when is case study research design used

The Ultimate Guide to Qualitative Research - Part 1: The Basics

when is case study research design used

  • Introduction and overview
  • What is qualitative research?
  • What is qualitative data?
  • Examples of qualitative data
  • Qualitative vs. quantitative research
  • Mixed methods
  • Qualitative research preparation
  • Theoretical perspective
  • Theoretical framework
  • Literature reviews

Research question

  • Conceptual framework
  • Conceptual vs. theoretical framework

Data collection

  • Qualitative research methods
  • Focus groups
  • Observational research

What is a case study?

Applications for case study research, what is a good case study, process of case study design, benefits and limitations of case studies.

  • Ethnographical research
  • Ethical considerations
  • Confidentiality and privacy
  • Power dynamics
  • Reflexivity

Case studies

Case studies are essential to qualitative research , offering a lens through which researchers can investigate complex phenomena within their real-life contexts. This chapter explores the concept, purpose, applications, examples, and types of case studies and provides guidance on how to conduct case study research effectively.

when is case study research design used

Whereas quantitative methods look at phenomena at scale, case study research looks at a concept or phenomenon in considerable detail. While analyzing a single case can help understand one perspective regarding the object of research inquiry, analyzing multiple cases can help obtain a more holistic sense of the topic or issue. Let's provide a basic definition of a case study, then explore its characteristics and role in the qualitative research process.

Definition of a case study

A case study in qualitative research is a strategy of inquiry that involves an in-depth investigation of a phenomenon within its real-world context. It provides researchers with the opportunity to acquire an in-depth understanding of intricate details that might not be as apparent or accessible through other methods of research. The specific case or cases being studied can be a single person, group, or organization – demarcating what constitutes a relevant case worth studying depends on the researcher and their research question .

Among qualitative research methods , a case study relies on multiple sources of evidence, such as documents, artifacts, interviews , or observations , to present a complete and nuanced understanding of the phenomenon under investigation. The objective is to illuminate the readers' understanding of the phenomenon beyond its abstract statistical or theoretical explanations.

Characteristics of case studies

Case studies typically possess a number of distinct characteristics that set them apart from other research methods. These characteristics include a focus on holistic description and explanation, flexibility in the design and data collection methods, reliance on multiple sources of evidence, and emphasis on the context in which the phenomenon occurs.

Furthermore, case studies can often involve a longitudinal examination of the case, meaning they study the case over a period of time. These characteristics allow case studies to yield comprehensive, in-depth, and richly contextualized insights about the phenomenon of interest.

The role of case studies in research

Case studies hold a unique position in the broader landscape of research methods aimed at theory development. They are instrumental when the primary research interest is to gain an intensive, detailed understanding of a phenomenon in its real-life context.

In addition, case studies can serve different purposes within research - they can be used for exploratory, descriptive, or explanatory purposes, depending on the research question and objectives. This flexibility and depth make case studies a valuable tool in the toolkit of qualitative researchers.

Remember, a well-conducted case study can offer a rich, insightful contribution to both academic and practical knowledge through theory development or theory verification, thus enhancing our understanding of complex phenomena in their real-world contexts.

What is the purpose of a case study?

Case study research aims for a more comprehensive understanding of phenomena, requiring various research methods to gather information for qualitative analysis . Ultimately, a case study can allow the researcher to gain insight into a particular object of inquiry and develop a theoretical framework relevant to the research inquiry.

Why use case studies in qualitative research?

Using case studies as a research strategy depends mainly on the nature of the research question and the researcher's access to the data.

Conducting case study research provides a level of detail and contextual richness that other research methods might not offer. They are beneficial when there's a need to understand complex social phenomena within their natural contexts.

The explanatory, exploratory, and descriptive roles of case studies

Case studies can take on various roles depending on the research objectives. They can be exploratory when the research aims to discover new phenomena or define new research questions; they are descriptive when the objective is to depict a phenomenon within its context in a detailed manner; and they can be explanatory if the goal is to understand specific relationships within the studied context. Thus, the versatility of case studies allows researchers to approach their topic from different angles, offering multiple ways to uncover and interpret the data .

The impact of case studies on knowledge development

Case studies play a significant role in knowledge development across various disciplines. Analysis of cases provides an avenue for researchers to explore phenomena within their context based on the collected data.

when is case study research design used

This can result in the production of rich, practical insights that can be instrumental in both theory-building and practice. Case studies allow researchers to delve into the intricacies and complexities of real-life situations, uncovering insights that might otherwise remain hidden.

