization of premiums. Specific groups were enrolled automatically with full subsidy, including vulnerable populations (e.g., households classified as ‘poor’, children aged < 6, people aged > 80), pensioners and meritorious groups (e.g., veterans). Partial premium subsidization was also available for students, households classified as ‘near-poor’ and some farmers [ 7 ]. More than half of SHI members are entitled to 80% coverage with a 20% co-payment for services [ 8 ]. However, co-payments are reduced to 5% or are eliminated for subsidized groups (e.g., households classified as ‘poor’ and ‘near-poor’, children < 6) [ 4 ].

By 2020, Vietnam recorded a 91% national SHI coverage rate [ 7 ]. Those remaining uninsured mainly consisted of informally employed individuals [ 7 ]. Enrollment rates were highest among low- and high-income groups, leaving the so-called “missing middle” of uninsured [ 5 ].

Vietnam continues to transition to domestic financing of healthcare from donor financing by expanding the breadth of the national SHI. The Ministry of Health and Vietnam Social Security (VSS) have begun to close service gaps and integrate vertical health programs (e.g., those with stand-alone budget allocations and/or direct donor financing) into SHI financing [ 7 ]. The costs for antiretroviral therapy (ART) were transitioned from donor funding to SHI in 2019 [ 9 ], COVID-19 treatments were covered by SHI in 2020, and financing for tuberculosis (TB) care was fully transitioned to SHI in 2022 [ 7 ].

Until this financing transition, anti-TB medications and consultations were provided free of charge in the public sector, funded by a mixture of domestic and international funding [ 10 ]. While first-line TB medications were included in the SHI-reimbursable list of essential medicines, the government network of District TB Units (DTUs) were ineligible for registration with VSS, or reimbursement for services provided. Since July 2022, TB health facilities that met certain conditions could register with VSS and receive reimbursements for TB consultations, diagnostics and anti-TB medications [ 11 ]. The financing for drug-resistant (DR-)TB tests and medications remains largely unchanged, co-financed by the Global Fund and domestic budgets [ 12 ].

This transition of the TB financing model in Vietnam is a large undertaking as the country has the world’s 10th highest TB burden and the SHI benefits package is already considered to be generous, and the sustainability of the SHI fund is a concern [ 4 , 13 ] An estimated 169,000 individuals developed TB in 2021, and the disease killed approximately 14,200 [ 14 ]. A national costing survey of TB-affected households showed that 63% experienced catastrophic costs, spending ≥ 20% of their annual income on TB [ 10 ]. Many face food insecurity and cope with TB-related costs by taking loans, dissavings and informally borrowing money [ 10 , 15 , 16 ].

As Vietnam continues to expand SHI financing for the TB program, it is now vital for people with TB to have SHI. Those without SHI coverage will need to finance their care out of pocket (OOP) or purchase SHI and make co-payments for their care to be subsidized. For these reasons, it is important to understand why certain people with TB are uninsured, the feasibility of enrolling them in insurance when they begin treatment, and the challenges they may face with enrolling in SHI.

We conducted a convergent parallel mixed-method case study [ 17 ]. A case study was selected because it is well-suited to describe a complex issue in a real-life setting [ 18 ]. We used a naturalistic design with theoretical sampling of uninsured persons with TB using an interpretivist approach [ 19 ]. Mixed methods were selected to facilitate comparisons between quantitative and qualitative data and interpretation of the findings. An intervention, assisting TB-affected households to enroll in SHI, was conducted between November 2019 and January 2022, prior to the integration of the TB program into the SHI financing scheme. Quantitative data collection sought to answer questions regarding enrollment success rate, time to enrollment and cost of SHI enrollment for uninsured TB-affected households upon TB treatment initiation. The qualitative data explored barriers to SHI enrollment to explain and contextualize the quantitative findings. The quantitative and qualitative data were weighted equally [ 17 ].

Intervention description

A pilot intervention was conducted to facilitate SHI enrollment for people with TB in ten districts of Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). The standard process for first-time enrollment into SHI was mapped and costed from a household’s perspective (Additional file 1 ). Uninsured individuals were identified from the TB treatment register when they were enrolled in drug-susceptible (DS-)TB treatment at DTUs [ 20 ]. Study staff then attempted to facilitate enrollment of the person with TB and up to three household members into SHI.

SHI enrollment support included home visits by study staff to provide detailed information and counseling about the process of SHI enrollment, assistance with SHI application preparation including obtaining photocopies of all required documents, follow-up to obtain missing documentation within the household, accompaniment to the SHI office for application submission, and direct payment of the annual SHI premium for the household. For people who did not have the paperwork certifying temporary residence in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, staff visited the local government office to obtain the information about the process for individual cases to obtain residency certificates and support participants with navigation of the bureaucracy. TB-affected people and their household members were also provided with a hotline number to call and receive support during working hours from the social workers who were employed by the study. Study staff attempted to facilitate the SHI enrollment process throughout the entire 6-month duration of DS-TB treatment. After a TB treatment outcome was recorded by the DTU, study staff stopped assisting with SHI enrollment and participants were recorded as ‘not enrolled in SHI’ in the study’s evaluation.

Quantitative methods

Case-level TB treatment notification data and SHI status were exported from VITIMES, the government-implemented electronic TB register for Vietnam, for all individuals who started TB treatment during the intervention period. The pilot intervention recruited participants from two TB treatment support projects (Project 1, n  = 59 and Project 2, n  = 56) [ 21 , 22 ] and tracked study forms housed in ONA.io. The sample size was determined by the availability of funding provided by the donor for treatment support service delivery, rather than to measure a specific end point of SHI enrollment. Descriptive statistics summarizing the enrollment cascade and turnaround time of enrollment were calculated using Stata v17 (Stata17 Corp, College Station, USA). To obtain the mean costs for household SHI enrollment, total direct costs for purchasing SHI were summed and divided by the total number of participants. Costs were captured in Vietnamese Dong (VND) and converted to United States Dollars (USD) using the exchange rate from the mid-point of the pilot intervention (1 June 2020) from OANDA.com.

Qualitative methods

Individuals were purposively sampled for maximum variation to ensure representation of all implementation areas and provide gender balance [ 23 ].The concept of information power guided the sample size [ 24 ]. Given the well-defined study aim, high quality in-depth responses from the participants and the authors’ expertise in the subject area, the sample size of 19 individual interviews and three focus group discussions was deemed appropriate. These were conducted in Ha Noi and HCMC. A total of 34 individuals participated in the interviews (Table  1 ).

They included 14 people enrolled in the pilot intervention, five community members who were non-beneficiaries of the treatment support intervention, 13 TB program staff from the national-, provincial- and district-levels and two study staff. Interviews were conducted at two time points: June 2019 and 2020. SHI enrollment barriers were collected as part of a qualitative study on the acceptability of providing cash transfers and SHI enrollment to adults with TB [ 25 ]. During the second round of interviews in 2020, study staff were included due to their in-depth knowledge of the challenges faced by TB-affected households when attempting to enroll in SHI and their ability to suggest programmatic-level solutions to these challenges. These interviews were conducted one-on-one, after the other interviews and focus groups had been conducted to reduce bias. The interviews were conducted at the National Lung Hospital, HCMC Provincial Lung Hospital, study office or DTUs. All interviews were conducted and transcribed in Vietnamese, translated into English, checked and finalized by a lead translator.

The interviews were analyzed through an inductive approach and themes were drawn through a framework analysis [ 26 ] to identify barriers to enrolling in SHI using Dedoose Version 7.0.23 (SocioCultural Research Consultants, Los Angeles, USA).

