When Is a Case Study Appropriate?
Case Study Pro's and Con's
Case studies are about developing an in-depth understanding of a particular case (e.g., IPM program), within its social context: describing and understanding how its diverse elements and players interact and how different elements affect and contribute to the outcomes achieved.
The case study approach can be useful for:
- Studying program processes within their natural context
- Identifying linkages between program implementation and outcomes
- Providing insights into the effectiveness of particular program components
- Documenting individualized outcomes for program participants, including unintended outcomes
- Telling “the story behind the numbers” by adding real life description and examples of a program in action
- Informing and improving program design
- Generating ideas or hypotheses for further study (often called “exploratory case study”)
The case study approach has disadvantages in that:
- Are not appropriate if the goal is to generalize beyond a single or small group of specific cases examined.
- Can be a costly and time consuming method for program evaluation.
- Will not generate simple quantitative data for your program.
- Using multiple methods make case studies more time consuming and complex than single method studies.
- Takes longer to analyze qualitative data than quantitative data.
The focus on the particular in case studies represents, at the same time, the main strengths and the limitations of this method. The case study has been criticized for relying too heavily on anecdotal success stories and for a general lack of rigorous methodology, and because it provides “little basis for scientific generalization” (Yin, 1994, p. 10). The first of these criticisms has led to the development of more standardized and rigorous methods for developing case studies, both for research and program evaluation purposes (see references).