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Case study and Qualitative research methods

Michela Arnaboldi Politecnico di Milano (

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative researchers attempt to describe and interpret some human phenomenon often in the words of selected individuals (the informants) phenomenon, informants). These researchers try to be clear about their biases, presuppositions, and interpretations so that others can decide what they think about it all. (Anthony W. Heath)

Q Qualitative research: any y type yp of research that p produces findings g not arrived at by statistical procedures or other means of quantification
Different sources of data: Observations Documents Film Quantitative data

Quantitative and qualitative (1/2)

The most evident differences: Data D t collection: ll ti Quantitative: Extensive data translated in numbers (quantification) Qualitative: intensive data on human phenomenon (multiple source of evidence) ( ) Data analysis Quantitative: mathematical/statistical process of i interpretation i Qualitative: data are not analyzed in a statistical manner

Quantitative and qualitative (2/2)

What about the methods you are seeing? Econometrics: quantitative or qualitative? Survey: S quantitative i i or qualitative? li i ? Case study: quantitative or qualitative? Action Research: quantitative or qualitative? Collaborative Research: quantitative or qualitative? Simulation: quantitative or qualitative? Data Mining: quantitative or qualitative?

Methods differences part I

Econometrics Source of data Secondary sources (large data base) Survey Responses to extensive questionnair es Case Study Manly Human words and Behavior observation plus documents and data to triangulate g and Entering observing the field Non Mathematical/ statistical Sometime for text analysis Open ended questions Action Research Manly Human words and Behavior observation plus documents and data to triangulate Acting g the field Non Mathematical/ statistical Sometime for text analysis Open ended questions Data Mining Text derived from human words or secondary sources (also web) Simulation Data stemming from algorithms simulating a complex phenomenon/pr ocess

Position of the researcher Data analysis Software/ tools Type of research questions

Outside the field

Outside the field Mathematica l/statistical Yes Hypothesis and relations between variables Reducable into a model

Depends p where used Mathematical/ statistical Yes Depend where used

Depends p where used Mathematical/st atistical Yes Depend where used

Mathematical/st atistical Yes Hypothesis and relations between variables Reducable into a model

Phenomen on



Reducable5 into a model

Methods differences lets try


Examples of research question


Case Study

Action Research Simulation


Other differences?
Methods differs also in their thinking, in their theorization Wrapping W i some concepts t before b f looking l ki at t differences (epistemology): Deductive Thinking Inductive Thinking Abductive Thinking

Deductive thinking





Inductive thinking





Abductive thinking






Methods differences part II

QUALITATIVE Thinking approach (i d ti d d ti (inductive-deductiveabductive) Problematization P bl i i (Front End) Role of theory QUANTITATIVE

Method description (how and why) ( Conclusion (Back End) Data Display Narrative

Origins of Qualitative Approaches

Developed p as a reaction to deductive/quantitative/rational q philosophy which had overrun all sciences, even philosophy itself Recognition that the lived world of humanity requires a different research approach to the natural world Quantitative and qualitative research are often referred to two different scientific paradigms:
Positivist paradigm. paradigm Interpretive paradigm/Costructionist paradigm

IMPORTANT: Several qualitative researchers adopt a positivist paradigm


The Positivist Paradigm

Positivism P ii i argues that h research h should h ld act [] as an organised method [] surrounding precise empirical observations of individual behaviour in order to discover and confirm a set of probabilistic causal laws that can be used to predict general patterns of human activity (Neuman, 1997: 63) Positivist research gained dominance in the natural sciences and was later adopted in social sciences.


The Interpretive Paradigm

The interpretive Th i i approach h argues that h research h should h ld explore l []socially meaningful action through the direct detailed observation of p people p in natural settings g in order to arrive at understandings and interpretations of how people create and maintain their social worlds (Neuman, 1997:68). We use [] methods that try to describe and interpret peoples feelings and experiences in human terms rather than through quantification and measurement (Terre Blanche & Kelly, 1999: 123).



POSITIVIST Discovery of universal laws governing social world world. A fixed social reality exists that may be measured and described. Human behaviour is both rational and predictable. Positivist science is capable p of uncovering truth. Discovery of social fact is achieved through reason. reason Objective, value-free study is crucial in social research.