Data triangulation

Quantitative and qualitative data were collected in parallel. Triangulation of quantitative and qualitative data was conducted to synthesize findings and assess the level of agreement, convergence, and divergence from the findings generated by the different methods [ 17 ].

During the study, 5887 individuals were treated for DS-TB across the 10 intervention districts (Table  2 ). TB registers indicated that 2846 (48.3%) individuals were uninsured upon treatment initiation, or their SHI enrollment status was not recorded. Among 115 uninsured study participants, 88 (76.5%) were successfully enrolled in SHI before the end of their TB treatment. Among those, the household had an average of two members, resulting in a total of 206 individuals living in TB-affected households receiving SHI coverage through the pilot intervention.

The median time between DS-TB treatment initiation and SHI card issuance was 34.5 days (IQR 24–68): 11 days (IQR 5–23) between treatment initiation and pilot enrollment, 7 days (IQR 1–19.5) for SHI application preparation and submission, and 12 days (IQR 9–20) for application processing and SHI card provision.

The qualitative data showed that participants across all participant groups broadly understood that SHI is a system designed to prevent catastrophic OOP medical expenditure. As shown in Table  3 , National and provincial-level TB staff described SHI as a human right and spoke about achieving UHC as a nation; no other participant groups discussed SHI in this way. However, district-level doctors and intervention beneficiaries spoke in greater details about coverage and service gaps, and the practicalities of utilizing SHI. These participant groups expressed that when individuals purchase SHI only after a negative health event, such as a TB diagnosis, then the social safety net is unavailable to provide support until SHI coverage begins. Drawn from these views, the first theme indicated that the optimal time to purchase SHI is prior to a TB diagnosis.

One DTU staff member described how the standard processing time, or delays in processing SHI applications led to periods of high OOP expenditure:

“Unfortunately, claims are not immediately paid upon [SHI registration] submission. They may be handled in about 2 or 3 weeks, or even one month. That is why the insurance is not available at the time that they want to go for an examination and treat their condition using insurance.” (Female, District-level TB staff)

A complementary theme was that perceived lack of knowledge about SHI enrollment procedures prevents or delays enrollment. District-level TB doctors and program staff identified a lack of understanding and knowledge of the SHI enrollment process as a main contributor to lack of insurance or delays in obtaining coverage.

“Actually, for some people [with TB] who do not clearly understand the [enrollment] procedures… it will take a lot of time [to obtain SHI]. It also depends on the staff who handle the files at the commune; some staff are very enthusiastic and they help patients complete forms. There are cases [...] where they [people with TB] are required to fill in all information and write specific codes of each insurance card [from other family members] on a form. Meanwhile some people in their family work far from home and cannot send their insurance cards home in a timely manner.” (Female, program staff)

Participants tended to believe that individuals who lacked information about SHI made up the small minority of uninsured people in Vietnamese society. The above quote illustrated that the complicated administrative process prohibits enrollment; however, a factor potentially facilitating SHI enrollment may be the helpfulness of the person processing the SHI application.

The average cost per household to obtain SHI enrollment for one year (Table  2 ) was VND 1,503,313 (USD 65.52). (For detailed information on the costs of SHI enrollment, see Additional file 1 ). A third theme contextualized this finding and showed that SHI enrollment costs were perceived as prohibitively high for some. Cost was a greater challenge for lower income families, who did not meet the government’s criterion of households classified as ‘poor’ or ‘near-poor’, and were therefore ineligible for premium subsidies and SHI registration with lower co-payment rates. One DTU doctor reported that:

“We think that it is simple to buy health insurance cards, but that is only true for those who have sustainable income - when our income is much higher than the fee for buying health insurance. For some people, buying health insurance is a luxury.” (Male, District-level TB staff)

Twenty-seven people with TB (23.5%) were unable to obtain SHI coverage. The primary reason (70.4%) was missing documentation. In four instances (14.8%) a household member other than the person with TB refused to enroll in SHI. One individual (3.7%) died during the enrollment process. Three individuals (11.1%) did not enroll for other reasons.

SHI refusal by household members was not identified as a barrier to SHI enrollment in the qualitative data. However, a fourth theme confirmed the primary reason for non-enrollment by showing that some individuals do not possess the required documentation to obtain SHI, such as their identity card or ‘family book.’ [See Supplementary File] Even with six months of support from study staff, some TB-affected households were unable to gather the required documents for enrollment. The following quotation by an undocumented, elderly woman with TB illustrates the prolonged challenges she faced with obtaining formal employment, access to government services and SHI:

“I have had problems with my personal papers for a few decades and I cannot adjust my papers because I don’t have the money. […] I searched for my Identity Card and found out that I had lost it. Then I came back there [my hometown] to get the family book, to reissue my ID and to get my CV certified so I could join a company. I was very young at that time, just a little bit more than thirty years old, and I learned that I was cut from the family book.” (Female, pilot beneficiary)

To address challenges with documentation, one DTU officer in HCMC suggested that individuals who had never been insured required a change to the SHI registration requirements to ensure that everyone in Vietnam can access SHI:

“I think we should be flexible with these cases or we can find another way. Normally, the people who really need the support and the insurance or cash support, they are the people who have less information. […] We cannot have the same requirements for these people as for other people. Actually, for those who have [met] all conditions, they already have health insurance cards.” (Male, District-level TB staff)

Participants expressed that the uninsured had often not purchased SHI for a reason, and alternative registration procedures were needed to make SHI accessible for all. A fifth theme was identified indicating that current SHI enrollment procedures may prevent full population coverage.

Beyond the undocumented, some participants reported the enrollment mandate for the entire household (made under the Amendment to the HIL) for first-time enrollees was viewed as prohibitive of SHI coverage.

“Because in the old days, health insurance was sold individually for each person, but now it is sold to households, and many households do not have as good economic [situation]… so they can only afford to buy it for 50% or 60% of the household. Unskilled labor or low-income labor cannot afford to buy it for the whole family. That is to say, it is easier to buy it for each individual and it is difficult to buy for the whole family.” (Male, community member)

Though individual registration would make SHI more accessible to individuals with TB due to lower annual costs, household members with high vulnerability to TB would not be covered if policy promoted individual enrollment solely for TB.

This mixed-methods case study showed that by providing full subsidy and registration assistance, most uninsured people with TB could access SHI. However, the median time to insurance coverage meant that approximately 20% of a person’s DS-TB treatment duration remained uncovered by SHI despite successful enrollment. A substantial number of participants were unable to enroll in SHI and are likely to be perpetually locked out of SHI due to lack of personal documentation. Additional barriers to SHI enrollment were found to be lack of knowledge, the cost of obtaining coverage, and the household-based registration requirement.

The pilot intervention had dedicated staff who facilitated SHI application development and submission, yet it still took a median of 34.5 days for SHI coverage to take effect. In a context where this level of support is not available to all people with TB, it is likely that the turnaround time for SHI coverage is longer due to the complicated bureaucracy involved. This poses a major challenge, as TB-affected households incur the highest cost during the first two months of treatment [ 15 ]. One cost avoidance/mitigation strategy that people with a TB diagnosis may employ following the health financing transition is delaying TB treatment initiation until SHI coverage commences. This will likely lead to worse outcomes and sustained community transmission. The time between diagnosis and treatment should be rigorously monitored to ensure that this coping strategy is not employed, and alternative support should be made available to ensure that people diagnosed with TB are able to receive immediate treatment.

