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Case Studies Guidelines

What is a Case Study:

Case studies are stories. They are formatted in such a way that at a glance one could easily determine the “issue” about to be discussed. We look to clearly address the who, what, where, when, why and how to ensure that we have covered the story in its entirety. If you miss one of these factors, you leave the reader guessing and questioning your report. In public policy & administration our case studies/stories are required to be fact based. Make sure your research is based on credible information. Verify, verify, verify. Make a mistake and/or be challenged on one of your “facts”, could create a host of issues. If you are found to be incorrect, the entire report is incorrect and your credibility is suspect. Cite your research appropriately.

We call it an issue rather than a “problem” because a problem presents a negative image/connotation. Issues are not necessarily negative and provides the policy analyst with an opportunity to evaluate each issue based on its own merits without taking a position of negative or positive.  

What Does a Case Study Look Like:

A case study should set up similar to story-telling. Do not write this as you would a thesis. You don’t want to put in a lot of “fluff & stuff”. Think of the reader as a high level administrator whose in-box is full of documents that require review. To catch this administrator’s attention, consider what he/she would be concerned with. The “issue” clearly delineated, then the people involved “stakeholders”, the positions (where one stands depends upon where one sits), of these people/perspectives” of the stakeholders and then a fact based well thought out “recommendation”.   Use the first paragraph or two to set the tone for the issue under consideration. Once you have the reader’s attention then you are prepared to move onto your 4-step policy analyses.

Why a 4-Step Policy Analysis:

We use the four-step policy analysis because of its simplicity and its thoroughness. There are plenty of other models, some with seven-steps and others with ten-steps. It is not the number of steps that makes a case study. It is the report itself that stands on merit.

Do not change the language of the 4-steps or add other language, as new headings could change the report and its intent. It is vital that you understand this foundation as it will be used throughout your baccalaureate curriculum. Learning to use this in both your professional and personal lives will help you with your decision making in a variety of ways.

How Do I Begin:

Case studies are complex and may contain a myriad of issues, stakeholders, etc. It is your job to select one issue and then to stay on course as you work through your critical thinking and 4-step policy analysis. Do not say there are “many” issues as this may confuse the reader of leave him/her questioning why you chose one issue over another. Chose one….

How Should the Final Case Study Paper Set Up:

Use APA format when completing your case study paper. 

Recommendation (oral and written), based on your analysis should focus on presenting the most feasible recommendation to the issue or situation. The focus should be to describe the issue/situation/case study in such detail that another person would understand what you went through under those circumstances. You are describing the issue/situation/case study so that you might analyze it, in depth, using the theories and approaches related to the course and your own life experiences.

Provide details on who, what, where, why, when and how. Refer to case study guidelines listed below.

The case study should be 22 to 28 pages long 

Case study papers are provided with a no later than due date.

The case study method is a form of stimulation aimed at providing students with an understanding of the complexities relating to specific circumstances faced on the job. A case study should contain a complete description of an issue (who, what, when, where, why and how) including all known events, people, and other impacting factors. It represents a situation/concern to be analyzed and resolved. Case studies should allow students to:

Ask (or ask themselves) questions that help extract key information from a case;

Diagnose the case;

Define all the different issues involved in the case;

Make well thought out – fact based decisions;

Formulate principles for handling future cases.

In the field of public administration, the case study method is “an action plan” for resolving community issues. It provides clarity of purpose for what needs to be accomplished to effectively connect citizens to governance.  

“Few public administrators expect ever to find a “one size fits all” issue resolving approach for the vast range of circumstances/concerns that they are likely to encounter (Public Administration: The Profession and the Practice).

Principles for Creating a Case

Each case should focus on a single issue/situation clearly delineated in one or two sentences at most and separated from paragraphs so as to easily determine what it is we are about to address.

A case must contain all the data necessary to arrive at a recommendation for resolution:

Facts and events that make it up;

Feelings, habits, attitudes, and expectations of the key stakeholders;

A clear description of the setting (time, place, and physical and social environment).

Steps in Creating a Case Study

Identify the Issue:

Must illustrate one or several specific principles;

Will constitute the heart of the case study and thus influence all parts including how it is represented;

Case studies are stories; they teach what stories teach – which happens to be what administrators most need to learn.

Create an outline of the case study:

Select facts and incidents that will be easily recognized and understood by participants.

Organize these in a logical sequence. Remove any inflated or exaggerated components that might diminish the authenticity of the case.

Identify the stakeholders:

Clearly identify each stakeholder in terms of his/her position.

Write up the case study.

Whether the case study is short or long, present a clear, concise, and coherent portrait of the stakeholders, events, and information.

Use a writing style that is simple and direct – no long winded dissertations – one that speaks right to the reader.

Occasionally include brief dialogues to create interest and allow readers to hear what the stakeholders in the case study have to say for themselves.

In the case introduction, present your key stakeholders and provide information that clearly identifies him/her/them. Establish the relationship between the stakeholders and the issue under study. Include the organizational context.

Recount events or incidents in chronological order.

Occasionally use “flashbacks” to fill in gaps or heighten the sense of realism in the case. In certain case studies, you may have events overlap, occur simultaneously, or repeat themselves.

In the concluding sentence or paragraph of the case study, point out the need for some form of action: a decision, a recommendation for resolution, a weighing of alternatives, or a combination of these.

End with a bridge of some sort that leads from your case study presentation to participant discussion. Three types of conclusion are frequently used: open-ended conclusion: the participants define the facts and problems, directed conclusions: specific questions, tasks, or even a quiz following a case study, closed conclusions: a textbook solution is provided at the end of the case study.

Identify stakeholder perspectives:

Understand that public administration is politics – not the “obvious politics” of high stakes electioneering and policy making, but the “other politics” of small-scale, behind the scenes problems solving: the nature of administrative casework follows accordingly.

Stories don’t come ready-made but must be formed through selection and shaping from the flow of events: “Case synthesis precedes case analysis.

Keep your eye on the entire set of interacting decision-makers and interlocking policies: it’s there your most likely to find any lurking problems of under-determination.

It’s usually helpful to break out the goals being pursued, the variables that must be modified to move toward the goals, and the criteria to be borne in mind when pursuing the goals; it’s in those criteria that problems of over-determination are likely to originate.

Remember Mile’s Law: “Where one stands depends upon where one sits.”

Search for the paradigm of the case, but expect departures from the underlying pattern; explore the progression of circumstances.

Make a recommendation:

Identify expectations

Cases involve choices; in a democracy, choice demands justification, which further implies a process of dialogue and an effort at persuasion.

An effective administrative analyst must be ready to “speak in tongues”; expect to work in a variety of idioms and vocabularies.

Most important of all: Trust your own experience and instincts!

The case study must have 

Introduction

Main Issue

History

Law

Stakeholders

Stakeholder perspectives

Recommendation

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