Types of case studies

In qualitative research , a case study is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Depending on the nature of the research question and the specific objectives of the study, researchers might choose to use different types of case studies. These types differ in their focus, methodology, and the level of detail they provide about the phenomenon under investigation.

Understanding these types is crucial for selecting the most appropriate approach for your research project and effectively achieving your research goals. Let's briefly look at the main types of case studies.

Exploratory case studies

Exploratory case studies are typically conducted to develop a theory or framework around an understudied phenomenon. They can also serve as a precursor to a larger-scale research project. Exploratory case studies are useful when a researcher wants to identify the key issues or questions which can spur more extensive study or be used to develop propositions for further research. These case studies are characterized by flexibility, allowing researchers to explore various aspects of a phenomenon as they emerge, which can also form the foundation for subsequent studies.

Descriptive case studies

Descriptive case studies aim to provide a complete and accurate representation of a phenomenon or event within its context. These case studies are often based on an established theoretical framework, which guides how data is collected and analyzed. The researcher is concerned with describing the phenomenon in detail, as it occurs naturally, without trying to influence or manipulate it.

Explanatory case studies

Explanatory case studies are focused on explanation - they seek to clarify how or why certain phenomena occur. Often used in complex, real-life situations, they can be particularly valuable in clarifying causal relationships among concepts and understanding the interplay between different factors within a specific context.

when is case study research design used

Intrinsic, instrumental, and collective case studies

These three categories of case studies focus on the nature and purpose of the study. An intrinsic case study is conducted when a researcher has an inherent interest in the case itself. Instrumental case studies are employed when the case is used to provide insight into a particular issue or phenomenon. A collective case study, on the other hand, involves studying multiple cases simultaneously to investigate some general phenomena.

Each type of case study serves a different purpose and has its own strengths and challenges. The selection of the type should be guided by the research question and objectives, as well as the context and constraints of the research.

The flexibility, depth, and contextual richness offered by case studies make this approach an excellent research method for various fields of study. They enable researchers to investigate real-world phenomena within their specific contexts, capturing nuances that other research methods might miss. Across numerous fields, case studies provide valuable insights into complex issues.

Critical information systems research

Case studies provide a detailed understanding of the role and impact of information systems in different contexts. They offer a platform to explore how information systems are designed, implemented, and used and how they interact with various social, economic, and political factors. Case studies in this field often focus on examining the intricate relationship between technology, organizational processes, and user behavior, helping to uncover insights that can inform better system design and implementation.

Health research

Health research is another field where case studies are highly valuable. They offer a way to explore patient experiences, healthcare delivery processes, and the impact of various interventions in a real-world context.

when is case study research design used

Case studies can provide a deep understanding of a patient's journey, giving insights into the intricacies of disease progression, treatment effects, and the psychosocial aspects of health and illness.

Asthma research studies

Specifically within medical research, studies on asthma often employ case studies to explore the individual and environmental factors that influence asthma development, management, and outcomes. A case study can provide rich, detailed data about individual patients' experiences, from the triggers and symptoms they experience to the effectiveness of various management strategies. This can be crucial for developing patient-centered asthma care approaches.

Other fields

Apart from the fields mentioned, case studies are also extensively used in business and management research, education research, and political sciences, among many others. They provide an opportunity to delve into the intricacies of real-world situations, allowing for a comprehensive understanding of various phenomena.

Case studies, with their depth and contextual focus, offer unique insights across these varied fields. They allow researchers to illuminate the complexities of real-life situations, contributing to both theory and practice.

when is case study research design used

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Understanding the key elements of case study design is crucial for conducting rigorous and impactful case study research. A well-structured design guides the researcher through the process, ensuring that the study is methodologically sound and its findings are reliable and valid. The main elements of case study design include the research question , propositions, units of analysis, and the logic linking the data to the propositions.

The research question is the foundation of any research study. A good research question guides the direction of the study and informs the selection of the case, the methods of collecting data, and the analysis techniques. A well-formulated research question in case study research is typically clear, focused, and complex enough to merit further detailed examination of the relevant case(s).

Propositions

Propositions, though not necessary in every case study, provide a direction by stating what we might expect to find in the data collected. They guide how data is collected and analyzed by helping researchers focus on specific aspects of the case. They are particularly important in explanatory case studies, which seek to understand the relationships among concepts within the studied phenomenon.