With the TB health financing transition, the uninsured will be asked to pay OOP for TB treatment and most insured individuals must co-pay for TB services which were previously provided free of cost. A national patient cost survey in 2018 found that 63% of TB-affected households experienced catastrophic costs under the previous health financing model [ 10 ]. There is a risk that the proportion of TB-affected households experiencing catastrophic costs could increase with the introduction of fees. This was not found to be the case for people living with HIV (PLHIV) when the costs of ART transitioned to SHI in Vietnam, but a new nationally representative TB costing survey is needed to assess this risk [ 9 ]. Several domestic solutions could ameliorate these challenges. As suggested for the Indian context, domestic revenues allocated by the Ministry of Finance to VSS could be increased to better support TB care [ 27 ]. VSS could also reclassify the category of TB disease and thus ensure that SHI paid for all diagnostics and drugs associated with TB treatment, without the need for a co-payment. A mid-term review of the Global Fund program in Vietnam has also called for a SHI package specifically designed to cover the OOP medical costs of TB care [ 28 ]. There are several potential mechanisms to prevent costs from falling on TB-affected households. A deeper investigation is needed to understand the fiscal space available within the Vietnamese government to cover such costs.

This case study showed that 23.5% of the uninsured people with TB were never able to enroll for the duration of their treatment, primarily due to lack of documentation. Specific provisions need to be made for the undocumented to receive free TB diagnosis, consultations, and medications through routine practice of the TB program. Multi- and bi-lateral funding mechanisms can also play a role in filling gaps by paying for TB tests for the uninsured, purchasing SHI for those diagnosed with TB, subsidizing or reimbursing OOP expenditure in the period before SHI coverage takes effect, and fully financing TB care for the undocumented. Furthermore, longer-term health system strengthening initiatives, such as creating a legal mechanism for the undocumented to obtain SHI, are likely needed to address the challenges faced by the 9% of the general population that remain uninsured. The ILO has called for “determining new strategies, which may include extension of state budget-funded subsidies to further support the participation of workers in the informal economy [ 7 ].” These forms of inclusive initiatives would solve the TB-specific challenges identified in this study and have a large positive impact on society.

We found that addressing the cost of SHI premiums and knowledge gaps in the enrollment procedures may improve SHI coverage. These findings mirror those following the transition of HIV financing to SHI in 2017. A study among PLHIV identified burdensome processes, lack of information about SHI registration procedures, and high SHI premium costs for a household as key barriers to SHI coverage [ 29 ]. However, a cluster randomized control trial which provided education, a 25% premium subsidy, or both to uninsured households found that these interventions had limited effects on SHI enrollment. Yet, “less healthy” individuals had higher SHI enrollment rates [ 30 ]. This suggests that people who have just received a TB diagnosis could be more receptive to interventions promoting SHI enrollment through premium subsidization and education. Vietnam’s National TB Program (NTP) has established a fund to subsidize SHI enrollment costs for TB-affected individuals. The size of the fund could be increased with additional support while access to the fund and the procedures for receiving support could be optimized [ 31 ]. Given the SHI transition, the NTP should also consider providing educational materials about the SHI enrollment process through the DTU network to uninsured persons with TB.

TB registers indicated that 52% of people starting TB treatment in the urban intervention districts had recorded SHI coverage. This rate is lower than other recent SHI coverage reports. A 2018–2022 DS-TB costing survey reported a SHI coverage of 70% [ 32 ], while in a DR-TB costing survey (2020–2022) it was 85% [ 16 ]. All available data sources indicate that SHI coverage among people with TB is lower than the general population, which is indicative of their socioeconomic vulnerability [ 33 ]. However, this large SHI coverage rate discrepancy may be explained by people with TB not revealing they had SHI coverage, or DTU staff could have also inconsistently recorded an individual’s SHI status in the paper TB registers since these data did not have much clinical relevance for TB treatment at the time. Now that DTUs receive financial reimbursements for the TB services from VSS, SHI coverage rates in treatment registers are likely to increase. Further research should be conducted to understand the national SHI coverage rate for people receiving TB treatment, along with the risk factors associated with being uninsured.


This case study was conducted in the two largest cities of Vietnam and findings may not be representative of the entire country. Quantitative data were collected in a programmatic setting, and SHI coverage data for all individuals initiating TB treatment in the intervention areas appear to be underreported for reasons described above. Lastly, we were unable to collect SHI enrollment data from a control population, either prospectively during the pilot intervention or retrospectively during the pilot evaluation. As a result, we do not have information on the enrollment status or time to obtain SHI coverage among a population that did not receive assistance from the pilot intervention. However, given the substantial additional support provided by study staff for the enrollment process, we believe it is safe to assume that if left alone, TB-affected households would be slower in the enrollment process and likely enroll in lower rates.

Vietnam is viewed as a leader among Southeast Asian nations in its commitment and progress towards UHC. This mixed-methods case study illustrated the progress that Vietnam has made in its path to greater domestic financing of healthcare through SHI. This study is one of the first to examine the integration of TB services into SHI in Vietnam and define the challenges that people with TB face while attempting to gain access to financial protection after receiving a TB diagnosis. In order to make strides towards UHC in Vietnam and to close population coverage gaps, initiatives are required to specifically address the barriers faced by the uninsured. This study found that the majority of the uninsured were able to gain access to SHI through full subsidization of premiums, enrollment assistance and education. However, initiating TB care and SHI enrollment concomitantly left a significant portion of the 6-month TB treatment duration without financial protection. Additionally, a quarter of the uninsured with TB were unable to gain access to SHI during treatment, primarily due to a lack of documentation. There is great need for official mechanisms to be in place that enable those without sufficient state documents to access the TB program and to address the time-sensitive nature of providing effective financial protection during treatment of an infectious disease. These findings are relevant for other high TB burden, middle-income countries who are on a similar pathway for transitioning away from donor-financed TB programs to ones supported with a higher proportion of domestic resources.

Availability of data and materials

The quantitative dataset used and analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request. Seven anonymized transcripts of interviews with the people enrolled in the pilot intervention and non-beneficiaries have been uploaded to the following URL: https://doi.org/ https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7736220 .


Anti antiretroviral therapy

Drug resistant tuberculosis

Drug susceptible tuberculosis

District TB Unit

Ho Chi Minh City

Health Insurance Law

Human immunodeficiency virus

International Labour Organization

Interquartile range

National Tuberculosis Program

Out of pocket

People Living with HIV

Social Health Insurance

  • Tuberculosis

Universal Health Coverage

United States Dollar

Vietnamese Dong

Vietnam Social Security

World health statistics 2023: monitoring health for the SDGs, sustainable development goals. https://www.who.int/publications-detail-redirect/9789240074323 . Accessed 31 May 2023.

SDG Target 3.8 | Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all. https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/themes/topics/indicator-groups/indicator-group-details/GHO/sdg-target-3.8-achieve-universal-health-coverage-(uhc)-including-financial-risk-protection . Accessed 29 May 2023.

Hondo D, Kim Y. Achieving universal health coverage in developing Asia and the Pacific. Asian Development Bank Institute; 2023. Report No.: 2023-15 (November). https://doi.org/10.56506/VUWA5043 . Accessed 1 Feb 2024.

Le QN, Blizzard L, Si L, Giang LT, Neil AL. The evolution of social health insurance in Vietnam and its role towards achieving universal health coverage. Health Policy OPEN. 2020;100011. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590229620300095 . Accessed 10 Sep 2023.

Somanathan A, Tandon A, Dao HL, Hurt KL, Fuenzalida-Puelma HL. Moving toward universal coverage of social health insurance in Vietnam: assessments and options. Washington, DC: World Bank; 2014, p. 177. (Directions in Development). https://doi.org/10.1596/978-1-4648-0261-4

Hardy A. Rules and resources: negotiating the household registration system in Vietnam under reform. Sojourn J Soc Issues Southeast Asia. 2001;16(2):187–212.