INTERPRETIVE Discovery of how people make sense of their social worlds worlds. Many social realities exist due to varying human experience. Human behaviour is context bound and variable. Common sense p provides insight g into social realities. Understanding of social reality is achieved through rich contextual description description. Recognition of subjectivity in social research is important.


How many Qualitative research methods?

Real life construction (RLC) Grounded theory Collaborative Research Field study Ethnographic study In depth In-depth study Qualitative Survey Action research Case study

Discourse Di Analysis

Where qualitative methods differ (1)

Number of organizations studied: from 1 to 100 (?)
Case study In-depth I d th studies t di Qualitative Survey

Information Depth: 20-80 interviews for each case; 1 phone interview for each case:
Single case study Qualitative phone Survey

Researcher position towards the subject studied

Participating in changing events Observation

Relation with the context:

Field study Ethnographic study Case study

Source of information:
Interviews Documents Site (environment)

Where methods differ (2)

There are three main dimensions which allows to do a classification:
N. N organizations Researcher role Main Source of data Source of data Manly human (words and behaviors) Researcher Position Participating in events Living the field Intervieing and observing Human words Outside N. Organizations One or Few Action research Collaborative research Ethnography Case Study In-depth study Qualitative survey Many y

Discourse Analysis y Content Analysis


A common path
1 Problem/Topic 1.
Are my ideas interesting to anyone?

2. Objective
What do I want ant to find?

3. Literature review
Which is the role of the literature review?

4. Theoretical/Conceptual framework
Necessary? Their role?

5. Methodology
Data Collection Data analysis

6 Writing 6.


1. Topic/Problem
Your starting point is a Topic/Problem Significance: Taking on Grand Challenges Theoretical usefulness and the broader practical benefit for individuals and society Novelty: Changing the Conversation Would your study change the conversation that is already taking place in a given literature? Curiosity: Catching and Holding Attention propositions counter a reader readers s and taken-for-granted taken for granted assumptions use mystery as a metaphor, desire to solve or reformulate the mystery Scope: Casting a Wider Net The best topics set out to fully and comprehensively sample the landscape in a given domain Actionability: Insights for Practice A topic should be actionable: it should offer insights for managerial or organizational practice.

(Source: From the editors publishing in AMJpart 1: topic choice Academy of Management Journal 2011, Vol. 54, No. 3, 432435). 21

2 Objectives and propositions 2.

When you have Wh h evidence id that h your id ideas are a PROBLEM than h you need to define an objective How do you express you objectives? Do you use propositions?


3 The role of the literature 3.

Literature are used in qualitative research: Problem
Confirmation of the relevance (practitioner and academic) Positioning your topic (see 1 1.Topic) Topic)

Refining goals

Relevant elements Theory Explain Explore Describe



4. Framework: example


Lets Let s try

Work in groups (3 people) Explan your phD research to colleagues in term of:
1. 2 2. 3. 4. 5. Topic/Problem Objctive Contribution to the literature Framework (if any) Possible methods

Choose one abstract to be further discussed Your colleague should challenge your illustration (act as reviewers) Then your colleagues should help you in summarizing pitfall and what to do to improve


Case Study


What is a case study?

The case study inquiry:

A contemporary phenomenon within its real life context; When the boundary between the context and phenomenon is not clear; Uses multiple sources of evidence


Types of Case Studies

Portray an accurate profile of a person, situation, process Previous theories help in identifying the variables to be studied: E.g. E g describing risk management process

Studying the reflection of theories and hypothesis in the case We can make a contribution to the theory E.g. How risk management can be introduced effectively?

Field work and data collection are undertaken prior to the final definition of study questions and hypothesis Uncertain of the major features of the case Selecting case in which a certain phenomenon can be studied E.g. how integrating risk management into performance management?

