Thematic Discussion: Case studies are Signposts for Recognition and Encouragement
In development, there is a tendency to seek out and write-up case studies. These show what has, or has not, worked in a specific context. A case study is value-neutral. It can be defined as: An empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used There are different types of case studies found in the literature. On one hand, they are considered useful in research as they enable researchers to examine data at the micro level. As an alternative to quantitative or qualitative research, case studies can be a practical solution when a big sample population is difficult to obtain. On the other, they are also criticised for their inability to generalise their results.
The case study method of research has been criticised for its lack of rigour and the tendency for a researcher to have a biased interpretation of the data. The small sampling call into question reliability and generality. This method is sometimes dismissed as an exploratory tool. However, it remains popular particularly in studies of real-life situations governing social issues and problems. They also widely reported in literature. Case studies continue to be the darling of the development sector to illustrate success.
There appears to be a hierarchy of case studies. These start from examples to avoid, neutral, to those seen as desirable. The value judgements are ascribed for their process, players and outcomes. A document by the Food and Agriculture Organization shared on SuSanA (forum.susana.org/media/kunena/attachment...plateFAOSept2016.pdf) suggests templates for two kinds: good practices and promising practices.
A good practice is one that has been proven to work well and produce good results, and is therefore recommended as a model. It is a successful experience that has been tested and validated, in the broad sense, has been repeated and deserves to be shared, so that a greater number of people can adopt it.
A promising practice has a narrower definition. It is one that has achieved a high degree of success within a single setting, and the possibility of replication in the same setting is guaranteed. It has generated some quantitative data showing positive outcomes over a period of time. A promising practice has the potential to become a good practice over a period of time but does not yet have the research or replication to support wider adoption or upscaling. As such, a promising practice incorporates a process of continuous learning and improvement.
The India Sanitation Coalition is working on assimilating case studies on sanitation. It has developed a process for seeking these from its members, screening them and adding those selected to its database. The purpose, as is evident from the foregoing, is to help others with practical examples.
This discussion on best practices seeks to understand
What is a best practice / case study? Who qualifies that? Can we use an alternate terminology for this kind of research. Girija Bharat, Director, Mu Gamma Consultants Pvt Ltd., is leading this topic. It will be open for your comments for a week, till 26th April
How should these case studies be collected in an efficient way, who should validate, and what are the best possible ways of an extensive disseminated and its use for replication. Aprajita, Singh from PSI will lead this topic. It will be open for comments from 27th April to 4th May
What are the current gaps in the learning for different stakeholders and how can a approach based on with well-documented case studies help in bridging this? How can it help in scaling up pilots, as India has many successful pilots of which only a few ever get replicated and scaled up? What could be the most profiting “produce to use” strategy for case studies? Which kind of knowledge products find utility with different stakeholders? Robin von Kippersluis from World Bank will be the lead. This topic will open on 5th May for a week
I hope you will find time to read and contribute to this discussion. We will use the interim summaries during the upcoming India Sanitation Conclave in New Delhi on 28-29 April.
With warm regards and high expectations.
Defining the Scope of Case Study Research - What is a best practice?
I am Girija Bharat, Director, Mu Gamma Consultants Pvt Ltd. We work in the development sector with focus on Water and Sanitation. We work as knowledge creator, knowledge customizer and knowledge connector, to promote green development. Our goal is to make the environment and society sustainable and in the process we bring to light important cases of sustainable development.
Case study research is an important building block of knowledge management and out endeavor has been to examine individual cases of good practice in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector, validate the cases from various sources by collecting empirical evidence, provide a holistic in-depth investigation in to the case and draw learning lessons. The learning lessons from each case provides interesting insights for scaling up as well as replication in other geographic locations having similar issues.
Case studies are investigations, in that they are based on knowledge and experience and involve the collection and analysis of data. By circumscribing the area of a study to a small number of units, the case study researcher is able to look in-depth at the issues in WASH sector. This findings would also generate insight into how the phenomenon actually occurs within a given situation. In the WASH sector, the sustainability aspect being vital for a case study to have relevance, the case needs to be studied over a period of time, that is, a longitudinal study in order to be insightful.
There are a number of interesting case studies happening on ground. But the field level staff finds it very cumbersome to put it in words and narratives. Hence there is a need to demystify case study research in a way that helps field staff participate, and builds their skills. A case study may or may not be a best practice and this warrants a nuanced discussion on some of the important aspects, such as: What is a best practice / case study? Who qualifies that? Can we use an alternate terminology for this kind of research?
I look forward to an interesting discussion on the above mentioned questions. Three more sets of discussions will follow thereafter. Meanwhile, I would like to share two case study videos which our team at TERI had prepared in association with Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. One of the films is on triggering behaviour change for making ODF communities and the other film is on Solid Waste Management.
Re: Defining the Scope of Case Study Research - What is a best practice?
Thanks Girija for a thought-provoking statement. As you say, case studies are investigations. I've found they bring out both the ordinary, every-day events, as well as capturing the extraordinary. The first kind of case studies that encapsulate the ordinary are most useful. I say this because those are what you find most common and people relate to them closely.
For example, community-led approaches to sanitation are being used in many states. There is a template for this. But what is striking is when events from one village such as the morning follow-up rounds are shared across a block and others take strength from the fact this is the current way of doing things. In other words, even a mundane case study becomes a pointer to what is an acceptable method.
Take another example of digging pits for toilets. Pictures of the process can be case studies that can be shared around to help guide others.
So while they are useful for research case studies are also useful as examples for mass consumption. Hope this helps stir the pot with some ideas.