Article   CAS   Google Scholar  

Bales S, Phe Goursat M, Phuong NK. Extending social health protection in Viet Nam: accelerating progress towards universal health coverage. International Labour Organization; 2021, p. 1–14. (Social Protection in action: building social protection floors for all.). https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/ShowRessource.action;jsessionid=iFmxgS-hSrmJjf_1uG90JAnijskVEc8XJD9-4lubAqbFD4-JPYOm!341651707?id=57668 . Accessed 26 Aug 2022.

Bao Hiem Xa Hoi [Vietnam Social Security]. 2019. Phát triển bền vững BHYT toàn dân [Sustainable development of universal health insurance]. https://baohiemxahoi.gov.vn/congkhai/Pages/so-lieu-thong-ke-nganh.aspx?CateID=130&ItemID=12916 . Accessed 26 Aug 2022.

Vu LTH, Johns B, Bui QTT, Duong Thuy A, Nguyen Thi D, Nguyen Thi H, et al. Moving to social health insurance financing and payment for HIV/AIDS treatment in Vietnam. Health Serves Insights. 2021;14:1178632920988843. https://doi.org/10.1177/1178632920988843 .

Article   Google Scholar  

Nhung NV, Hoa NB, Anh NT, Anh LTN, Siroka A, Lonnroth K, et al. Measuring catastrophic costs due to tuberculosis in Viet Nam. Int J Tuberc Lung Dis. 2018;22(9):983–90.

Article   CAS   PubMed   Google Scholar  

Tran VT. Circular No. 36/2021/TT-BYT dated December 31, 2021 on Medical examination and treatment, and payment for medical examination and treatment costs covered by health insurance relating to tuberculosis examination and treatment. 36/2021/TT-BYT Dec 31, 2021. https://hethongphapluat.com/circular-no-36-2021-tt-byt-dated-december-31-2021-on-medical-examination-and-treatment-and-payment-for-medical-examination-and-treatment-costs-covered-by-health-insurance-relating-to-tuberculosis-examination-and-treatment.html .

The Global Fund. Country Profiles Tuberculosis- 2022- Viet Nam. The Global Fund; 2023. https://data.theglobalfund.org/location/VNM/documents . Accessed 30 May 2023.

Nguyen Thi Thu Cúc. Socialist Republic of Viet Nam: strengthening the policy and institutional framework of social health insurance. Hanoi, Vietnam: Asian Development Bank; 2021, p. 1–27. Report No.: 50139–002. https://www.adb.org/projects/documents/vie-50139-002-tacr-4 . Accessed 26 Aug 2022.

Global tuberculosis report 2022. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2022. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. https://www.who.int/publications-detail-redirect/9789240061729 .

Vo LNQ, Forse RJ, Codlin AJ, Dang HM, Van Truong V, Nguyen LH, et al. Socio-protective effects of active case finding on catastrophic costs from tuberculosis in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam: a longitudinal patient cost survey. BMC Health Serv Res. 2021;21(1):1051. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-021-06984-2 .

Article   PubMed   PubMed Central   Google Scholar  

Pham TAM, Forse R, Codlin AJ, Phan THY, Nguyen TT, Nguyen N, et al. Determinants of catastrophic costs among households affected by multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam: a prospective cohort study. BMC Public Health. 2023;23(1):2372. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-023-17078-5 .

Creswell JW, Clark Plano VL. Designing and conducting mixed methods research. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications; 2017. p. 520.

Google Scholar  

George AL, Bennett A. Case studies and theory development in the social sciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; 2005.

Crowe S, Cresswell K, Robertson A, Huby G, Avery A, Sheikh A. The case study approach. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2011;11(1):100. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2288-11-100 .

Thai LH, Nhat LM, Shah N, Lyss S, Ackers M. Sensitivity, completeness and agreement of the tuberculosis electronic system in Ho Chi Minh City. Viet Nam Public Health Act. 2017;7(4):294–8.

IMPACT TB Overview | IMPACT TB. https://impacttbproject.org/impact-tb-overview/ . Accessed 2 Jun 2023.

Fact Sheet: USAID Erase TB Project 2020. 2020. https://www.usaid.gov/vietnam/documents/fact-sheet-erase-tb-project . Accessed 24 Sep 2024.

Palinkas LA, Horwitz SM, Green CA, Wisdom JP, Duan N, Hoagwood K. Purposeful sampling for qualitative data collection and analysis in mixed method implementation research. Adm Policy Ment Health. 2015;42(5):533–44. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10488-013-0528-y .

Malterud K, Siersma VD, Guassora AD. Sample size in qualitative interview studies: guided by information power. Qual Health Res. 2016;26(13):1753–60. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732315617444 .

Article   PubMed   Google Scholar  

Forse R, Nguyen TT, Dam T, Vo LNQ, Codlin AJ, Caws M, et al. A qualitative assessment on the acceptability of providing cash transfers and social health insurance for tuberculosis-affected families in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. PLOS Glob Public Health. 2023;3(12): e0002439.

Ritchie J, Lewis J, Nicholls CM, Ormston R. Qualitative research practice: a guide for social science students and researchers. Second edn. SAGE Publications Ltd; 2013. p. 456.

Behera DK, Dash U, Sahu SK. Exploring the possible sources of fiscal space for health in India: insights from political regimes. Health Res Policy Syst. 2022;20(1):32. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12961-022-00831-4 .

Draft Report: Key Messages from the TB National Strategic Plan Mid Term Review (MTR) for Vietnam, between 8th to 18th January 2023. Hanoi, Vietnam: Vietnam’s National TB Program; 2023 Jan p. 1.

Matsumoto S, Nguyen HDT, Nguyen DT, Van Tran G, Tanuma J, Mizushima D, et al. The patient voice: a survey of worries and anxieties during health system transition in HIV services in Vietnam. BMC Int Health Hum Rights. 2020;20:1.

Wagstaff A, Nguyen HTH, Dao H, Bales S. Encouraging health insurance for the informal sector: a cluster randomized experiment in Vietnam. Health Econ. 2016;25(6):663–74. https://doi.org/10.1002/hec.3293 .

Hoa NB, Nhung NV. National tuberculosis patients cost survey: research findings lead to change in policy and practice. Viet Nam Public Health Act. 2019;9(2):50–2.

Wiemers A, Sidney-Annerstedt K, Forse R, Phan THY, Codlin A, Vo LNQ, et al. EP-13-729 COVID-19 lockdowns resulting in household income decline for people with TB in Ho Chi Minh City: interrupted time series analysis of household income changes. In: Proceedings of the union world conference on lung health 2022. Virtual event, 8–11 November 2022: the international journal of tuberculosis and lung disease (IJTLD); 2022. p. 191.

Lönnroth K, Jaramillo E, Williams BG, Dye C, Raviglione M. Drivers of tuberculosis epidemics: the role of risk factors and social determinants. Soc Sci Med. 2009;68(12):2240–6.

Download references


The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Hoang Thi My Linh, Chu Thi Hoang Anh, Nguyen Khac Cuong, Nham Thi Yen Ngoc and Tran Thai Hiep for conducting qualitative interviews and assisting with SHI enrollment activities. Special thanks to Dr. Kerri Viney for providing insightful comments on an early draft of this manuscript; they greatly strengthened the final version. This work was graciously supported by the staff of Vietnam’s National TB Program, the Hanoi Lung Hospital, Pham Ngoc Thach Provincial TB Hospital and 10 District TB Units. Lastly, we would like to thank the interview participants who shared their time and insights.

