Basics of Developing Case Studies

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

(NOTE: Much of the information herein was gathered from Michael Patton's book, "Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods.")

Sections of This Topic Include

Uses of Case Studies
Developing a Case Study
General Resources
Sample Case Study Reports

General Information and Resources
Ethics and Conducting Research

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Also See the Library's Blogs Related to Developing Case Studies

In addition to the articles on this current page, see the following blogs which have posts related to Case Studies. Scan down the blog's page to see various posts. Also see the section "Recent Blog Posts" in the sidebar of the blog or click on "next" near the bottom of a post in the blog.

Library's Business Planning Blog
Library's Building a Business Blog
Library's Strategic Planning Blog


Uses of Case Studies

Case studies are particularly useful in depicting a holistic portrayal of a client's experiences and results regarding a program. For example, to evaluate the effectiveness of a program's processes, including its strengths and weaknesses, evaluators might develop cases studies on the program's successes and failures. Case studies are used to organize a wide range of information about a case and then analyze the contents by seeking patterns and themes in the data, and by further analysis through cross comparison with other cases. A case can be individuals, programs, or any unit, depending on what the program evaluators want to examine through in-depth analysis and comparison.

Developing a Case Study

1. All data about the case is gathered.
For example, if the study is to highlight a program's failure with a client, data would be collected about the program, its processes and the client. Data could result from a combination of methods, including documentation (applications, histories, records, etc.), questionnaires, interviews and observation.
2. Data is organized into an approach to highlight the focus of the study.
In our example, data in the case would be organized in a chronological order to portray how the client got into the program, went through the program and did not receive effective services.
3. A case study narrative is developed.
The narrative is a highly readable story that integrates and summarizes key information around the focus of the case study. The narrative should be complete to the extent that it is the eyes and ears for an outside reader to understand what happened regarding the case. In our example, the narrative might include key demographic information about the client, phases in the program's process through which the client passed and any major differences noticed about that client during the process, early indicators of failures and key quotes from the client.
4. The narrative might be validated by review from program participants.
For example, the client for whom the program failed, would read the narrative to ensure it fully depicted his or her experience and results.
5. Case studies might be cross-compared to isolate any themes or patterns.
For example, various case studies about program failures might be compared to notice commonalities in these clients' experiences and how they went through the program. These commonalities might highlight where in the program the process needs to be strengthened.

General Information

Case Study -- Wikipedia
great how-to's on case studies
Case Study Tips
Introduction to Case Study

Sample Case Study Reports

sample case study from the Leaders Circles program
Don Clark provides several case studies (scroll down the page to find case studies)


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For the Category of Evaluations (Many Kinds):

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Also, scan the Recommended Books listed below. They have been selected for their relevance and highly practical nature.

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Evaluation (General)

The following books are recommended because of their highly practical nature and often because they include a wide range of information about this Library topic. To get more information about each book, just click on the image of the book. Also, a "bubble" of information might be displayed. You can click on the title of the book in that bubble to get more information, too.

Program Evaluation

The following books are recommended because of their highly practical nature and often because they include a wide range of information about this Library topic. To get more information about each book, just click on the image of the book. Also, a "bubble" of information might be displayed. You can click on the title of the book in that bubble to get more information, too.

Nonprofit Program Design, Marketing and Evaluation - Book Cover Field Guide to Nonprofit Program Design, Marketing and Evaluation
by Carter McNamara, published by Authenticity Consulting, LLC. There are few books, if any, that explain how to carefully plan, organize, develop and evaluate a nonprofit program. Also, too many books completely separate the highly integrated activities of planning, marketing and evaluating programs. This book integrates all three into a comprehensive, straightforward approach that anyone can follow in order to provide high-quality programs with strong appeal to funders. Includes many online forms that can be downloaded. Many materials in this Library topic are adapted from this book.

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