Units of analysis

The unit of analysis refers to the case, or the main entity or entities that are being analyzed in the study. In case study research, the unit of analysis can be an individual, a group, an organization, a decision, an event, or even a time period. It's crucial to clearly define the unit of analysis, as it shapes the qualitative data analysis process by allowing the researcher to analyze a particular case and synthesize analysis across multiple case studies to draw conclusions.

Argumentation

This refers to the inferential model that allows researchers to draw conclusions from the data. The researcher needs to ensure that there is a clear link between the data, the propositions (if any), and the conclusions drawn. This argumentation is what enables the researcher to make valid and credible inferences about the phenomenon under study.

Understanding and carefully considering these elements in the design phase of a case study can significantly enhance the quality of the research. It can help ensure that the study is methodologically sound and its findings contribute meaningful insights about the case.

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Conducting a case study involves several steps, from defining the research question and selecting the case to collecting and analyzing data . This section outlines these key stages, providing a practical guide on how to conduct case study research.

Defining the research question

The first step in case study research is defining a clear, focused research question. This question should guide the entire research process, from case selection to analysis. It's crucial to ensure that the research question is suitable for a case study approach. Typically, such questions are exploratory or descriptive in nature and focus on understanding a phenomenon within its real-life context.

Selecting and defining the case

The selection of the case should be based on the research question and the objectives of the study. It involves choosing a unique example or a set of examples that provide rich, in-depth data about the phenomenon under investigation. After selecting the case, it's crucial to define it clearly, setting the boundaries of the case, including the time period and the specific context.

Previous research can help guide the case study design. When considering a case study, an example of a case could be taken from previous case study research and used to define cases in a new research inquiry. Considering recently published examples can help understand how to select and define cases effectively.

Developing a detailed case study protocol

A case study protocol outlines the procedures and general rules to be followed during the case study. This includes the data collection methods to be used, the sources of data, and the procedures for analysis. Having a detailed case study protocol ensures consistency and reliability in the study.

The protocol should also consider how to work with the people involved in the research context to grant the research team access to collecting data. As mentioned in previous sections of this guide, establishing rapport is an essential component of qualitative research as it shapes the overall potential for collecting and analyzing data.

Collecting data

Gathering data in case study research often involves multiple sources of evidence, including documents, archival records, interviews, observations, and physical artifacts. This allows for a comprehensive understanding of the case. The process for gathering data should be systematic and carefully documented to ensure the reliability and validity of the study.

Analyzing and interpreting data

The next step is analyzing the data. This involves organizing the data , categorizing it into themes or patterns , and interpreting these patterns to answer the research question. The analysis might also involve comparing the findings with prior research or theoretical propositions.

Writing the case study report

The final step is writing the case study report . This should provide a detailed description of the case, the data, the analysis process, and the findings. The report should be clear, organized, and carefully written to ensure that the reader can understand the case and the conclusions drawn from it.

Each of these steps is crucial in ensuring that the case study research is rigorous, reliable, and provides valuable insights about the case.

The type, depth, and quality of data in your study can significantly influence the validity and utility of the study. In case study research, data is usually collected from multiple sources to provide a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the case. This section will outline the various methods of collecting data used in case study research and discuss considerations for ensuring the quality of the data.

Interviews are a common method of gathering data in case study research. They can provide rich, in-depth data about the perspectives, experiences, and interpretations of the individuals involved in the case. Interviews can be structured , semi-structured , or unstructured , depending on the research question and the degree of flexibility needed.

Observations

Observations involve the researcher observing the case in its natural setting, providing first-hand information about the case and its context. Observations can provide data that might not be revealed in interviews or documents, such as non-verbal cues or contextual information.

Documents and artifacts

Documents and archival records provide a valuable source of data in case study research. They can include reports, letters, memos, meeting minutes, email correspondence, and various public and private documents related to the case.

when is case study research design used

These records can provide historical context, corroborate evidence from other sources, and offer insights into the case that might not be apparent from interviews or observations.

Physical artifacts refer to any physical evidence related to the case, such as tools, products, or physical environments. These artifacts can provide tangible insights into the case, complementing the data gathered from other sources.