Open access funding provided by Karolinska Institute. The European Commission's Horizon 2020 program supported the provision of SHI and all data collection in 2019 through the IMPACT-TB study under grant agreement number 733174. For the period of 2020–2022, support to implement the pilot and conduct the evaluation was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the USAID under award number 72044020FA00001. TW was supported by grants from: the Wellcome Trust, UK ( Seed Award, grant number 209075/Z/17/Z); the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Wellcome, UK (Joint Global Health Trials, MR/V004832/1); the Medical Research Council (Public Health Intervention Development Award “PHIND”, APP2293); and the Medical Research Foundation (Dorothy Temple Cross International Collaboration Research Grant, MRF-131–0006-RG-KHOS-C0942). KSA was supported by the ASPECT Trial funded the Swedish Research Council (2022-00727). The contents of this study are the responsibility of the listed authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Author information

Authors and affiliations.

Friends for International TB Relief, Hanoi, Vietnam

Rachel Forse, Thanh Thi Nguyen, Luan N. Q. Vo & Andrew J. Codlin

Department of Global Public Health, WHO Collaboration Centre on Tuberculosis and Social Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

Rachel Forse, Clara Akie Yoshino, Luan N. Q. Vo, Andrew J. Codlin, Tom Wingfield, Knut Lönnroth & Kristi Sidney-Annerstedt

Centre for Development of Community Health Initiatives, Hanoi, Vietnam

Thi Hoang Yen Phan

IRD VN, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Lan Nguyen & Chi Hoang

USAID Vietnam, Hanoi, Vietnam

Lopa Basu & Minh Pham

National Lung Hospital, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hoa Binh Nguyen & Luong Van Dinh

Centre for TB Research, Department of Clinical Sciences, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool, UK

Maxine Caws & Tom Wingfield

Birat Nepal Medical Trust, Kathmandu, Nepal

Maxine Caws

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar


This study was conceived of by RF, KSA, TTN, THYP, CAY, AJC, LNQV. The study was administered by RF, YP, TTN, AJC. Support from Vietnam’s National TB program was provided by HBN and LVD. The methodology was developed by RJ, CAY, KV, KL, KSA. The analysis was carried out by RF, CAY, TTN, and THYP. LNQV, AJC, TW, LN, CH, LB, MP, HBN, LVD, MC, KV, KL, and KSA supported the interpretation of findings. The first manuscript was written by RF. All co-authors reviewed and commented on the initial manuscript. The final manuscript was approved and reviewed by all authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rachel Forse .

Ethics declarations

Ethics approval and consent to participate.

All study procedures were conducted in strict adherence to the Declaration of Helsinki. Ethical approvals were granted by the National Lung Hospital Institutional Review Board (114/19/CT-HĐKH-ĐĐ), the Pham Ngoc Thach Hospital Institutional Review Board (1225/PNT-HĐĐĐ) and Ha Noi University of Public Health Institutional Review Board (300/2020/YTCC-HD3). All participants provided written informed consent and individual-level data were pseudonymized prior to analysis.

Consent for publication

Informed written consent was obtained for all individuals who the study attempted to enroll in SHI, as part of the pilot intervention. It was also obtained for all individuals who participated in the qualitative interviews.

Competing interests

Ten of the authors received salary support from one of the funding agencies to implement the pilot interventions and their evaluation. Two of the authors were employed by United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which funded one of the two pilot interventions. They played no role in the design or implementation of the pilot interventions or their evaluation, but during the development of the manuscript, they provided their insights about the context of the results and Vietnam’s health financing transition as experts in the field.

Additional information

Publisher's note.

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary Information

Additional file 1..

Mapping of procedures and costs for first-time enrollment into Vietnam's social health insurance scheme.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ . The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/ ) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article.

Forse, R., Yoshino, C.A., Nguyen, T.T. et al. Towards universal health coverage in Vietnam: a mixed-method case study of enrolling people with tuberculosis into social health insurance. Health Res Policy Sys 22 , 40 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12961-024-01132-8

Download citation

Received : 11 August 2023

Accepted : 13 March 2024

Published : 02 April 2024

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1186/s12961-024-01132-8

Share this article

Anyone you share the following link with will be able to read this content:

Sorry, a shareable link is not currently available for this article.

Provided by the Springer Nature SharedIt content-sharing initiative

  • Social health insurance
  • Universal health coverage
  • Health financing transition
  • Financial protection

Health Research Policy and Systems

ISSN: 1478-4505

  • Submission enquiries: Access here and click Contact Us
  • General enquiries: [email protected]

what is case study qualitative research

Satellite photo showing a container ship entangled with the wreckage of a bridge.

Baltimore bridge collapse: a bridge engineer explains what happened, and what needs to change

what is case study qualitative research

Associate Professor, Civil Engineering, Monash University

Disclosure statement

Colin Caprani receives funding from the Department of Transport (Victoria) and the Level Crossing Removal Project. He is also Chair of the Confidential Reporting Scheme for Safer Structures - Australasia, Chair of the Australian Regional Group of the Institution of Structural Engineers, and Australian National Delegate for the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering.

Monash University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation AU.

View all partners

When the container ship MV Dali, 300 metres long and massing around 100,000 tonnes, lost power and slammed into one of the support piers of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, the bridge collapsed in moments . Six people are presumed dead, several others injured, and the city and region are expecting a months-long logistical nightmare in the absence of a crucial transport link.

It was a shocking event, not only for the public but for bridge engineers like me. We work very hard to ensure bridges are safe, and overall the probability of being injured or worse in a bridge collapse remains even lower than the chance of being struck by lightning.

However, the images from Baltimore are a reminder that safety can’t be taken for granted. We need to remain vigilant.

So why did this bridge collapse? And, just as importantly, how might we make other bridges more safe against such collapse?

A 20th century bridge meets a 21st century ship

The Francis Scott Key Bridge was built through the mid 1970s and opened in 1977. The main structure over the navigation channel is a “continuous truss bridge” in three sections or spans.

The bridge rests on four supports, two of which sit each side of the navigable waterway. It is these two piers that are critical to protect against ship impacts.

And indeed, there were two layers of protection: a so-called “dolphin” structure made from concrete, and a fender. The dolphins are in the water about 100 metres upstream and downstream of the piers. They are intended to be sacrificed in the event of a wayward ship, absorbing its energy and being deformed in the process but keeping the ship from hitting the bridge itself.

Diagram of a bridge

The fender is the last layer of protection. It is a structure made of timber and reinforced concrete placed around the main piers. Again, it is intended to absorb the energy of any impact.

Fenders are not intended to absorb impacts from very large vessels . And so when the MV Dali, weighing more than 100,000 tonnes, made it past the protective dolphins, it was simply far too massive for the fender to withstand.

Read more: I've captained ships into tight ports like Baltimore, and this is how captains like me work with harbor pilots to avoid deadly collisions

Video recordings show a cloud of dust appearing just before the bridge collapsed, which may well have been the fender disintegrating as it was crushed by the ship.

Once the massive ship had made it past both the dolphin and the fender, the pier – one of the bridge’s four main supports – was simply incapable of resisting the impact. Given the size of the vessel and its likely speed of around 8 knots (15 kilometres per hour), the impact force would have been around 20,000 tonnes .

Bridges are getting safer

This was not the first time a ship hit the Francis Scott Bridge. There was another collision in 1980 , damaging a fender badly enough that it had to be replaced.

Around the world, 35 major bridge collapses resulting in fatalities were caused by collisions between 1960 and 2015, according to a 2018 report from the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure. Collisions between ships and bridges in the 1970s and early 1980s led to a significant improvement in the design rules for protecting bridges from impact.

A greenish book cover with the title Ship Collision With Bridges.

Further impacts in the 1970s and early 1980s instigated significant improvements in the design rules for impact.

The International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering’s Ship Collision with Bridges guide, published in 1993, and the American Association of State Highway and Transporation Officials’ Guide Specification and Commentary for Vessel Collision Design of Highway Bridges (1991) changed how bridges were designed.