Steps in doing a case study

Understanding g the p problem Setting objectives (and hypothesis?) g literature analysis; y ;p possible double role: Unfolding
Review-gap Theoretical/conceptual Framework

Empirical analysis:
Deciding the unit(s) of analysis Selecting cases Collecting data Analyzing data Interpreting the findings

Theoretical implications Practice implications

Unit of Analysis (1)

The unit of analysis y defines what a case is in a case study y
Individual Decisions Social programs Processes Changes Organisation

What unit of analysis to use generally depends on the primary research questions O Once defined, d fi d th the unit it of f analysis l i can still till b be changed h d if d desired, i d e.g. as a result of discoveries based on data To compare results with previous studies (or allow others to compare results with yours), try to select a unit of analysis that is or can be used by others


Unit of Analysis (2)

Single-case Designs Multiple-case Designs
Context Case Context Case

Holistic (single unit of analysis)

Context Case Context Case

Embedded (multiple units of analysis)

Context Case
U1 U2

Context Case
U1 U2

Embedded Unit of Analysis 1 Embedded Unit of Analysis 2

Context Case
U1 U2

Context Case
U1 U2


Selecting the case(s)

How selecting the case(s):
Empirical sampling - exceptional cases or situations: Success (*)
The only company with a successful CSR driven innovation A set of social enterprises with enduring success

Failures Parmalat P l t Failures in establishing public networks Theoretical sampling: Direct data gathering efforts towards collecting information that will best support the development of a theoretical framework: Support to emergent theories Refine and extend emergent theory: Polar types
(*) be careful in using the word success: (1) you must define what you mean by success; (2) some critical 32 journals wonder why a successful case is more interesting than failures or problematic cases.

Single case Design Single-case

Six rationales 1. Critical case: clear set of propositions 2 Extreme/unique case 2. 3. Representative/typical case 4. Revelatory y case
Previously inaccessible phenomena Same things S thi at t diff different t points i t in i ti time Assumes that conditions changes over time Not considered as a case study of its own

5. Longitudinal case

6. As a p pilot case for multiple p case studies

Multiple case Designs Multiple-case

Some researchers/reviewers consider multiple p cases as providing more robust results and compelling arguments Two opportunities:
Replication R li ti ( (not t sampling!) li !) Heterogeinity Replication analytical abstraction Analogous g to that used in multiple experiments Goal is to duplicate results from previous work Convergent evidence is saught Heterogeneity cases are representative of different patter of behaviors, different achievement, etc. Important to have information on heterogeneity before starting a detailed data collection (e.g. Heterogeneity stemmed from quantitative analysis)

Collecting g data
Three principles in collecting data: 1. Use multiple source of evidence (triangulation)
internal documents Official Documents Facts Phone interviews Observation Archival data Face to face Interviews

2. Create a case study database Notes, documents, matrices 3. Maintain a chain of evidence A reliability issue, need to be able to trace inferences backwards

Interviews are central

Interviewing: knowing the world by asking informants to answer open-ended questions (usually structured) about their experiences. Wh i Who interviewing: t i i
Different perspectives on a topic

Which questions
Dependent on research question But always important: Background B k d of fi informants f t Personal experiences and narratives (let them talk)

How interviewing: g
Functional (positivistic) studies: re-direct often people Interpretive studies: direct flexibly people Spontaneous Spontaneo s de deviation iation are important

Better but always y ask Turn off the recorder at the end and summarize/comment the interview 36 Often they add useful information

Type of interviews
Standardized interviews are designed to elicit information using a set of predetermined questions that are expected to elicit the respondents thoughts, opinions, and attitudes about the study related issues In an Unstandardized interview, , the interviewers must develop, p, adapt and generate questions and follow-up probes appropriate to the given situation and the central purpose of the investigation. Semistandardized Interviews
It involves the implementation of a number of predetermined questions The e interviewers te e e s a are ea also so pe permitted tted to p probe obe beyo beyond dt the ea answers s e s to their prepared questions

Focus Group
It is an attempt to learn about the life structure of group participants participants. You strive to learn through discussion about conscious, semiconscious and unconscious psychological and socio-cultural characteristics and p processes among g various g groups p

Observation and archival data

Observation Understanding g the social context:
How it influences individual behaviors How individual behavior influences the social context

How we observe:
Sites visits as outside observer Participant observer

Archival data Pre-existing documents, photographs, email, audio, videos (artifacts). Observation Archival data


Triangulation in data collection


From the Group p presentation p on ERM: