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Strengths and Weakness of Case Study Method

Strengths and Weakness of the Case Study Method as an Approach to Qualitative Research
Case studies can be briefly defined as a form of qualitative descriptive research that explores individuals, a small group of individuals participating in a project, or a group as a whole. Like traditional research methods, the case study is aimed as collecting data, which can be participants’ information, direct observations, examination of records, tests, interviews, etc. Research is limited to the information available from individuals or a group of individuals participating in a study; therefore the conclusions a drawn solely about participants in a specific context. For these reasons, researchers avoid generalization and discovery of universal cause and effect relationships and focus instead on exploration and description. These characteristics of case study research methodology imply that a series of limitations exists in terms of application of this tool. At the same time, many professionals argue this type of research provides valuable insights and triggers questions for further discussion and research.

One of the most evident advantages of a case study is that it provides a complete set of information about a specific event, situation, or individual explored. Case studies present the interplay of all the variables, which enables researchers to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the issue by means of the process generally referred to as thick description. This means that everything that might influence the outcome is described accurately and thoroughly: the entity being assessed, the related circumstances, characteristics of the individuals involved, and the nature of the external factors including the community in which the event takes place. Unlike generalized statistics-based researches, thick description includes the data of demographic and descriptive nature such as beliefs and social norms, cultural traditions, community values, attitudes, and motivations. Thus, one can find out the answer for such questions as how and why, which can be applicable to a research aimed at discovering trends in the context of contemporary life. While archival researches place an individual in some historical context, case studies have the potential to describe what is going on at the present time. One should notice that this is especially worth attention in business world, where the ability to catch the right trend in time represents a key factor of success.

For example, the case study research was conducted on the basis of IBM Corporation to explore the major tendencies in the IT industry and describe the grounds for high e-business growth in this sector. The information about the participants of the event, location in which it takes place, critical factors and a series of decisions is provided so that researches could answer the question how and why. Initiators of the study explored the structure of business and the functions of each unit, and that served as a key to understanding how e-business can function within a given organization and improve the profitability of a given company in particular conditions. Such research is particularly valuable in terms that it explores the real life situation at the present moment.

In addition, often researchers apply case study method when they have little control over an event, situation, or process, which is distinct feature of modern business environment featuring intense competition and a variety of factors influencing the result. While statistical data can be considered to be accurate and unbiased, it is often too abstract for a manager to apply in practice as the figures are not specific. Case studies, on the contrary, emphasize specific context and separate people and groups of individuals and their “thick description”, which imparts to the research a more human face and eliminates the gap between real life practice and conceptual data. The majority of theories and assumptions were obtained by means of case study researches. For instance, such models as BCG (Boston Consulting Group) and GE (General Electric) matrixes or Mc Kinsey models of company management were developed on the basis of case study researches in the process of analysis of particular companies. Professionals were able to outline a series of factors and variables of internal and external environment that influenced the performance of companies either positively or negatively depending on the circumstances. The study, thus, is conducted with the purpose of discovering new variables and issues to explore in a series of further researches.

Another advantage of case study methodology is defined by the flexibility it provides to researches. Starting from just an exploration, they can have no specific objectives and results to obtain at the end, and, thus, are free to discover and further explore the issues that are raised in the course of study. Case study tool allows to start with objectives of broad scope and gradually narrow the focus as the research progresses. Thus, unlike traditional statistical research methods which are applied for finding solutions where routine and homogeneous behavior is observed, case study methods serves as an excellent platform for creativity and innovativeness. For illustration, the majority of literature on company and brand management consists of numerous case studies that describe particular company in a specific context.

Starting with analysis of management team, corporate mission and culture, profitability, shareholders, internal and external factors, researches eventually conclude why and how the company had achieved success of failed and what can be the future projections. For instance, analyzing the sales and volume and management’s decisions of the Mattel Inc., one can figure out that the ethical principles of the company’s CEO contributed to the sustainability of profits and public image of the company. Some managers can find themselves in a similar kind of business and circumstances, which might help make the right decisions.

Some professionals, on the other hand, hold an opposite view of case study research method. They argue that this type of research is biased, pseudo-scientific, and contains too much of unnecessary information. Opponents argue that the implementation, presentation, and assessment of a case study research are subjective and, therefore, can not be relied upon. While traditional methods allow making assumptions and drawing universal solutions, case studies can not be generalized and held valid because of difficulty with testing the results. In other words, one can extrapolate the results obtain and apply them as a problem solving tool. The difficulty is that the data gathered and analyzed can not be accepted as the ultimate truth because there is always a chance that the results obtained were just a circumstance.

Especially, the issues of credibility often arise when ethical considerations are highlighted. Many argued that, for example, corporations that are interested in the best possible representation finance educational case studies to pursue their own goals. In the course of study they might have either direct or indirect influence on those who are studied and those responsible for exploration, description, and presentation of results. It is reasonable that a case study might be as PR tactics within the realm of the company’s strategy, or a way to fight competition. For instance, considerable attention was recently paid to unethical behavior of Nestle in the countries of the third world and unlawful promotional actions of substitutes for breast milk and baby food. At the first glance, these facts create a negative perception of Nestle’s. However, one can suggest that these case studies might be a product of Nestle’s competitors’ efforts. Thus, many doubt that case study researchers really deserve credibility.

The next weakness of case study methodology lies in high costs and the value of information to be gathered. The thick description implies that am in-depth research is made on each subject of the study, even including educational and emotional background, which is considered unnecessary and inefficient by many specialists. This makes cases studies unreasonable when it comes about large-scale projects where significant number of subjects is projected to participate. What is more, many would agree that sometimes it is much more efficient to explore more subjects having gathered less information than to describe a small number of participants with extensive and unnecessary information. Therefore, the large amount of investment required in a project often makes it unreasonable to conduct a case study research.

Thus, one can observe that case studies as a method of qualitative research has both strength and weaknesses. The advocates of this methodology emphasize that case studies allow for increased flexibility and real life focus. Unlike statistical data, case studies foster creativity and innovation and leaves space for new ideas, approaches, and conclusions; any case study most often aimed at answering the question how and why rather than what, where, and how many. At the same time, they have no use when strict and accurate information needs to be gathered as the data obtained by means of this method is often criticized for being biased and unreliable. First of all this concerns ethical considerations because many think that corporations sponsor case studies that aim to achieve good public image instead of presenting objective information. What is more, large projects require significant funds to finance thick description for each subject, which, as many researchers think, is unreasonable and, thus, unnecessary. However, many agree that each case study and traditional research methods deserve attention because they serve different purposes.

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