In Australia, the Australian Standard for Bridge Design (published in 2017) requires designers to think about the biggest vessel likely to come along in the next 100 years, and what would happen if it were heading for any bridge pier at full speed. Designers need to consider the result of both head-on collisions and side-on, glancing blows. As a result, many newer bridges protect their piers with entire human-made islands.

Of course, these improvements came too late to influence the design of the Francis Scott Key Bridge itself.

Lessons from disaster

So what are the lessons apparent at this early stage?

First, it’s clear the protection measures in place for this bridge were not enough to handle this ship impact. Today’s cargo ships are much bigger than those of the 1970s, and it seems likely the Francis Scott Key Bridge was not designed with a collision like this in mind.

So one lesson is that we need to consider how the vessels near our bridges are changing. This means we cannot just accept the structure as it was built, but ensure the protection measures around our bridges are evolving alongside the ships around them.

Photo shows US Coast Guard boat sailing towards a container ship entangled in the wreckage of a large bridge.

Second, and more generally, we must remain vigilant in managing our bridges. I’ve written previously about the current level of safety of Australian bridges, but also about how we can do better.

This tragic event only emphasises the need to spend more on maintaining our ageing infrastructure. This is the only way to ensure it remains safe and functional for the demands we put on it today.

  • Engineering
  • Infrastructure
  • Urban infrastructure
  • container ships
  • Baltimore bridge collapse

what is case study qualitative research

School of Social Sciences – Public Policy and International Relations opportunities

what is case study qualitative research

School of Social Sciences – Human Geography opportunities

what is case study qualitative research

School of Social Sciences – Criminology opportunities

what is case study qualitative research

School of Social Sciences – Academic appointment opportunities

what is case study qualitative research

Audience Development Coordinator (fixed-term maternity cover)

U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The .gov means it’s official. Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.

The site is secure. The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

  • Publications
  • Account settings

Preview improvements coming to the PMC website in October 2024. Learn More or Try it out now .

  • Advanced Search
  • Journal List
  • J Med Libr Assoc
  • v.107(1); 2019 Jan

Distinguishing case study as a research method from case reports as a publication type

The purpose of this editorial is to distinguish between case reports and case studies. In health, case reports are familiar ways of sharing events or efforts of intervening with single patients with previously unreported features. As a qualitative methodology, case study research encompasses a great deal more complexity than a typical case report and often incorporates multiple streams of data combined in creative ways. The depth and richness of case study description helps readers understand the case and whether findings might be applicable beyond that setting.

Single-institution descriptive reports of library activities are often labeled by their authors as “case studies.” By contrast, in health care, single patient retrospective descriptions are published as “case reports.” Both case reports and case studies are valuable to readers and provide a publication opportunity for authors. A previous editorial by Akers and Amos about improving case studies addresses issues that are more common to case reports; for example, not having a review of the literature or being anecdotal, not generalizable, and prone to various types of bias such as positive outcome bias [ 1 ]. However, case study research as a qualitative methodology is pursued for different purposes than generalizability. The authors’ purpose in this editorial is to clearly distinguish between case reports and case studies. We believe that this will assist authors in describing and designating the methodological approach of their publications and help readers appreciate the rigor of well-executed case study research.

Case reports often provide a first exploration of a phenomenon or an opportunity for a first publication by a trainee in the health professions. In health care, case reports are familiar ways of sharing events or efforts of intervening with single patients with previously unreported features. Another type of study categorized as a case report is an “N of 1” study or single-subject clinical trial, which considers an individual patient as the sole unit of observation in a study investigating the efficacy or side effect profiles of different interventions. Entire journals have evolved to publish case reports, which often rely on template structures with limited contextualization or discussion of previous cases. Examples that are indexed in MEDLINE include the American Journal of Case Reports , BMJ Case Reports, Journal of Medical Case Reports, and Journal of Radiology Case Reports . Similar publications appear in veterinary medicine and are indexed in CAB Abstracts, such as Case Reports in Veterinary Medicine and Veterinary Record Case Reports .

As a qualitative methodology, however, case study research encompasses a great deal more complexity than a typical case report and often incorporates multiple streams of data combined in creative ways. Distinctions include the investigator’s definitions and delimitations of the case being studied, the clarity of the role of the investigator, the rigor of gathering and combining evidence about the case, and the contextualization of the findings. Delimitation is a term from qualitative research about setting boundaries to scope the research in a useful way rather than describing the narrow scope as a limitation, as often appears in a discussion section. The depth and richness of description helps readers understand the situation and whether findings from the case are applicable to their settings.


Case study as a qualitative methodology is an exploration of a time- and space-bound phenomenon. As qualitative research, case studies require much more from their authors who are acting as instruments within the inquiry process. In the case study methodology, a variety of methodological approaches may be employed to explain the complexity of the problem being studied [ 2 , 3 ].

Leading authors diverge in their definitions of case study, but a qualitative research text introduces case study as follows:

Case study research is defined as a qualitative approach in which the investigator explores a real-life, contemporary bounded system (a case) or multiple bound systems (cases) over time, through detailed, in-depth data collection involving multiple sources of information, and reports a case description and case themes. The unit of analysis in the case study might be multiple cases (a multisite study) or a single case (a within-site case study). [ 4 ]

Methodologists writing core texts on case study research include Yin [ 5 ], Stake [ 6 ], and Merriam [ 7 ]. The approaches of these three methodologists have been compared by Yazan, who focused on six areas of methodology: epistemology (beliefs about ways of knowing), definition of cases, design of case studies, and gathering, analysis, and validation of data [ 8 ]. For Yin, case study is a method of empirical inquiry appropriate to determining the “how and why” of phenomena and contributes to understanding phenomena in a holistic and real-life context [ 5 ]. Stake defines a case study as a “well-bounded, specific, complex, and functioning thing” [ 6 ], while Merriam views “the case as a thing, a single entity, a unit around which there are boundaries” [ 7 ].

Case studies are ways to explain, describe, or explore phenomena. Comments from a quantitative perspective about case studies lacking rigor and generalizability fail to consider the purpose of the case study and how what is learned from a case study is put into practice. Rigor in case studies comes from the research design and its components, which Yin outlines as (a) the study’s questions, (b) the study’s propositions, (c) the unit of analysis, (d) the logic linking the data to propositions, and (e) the criteria for interpreting the findings [ 5 ]. Case studies should also provide multiple sources of data, a case study database, and a clear chain of evidence among the questions asked, the data collected, and the conclusions drawn [ 5 ].

Sources of evidence for case studies include interviews, documentation, archival records, direct observations, participant-observation, and physical artifacts. One of the most important sources for data in qualitative case study research is the interview [ 2 , 3 ]. In addition to interviews, documents and archival records can be gathered to corroborate and enhance the findings of the study. To understand the phenomenon or the conditions that created it, direct observations can serve as another source of evidence and can be conducted throughout the study. These can include the use of formal and informal protocols as a participant inside the case or an external or passive observer outside of the case [ 5 ]. Lastly, physical artifacts can be observed and collected as a form of evidence. With these multiple potential sources of evidence, the study methodology includes gathering data, sense-making, and triangulating multiple streams of data. Figure 1 shows an example in which data used for the case started with a pilot study to provide additional context to guide more in-depth data collection and analysis with participants.

