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About this book

This compact reference guide gives students the skills and confidence to succeed in case study assignments. It takes students step-by-step through the process, from reading and understanding the brief through to critically evaluating the case, applying theory and presenting the assignment. Featuring sample assignments from a wide range of disciplines, it provides guidance on identifying the most important facts in a case, what to do when there’s information missing and how to decide which theories and concepts to apply to a case.

It is an invaluable resource for students of all disciplines and levels.

Table of Contents

1. What is a case study?

Abstract
You may have seen cases used as examples in textbooks. The cases are descriptions of real-life situations or events and they’re included to help students understand theoretical principles by seeing them applied in real-life situations. You’ll find that tutors are using cases more and more in their teaching, not only as examples, but as the basis for classroom activities and assignments. The tutor provides a case that mimics a real situation you might encounter in the workplace and you apply what you’ve learned in the course to study (analyze) the situation.
Vanessa van der Ham

2. What will my assignment involve?

Abstract
Case studies basically follow a problem-solving loop. Depending on your assignment brief, yours may include some or all of these steps. In order to do this you’re going to be examining the case (people, conversations, facts, figures, events) in the light of what you’re learning in your course. You’ll be using the coursework as a critical lens to provide insights into the problem in the case and what can be done about it.
Vanessa van der Ham

3. Reading the assignment brief

Abstract
Case study assignments usually have some kind of description of the requirements for your analysis. These requirements are often set out by your course tutor but sometimes your tutor might refer you to a brief set up by an outside organization, such as a charity seeking a solution to a problem in a developing country. The brief will contain crucial information about what you have to do in the case study assignment and how you need to do it. I’m going to look at a few examples of assignments from different subject areas.
Vanessa van der Ham

4. What if I have to find my own case to analyze?

Abstract
Your assignment might have specifications as to size, location, sector, industry and so on and you need to find an organization that matches them. Check the analytical reports and directories that are available in library subject guides. Also check out freely available sites such as the Financial Times Content Hub, which covers UK-based companies and selected international companies. The site provides company reports and links to current news articles.
Vanessa van der Ham

5. Reading with a critical mindset

Abstract
The information in the case provides the context for the problem – the setting or circumstances in which the problem is occurring. The details of this context are crucial for understanding the problem and how it can be resolved. Doctors can’t begin to diagnose what’s wrong with patients until they have all the necessary facts in front of them, which is why doctors ask so many questions!
Vanessa van der Ham

6. Identifying key facts/issues in a case

Abstract
When your brief specifi es a particular theoretical model or tool, this provides the starting point for identifying what’s important in the case. A clear understanding of the model will create hooks in your mind to catch the important information in the case. Also, remember to look through your lecture notes and do any readings the lecturer has recommended before you start.
Vanessa van der Ham

7. Formulating your aims and objectives

Abstract
Before you can start analysing the underlying causes of the problems, you need to make it clear for the reader which problems/issues in the case you’re going to be analyzing and how you’re going to do this. As explained on page 8 with the brief of the Moon Dust case, assignment briefs don’t always define the nature of the problems to be addressed, so it’s up to you to do this. This is usually done in the introduction to the assignment.
Vanessa van der Ham

8. Interrogating the facts

Abstract
Once you’ve identified the key facts in the case, you can start to open it up even more for analysis by taking a critical look at the facts. There are factors in the case that may not be explicitly stated. But if ideas pop into your head as you read, add them to your list or draw them onto your map.
Vanessa van der Ham

9. Interrogating the facts

Abstract
One of the most frequently asked questions about case study assignments is what to do if there is missing information, and the answer will differ from assignment to assignment and course to course. Your cases mimic real-life work situations and many problem situations in your working life will present with missing details about the situation. In some situations there’ll be time to find the missing information; in others there won’t, and then you’ll have to make decisions about solutions based on the information you do have. This means that in some of your assignments, you will be expected to work within the limitations of the information provided in the case, and so you might be making a number of assumptions about the case. Any assumption must, however, be credible and justifiable, given the evidence in the case.
Vanessa van der Ham

10. What are you trying to find out from the readings?

Abstract
Best practice can be described as practice that has been shown to work well – sometimes known as evidence-based practice. See Chapter 14 for a discussion of best practice and moving further to best fit practice for the organization.
Vanessa van der Ham

11. Selecting relevant readings

Abstract
Your tutor may have given you a list of recommended readings specifically for the assignment, but generally you’ll be starting with a combination of your lecture notes and your reading list for the module. Your reading list provides a solid starting point but it’s likely that you’ll need to read beyond this as well. Keep your case and case notes in front of you all the time so that your selection of readings is focused on the case. Some of the items in the reading list may be relevant to the case, others not – it’s up to you to judge using the Table of Contents in books, abstracts of journal articles, summaries and so on.
Vanessa van der Ham

12. Applying theory and research to the case

Abstract
Your tutors don’t want long descriptions of either the readings or the case – they want the two brought together all through the analysis. You’re going to be presenting an argument about the case using the readings – your voice is going to guide the analysis. Imagine yourself as a lawyer in court. What would the judge think if you simply read out all the facts of the case, then presented a long list of evidence you’ve gathered, without explaining the connection between the facts and the evidence, and without presenting an argument about the implications for the case?
Vanessa van der Ham

13. Diagnosing underlying causes of problems

Abstract
How often have you heard people talk about ‘getting to the root of the problem’? This is an acknowledgement of the fact that many problem situations in life are complex and require a lot of digging around before we can identify the underlying or root causes. Notice I use the word causes in the plural form here because there are often several causes to problems.
Vanessa van der Ham

14. Discussing best practice

Abstract
In the assignment extract we’ve just seen, current practice in the case is being compared with what the literature says is the most effective way of doing things. The student is drawing conclusions about how the owner’s current practice is contributing to the problems in the case by comparing what she is doing with what the literature says she should be doing (or in this case, should have continued doing). In your case study assignments, you’re going to be referring to best practice in discussing the underlying causes of problems in the cases as well as possible solutions.
Vanessa van der Ham

15. Brainstorming solution options

Abstract
So you’ve pulled apart the case to find the underlying causes of the problems. Your analysis showed there’s a better way of doing things – so how do you put the parts back together again to build a solution? This is the beginning of the decision-making process: now you’re going translate your theoretical consideration of best practice to practical solutions – actions that could be taken to move the situation from what it is now (problem situation) to where you want it to be (desired situation).
Vanessa van der Ham

16. Evaluating solution options

Abstract
Some cases will require a combination of solutions to address immediate needs and facilitate long term solutions. In other cases you might be evaluating a number of solutions against a set of criteria and selecting the best one. We’re going to look at notes for a critical analysis of two of the solutions for the Moon Dust case and a decision matrix for an engineering case.
Vanessa van der Ham

17. Justifying your solution

Abstract
In justifying your solution you need to provide a rationale (set of reasons) for every part of the solution, supported by the literature and references to the case. Why is each step necessary? How will it address the issues in the case? Is there any order in which the steps should be taken? Why?
Vanessa van der Ham

18. Developing an action plan

Abstract
Many case study assignments require you to develop a detailed action plan for the implementation of your recommended solution. For each objective, there needs to be a clear plan of the steps involved; otherwise the solution is likely to fail.
Vanessa van der Ham
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