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is jmla-107-1-f001.jpg

Key sources of data for a sample case study


Case study methodology is evolving and regularly reinterpreted. Comparative or multiple case studies are used as a tool for synthesizing information across time and space to research the impact of policy and practice in various fields of social research [ 9 ]. Because case study research is in-depth and intensive, there have been efforts to simplify the method or select useful components of cases for focused analysis. Micro-case study is a term that is occasionally used to describe research on micro-level cases [ 10 ]. These are cases that occur in a brief time frame, occur in a confined setting, and are simple and straightforward in nature. A micro-level case describes a clear problem of interest. Reporting is very brief and about specific points. The lack of complexity in the case description makes obvious the “lesson” that is inherent in the case; although no definitive “solution” is necessarily forthcoming, making the case useful for discussion. A micro-case write-up can be distinguished from a case report by its focus on briefly reporting specific features of a case or cases to analyze or learn from those features.


Disciplines such as education, psychology, sociology, political science, and social work regularly publish rich case studies that are relevant to particular areas of health librarianship. Case reports and case studies have been defined as publication types or subject terms by several databases that are relevant to librarian authors: MEDLINE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, and ERIC. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts (LISTA) does not have a subject term or publication type related to cases, despite many being included in the database. Whereas “Case Reports” are the main term used by MEDLINE’s Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) and PsycINFO’s thesaurus, CINAHL and ERIC use “Case Studies.”

Case reports in MEDLINE and PsycINFO focus on clinical case documentation. In MeSH, “Case Reports” as a publication type is specific to “clinical presentations that may be followed by evaluative studies that eventually lead to a diagnosis” [ 11 ]. “Case Histories,” “Case Studies,” and “Case Study” are all entry terms mapping to “Case Reports”; however, guidance to indexers suggests that “Case Reports” should not be applied to institutional case reports and refers to the heading “Organizational Case Studies,” which is defined as “descriptions and evaluations of specific health care organizations” [ 12 ].

PsycINFO’s subject term “Case Report” is “used in records discussing issues involved in the process of conducting exploratory studies of single or multiple clinical cases.” The Methodology index offers clinical and non-clinical entries. “Clinical Case Study” is defined as “case reports that include disorder, diagnosis, and clinical treatment for individuals with mental or medical illnesses,” whereas “Non-clinical Case Study” is a “document consisting of non-clinical or organizational case examples of the concepts being researched or studied. The setting is always non-clinical and does not include treatment-related environments” [ 13 ].

Both CINAHL and ERIC acknowledge the depth of analysis in case study methodology. The CINAHL scope note for the thesaurus term “Case Studies” distinguishes between the document and the methodology, though both use the same term: “a review of a particular condition, disease, or administrative problem. Also, a research method that involves an in-depth analysis of an individual, group, institution, or other social unit. For material that contains a case study, search for document type: case study.” The ERIC scope note for the thesaurus term “Case Studies” is simple: “detailed analyses, usually focusing on a particular problem of an individual, group, or organization” [ 14 ].


We call your attention to a few examples published as case studies in health sciences librarianship to consider how their characteristics fit with the preceding definitions of case reports or case study research. All present some characteristics of case study research, but their treatment of the research questions, richness of description, and analytic strategies vary in depth and, therefore, diverge at some level from the qualitative case study research approach. This divergence, particularly in richness of description and analysis, may have been constrained by the publication requirements.

As one example, a case study by Janke and Rush documented a time- and context-bound collaboration involving a librarian and a nursing faculty member [ 15 ]. Three objectives were stated: (1) describing their experience of working together on an interprofessional research team, (2) evaluating the value of the librarian role from librarian and faculty member perspectives, and (3) relating findings to existing literature. Elements that signal the qualitative nature of this case study are that the authors were the research participants and their use of the term “evaluation” is reflection on their experience. This reads like a case study that could have been enriched by including other types of data gathered from others engaging with this team to broaden the understanding of the collaboration.

As another example, the description of the academic context is one of the most salient components of the case study written by Clairoux et al., which had the objectives of (1) describing the library instruction offered and learning assessments used at a single health sciences library and (2) discussing the positive outcomes of instruction in that setting [ 16 ]. The authors focus on sharing what the institution has done more than explaining why this institution is an exemplar to explore a focused question or understand the phenomenon of library instruction. However, like a case study, the analysis brings together several streams of data including course attendance, online material page views, and some discussion of results from surveys. This paper reads somewhat in between an institutional case report and a case study.

The final example is a single author reporting on a personal experience of creating and executing the role of research informationist for a National Institutes of Health (NIH)–funded research team [ 17 ]. There is a thoughtful review of the informationist literature and detailed descriptions of the institutional context and the process of gaining access to and participating in the new role. However, the motivating question in the abstract does not seem to be fully addressed through analysis from either the reflective perspective of the author as the research participant or consideration of other streams of data from those involved in the informationist experience. The publication reads more like a case report about this informationist’s experience than a case study that explores the research informationist experience through the selection of this case.

All of these publications are well written and useful for their intended audiences, but in general, they are much shorter and much less rich in depth than case studies published in social sciences research. It may be that the authors have been constrained by word counts or page limits. For example, the submission category for Case Studies in the Journal of the Medical Library Association (JMLA) limited them to 3,000 words and defined them as “articles describing the process of developing, implementing, and evaluating a new service, program, or initiative, typically in a single institution or through a single collaborative effort” [ 18 ]. This definition’s focus on novelty and description sounds much more like the definition of case report than the in-depth, detailed investigation of a time- and space-bound problem that is often examined through case study research.

Problem-focused or question-driven case study research would benefit from the space provided for Original Investigations that employ any type of quantitative or qualitative method of analysis. One of the best examples in the JMLA of an in-depth multiple case study that was authored by a librarian who published the findings from her doctoral dissertation represented all the elements of a case study. In eight pages, she provided a theoretical basis for the research question, a pilot study, and a multiple case design, including integrated data from interviews and focus groups [ 19 ].

We have distinguished between case reports and case studies primarily to assist librarians who are new to research and critical appraisal of case study methodology to recognize the features that authors use to describe and designate the methodological approaches of their publications. For researchers who are new to case research methodology and are interested in learning more, Hancock and Algozzine provide a guide [ 20 ].

We hope that JMLA readers appreciate the rigor of well-executed case study research. We believe that distinguishing between descriptive case reports and analytic case studies in the journal’s submission categories will allow the depth of case study methodology to increase. We also hope that authors feel encouraged to pursue submitting relevant case studies or case reports for future publication.

Editor’s note: In response to this invited editorial, the Journal of the Medical Library Association will consider manuscripts employing rigorous qualitative case study methodology to be Original Investigations (fewer than 5,000 words), whereas manuscripts describing the process of developing, implementing, and assessing a new service, program, or initiative—typically in a single institution or through a single collaborative effort—will be considered to be Case Reports (formerly known as Case Studies; fewer than 3,000 words).


  1. Qualitative Research: Definition, Types, Methods and Examples

    what is case study qualitative research

  2. PPT

    what is case study qualitative research

  3. case study method of qualitative research

    what is case study qualitative research

  4. why use case study in qualitative research

    what is case study qualitative research

  5. Understanding Qualitative Research: An In-Depth Study Guide

    what is case study qualitative research

  6. 14 Types of Qualitative Research (2024)

    what is case study qualitative research


  1. Case Study

  2. 2023 PhD Research Methods: Qualitative Research and PhD Journey


  4. What is a "Case Study"? Explained!

  5. Difference between Qualitative research and Quantitative research

  6. Qualitative Methods: Case Study and Focus Groups


  1. Case Study

    A case study is a research method that involves an in-depth examination and analysis of a particular phenomenon or case, such as an individual, organization, community, event, or situation. It is a qualitative research approach that aims to provide a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the case being studied.

  2. What Is a Case Study?

    A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research. A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods, but quantitative methods are sometimes also used.

  3. Case Study Methodology of Qualitative Research: Key Attributes and

    A case study is one of the most commonly used methodologies of social research. This article attempts to look into the various dimensions of a case study research strategy, the different epistemological strands which determine the particular case study type and approach adopted in the field, discusses the factors which can enhance the effectiveness of a case study research, and the debate ...

  4. Case Study Method: A Step-by-Step Guide for Business Researchers

    Case study method is the most widely used method in academia for researchers interested in qualitative research (Baskarada, 2014).Research students select the case study as a method without understanding array of factors that can affect the outcome of their research.

  5. Exploring the Power of Case Studies & Research Insights

    Case studies play a significant role in knowledge development across various disciplines. Analysis of cases provides an avenue for researchers to explore phenomena within their context based on the collected data. Analysis of qualitative data from case study research can contribute to knowledge development.

  6. LibGuides: Research Writing and Analysis: Case Study

    A Case study is: An in-depth research design that primarily uses a qualitative methodology but sometimes includes quantitative methodology. Used to examine an identifiable problem confirmed through research. Used to investigate an individual, group of people, organization, or event. Used to mostly answer "how" and "why" questions.

  7. LibGuides: Qualitative study design: Case Studies

    An example of a qualitative case study is a life history which is the story of one specific person. A case study may be done to highlight a specific issue by telling a story of one person or one group. ... Qualitative methods for health research (4th ed.). London: SAGE. University of Missouri-St. Louis. Qualitative Research Designs. Retrieved ...

  8. Case Study

    A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organisation, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research. A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods, but quantitative methods are sometimes also used.

  9. UCSF Guides: Qualitative Research Guide: Case Studies

    According to the book Understanding Case Study Research, case studies are "small scale research with meaning" that generally involve the following: The study of a particular case, or a number of cases. That the case will be complex and bounded. That it will be studied in its context. That the analysis undertaken will seek to be holistic.

  10. What Is Qualitative Research?

    Qualitative research involves collecting and analyzing non-numerical data (e.g., text, video, or audio) to understand concepts, opinions, or experiences. It can be used to gather in-depth insights into a problem or generate new ideas for research. Qualitative research is the opposite of quantitative research, which involves collecting and ...

  11. The case study approach

    A case study is a research approach that is used to generate an in-depth, multi-faceted understanding of a complex issue in its real-life context. It is an established research design that is used extensively in a wide variety of disciplines, particularly in the social sciences. A case study can be defined in a variety of ways (Table 5 ), the ...

  12. 22 Case Study Research: In-Depth Understanding in Context

    Below I identify different ways in which case study is used before focusing on qualitative case study research in particular. However, first I wish to indicate how I came to advocate and practice this form of research. Origins, context, and opportunity often shape the research processes we endorse. It is helpful for the reader, I think, to know ...

  13. (PDF) The case study as a type of qualitative research

    Abstract. This article presents the case study as a type of qualitative research. Its aim is to give a detailed description of a case study - its definition, some classifications, and several ...

  14. Qualitative Study

    Qualitative research is a type of research that explores and provides deeper insights into real-world problems.[1] Instead of collecting numerical data points or intervene or introduce treatments just like in quantitative research, qualitative research helps generate hypotheses as well as further investigate and understand quantitative data. Qualitative research gathers participants ...

  15. Methodology or method? A critical review of qualitative case study

    Case studies are designed to suit the case and research question and published case studies demonstrate wide diversity in study design. There are two popular case study approaches in qualitative research. The first, proposed by Stake ( 1995) and Merriam ( 2009 ), is situated in a social constructivist paradigm, whereas the second, by Yin ( 2012 ...

  16. Qualitative Case Study Methodology: Study Design and Implementation for

    are provided. Key Words: Case Study and Qualitative Methods . Introduction . To graduate students and researchers unfamiliar with case study methodology, there is often misunderstanding about what a case study is and how it, as a form of qualitative research, can inform professional practice or evidence-informed decision

  17. Case Study Methodology of Qualitative Research: Key Attributes and

    1. Case study is a research strategy, and not just a method/technique/process of data collection. 2. A case study involves a detailed study of the concerned unit of analysis within its natural setting. A de-contextualised study has no relevance in a case study research. 3. Since an in-depth study is conducted, a case study research allows the

  18. (PDF) Qualitative Case Study Methodology: Study Design and

    McMaster University, West Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Qualitative case study methodology prov ides tools for researchers to study. complex phenomena within their contexts. When the approach is ...

  19. The case study approach

    A case study is a research approach that is used to generate an in-depth, multi-faceted understanding of a complex issue in its real-life context. It is an established research design that is used extensively in a wide variety of disciplines, particularly in the social sciences. A case study can be defined in a variety of ways (Table.

  20. Case Study Research

    The term "case study" refers to both a specific research design or methodology, and a method of analysis for examining a problem. Mills et al. ( 2010) note that case study, both as a methodology and as a method—unlike many qualitative methodologies—is frequently used to generalize across populations.

  21. 9 methodologies for a successful qualitative research assignment

    Qualitative research is important in the educational and scientific domains. It enables a deeper understanding of phenomena, experiences, and context. ... A case study is a detailed analysis of a ...

  22. What is Qualitative in Qualitative Research

    Qualitative research involves the studied use and collection of a variety of empirical materials - case study, personal experience, introspective, life story, interview, observational, historical, interactional, and visual texts - that describe routine and problematic moments and meanings in individuals' lives.

  23. One Health communication channels: a qualitative case study of swine

    The objectives of this qualitative case study were to describe the communication channels used between human and animal health stakeholders and to identify the elements that have enabled the integration of the One Health approach. We combined documentary research with interviews with fifteen stakeholders to map the communication channels used ...

  24. Towards universal health coverage in Vietnam: a mixed-method case study

    We conducted a convergent parallel mixed-method case study [].A case study was selected because it is well-suited to describe a complex issue in a real-life setting [].We used a naturalistic design with theoretical sampling of uninsured persons with TB using an interpretivist approach [].Mixed methods were selected to facilitate comparisons between quantitative and qualitative data and ...

  25. Planning Qualitative Research: Design and Decision Making for New

    While many books and articles guide various qualitative research methods and analyses, there is currently no concise resource that explains and differentiates among the most common qualitative approaches. We believe novice qualitative researchers, students planning the design of a qualitative study or taking an introductory qualitative research course, and faculty teaching such courses can ...

  26. Baltimore bridge collapse: a bridge engineer explains what happened

    The Francis Scott Key Bridge was built through the mid 1970s and opened in 1977. The main structure over the navigation channel is a "continuous truss bridge" in three sections or spans. The ...

  27. PDF BRCA awareness and testing experience in the UK Jewish population: a

    Background 1 in 40 UK Jewish individuals carry a pathogenic variant in BRCA1/BRCA2 . Traditional testing criteria miss half of carriers, and so population genetic testing is being piloted for Jewish people in England. There has been no qualitative research into the factors influencing BRCA awareness and testing experience in this group. This study aimed to explore these and inform improvements ...

  28. Distinguishing case study as a research method from case reports as a

    Case study research is defined as a qualitative approach in which the investigator explores a real-life, contemporary bounded system (a case) or multiple bound systems (cases) over time, through detailed, in-depth data collection involving multiple sources of information, and reports a case description and case themes.

  29. Unlocking circular economy potential: evaluating production processes

    Further research could explore its applicability in other industries and settings to understand its broader impact.Practical implicationsThe C-VSM tool provides practical benefits to companies seeking to transition from linear to circular production processes. ... the C-VSM tool, the researchers conducted a literature review and a focus group ...

  30. Qualitative Description as an Introductory Method to Qualitative

    QD is a valuable method for master's-level students and research trainees as it provides a practical, accessible, and flexible approach to qualitative research (Bradshaw et al., 2017), fostering the development of important research skills and contributing to the scientific integrity of their work. The disciplines in which QD research fits ...