Ensuring the quality of data collection

Determining the quality of data in case study research requires careful planning and execution. It's crucial to ensure that the data is reliable, accurate, and relevant to the research question. This involves selecting appropriate methods of collecting data, properly training interviewers or observers, and systematically recording and storing the data. It also includes considering ethical issues related to collecting and handling data, such as obtaining informed consent and ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of the participants.

Data analysis

Analyzing case study research involves making sense of the rich, detailed data to answer the research question. This process can be challenging due to the volume and complexity of case study data. However, a systematic and rigorous approach to analysis can ensure that the findings are credible and meaningful. This section outlines the main steps and considerations in analyzing data in case study research.

Organizing the data

The first step in the analysis is organizing the data. This involves sorting the data into manageable sections, often according to the data source or the theme. This step can also involve transcribing interviews, digitizing physical artifacts, or organizing observational data.

Categorizing and coding the data

Once the data is organized, the next step is to categorize or code the data. This involves identifying common themes, patterns, or concepts in the data and assigning codes to relevant data segments. Coding can be done manually or with the help of software tools, and in either case, qualitative analysis software can greatly facilitate the entire coding process. Coding helps to reduce the data to a set of themes or categories that can be more easily analyzed.

Identifying patterns and themes

After coding the data, the researcher looks for patterns or themes in the coded data. This involves comparing and contrasting the codes and looking for relationships or patterns among them. The identified patterns and themes should help answer the research question.

Interpreting the data

Once patterns and themes have been identified, the next step is to interpret these findings. This involves explaining what the patterns or themes mean in the context of the research question and the case. This interpretation should be grounded in the data, but it can also involve drawing on theoretical concepts or prior research.

Verification of the data

The last step in the analysis is verification. This involves checking the accuracy and consistency of the analysis process and confirming that the findings are supported by the data. This can involve re-checking the original data, checking the consistency of codes, or seeking feedback from research participants or peers.

Like any research method , case study research has its strengths and limitations. Researchers must be aware of these, as they can influence the design, conduct, and interpretation of the study.

Understanding the strengths and limitations of case study research can also guide researchers in deciding whether this approach is suitable for their research question . This section outlines some of the key strengths and limitations of case study research.

Benefits include the following:

  • Rich, detailed data: One of the main strengths of case study research is that it can generate rich, detailed data about the case. This can provide a deep understanding of the case and its context, which can be valuable in exploring complex phenomena.
  • Flexibility: Case study research is flexible in terms of design , data collection , and analysis . A sufficient degree of flexibility allows the researcher to adapt the study according to the case and the emerging findings.
  • Real-world context: Case study research involves studying the case in its real-world context, which can provide valuable insights into the interplay between the case and its context.
  • Multiple sources of evidence: Case study research often involves collecting data from multiple sources , which can enhance the robustness and validity of the findings.

On the other hand, researchers should consider the following limitations:

  • Generalizability: A common criticism of case study research is that its findings might not be generalizable to other cases due to the specificity and uniqueness of each case.
  • Time and resource intensive: Case study research can be time and resource intensive due to the depth of the investigation and the amount of collected data.
  • Complexity of analysis: The rich, detailed data generated in case study research can make analyzing the data challenging.
  • Subjectivity: Given the nature of case study research, there may be a higher degree of subjectivity in interpreting the data , so researchers need to reflect on this and transparently convey to audiences how the research was conducted.

Being aware of these strengths and limitations can help researchers design and conduct case study research effectively and interpret and report the findings appropriately.

when is case study research design used

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Home » Case Study – Methods, Examples and Guide

Case Study – Methods, Examples and Guide

Table of Contents

Case Study Research

A case study is a research method that involves an in-depth examination and analysis of a particular phenomenon or case, such as an individual, organization, community, event, or situation.

It is a qualitative research approach that aims to provide a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the case being studied. Case studies typically involve multiple sources of data, including interviews, observations, documents, and artifacts, which are analyzed using various techniques, such as content analysis, thematic analysis, and grounded theory. The findings of a case study are often used to develop theories, inform policy or practice, or generate new research questions.

Types of Case Study

Types and Methods of Case Study are as follows:

Single-Case Study

A single-case study is an in-depth analysis of a single case. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to understand a specific phenomenon in detail.

For Example , A researcher might conduct a single-case study on a particular individual to understand their experiences with a particular health condition or a specific organization to explore their management practices. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of a single-case study are often used to generate new research questions, develop theories, or inform policy or practice.

Multiple-Case Study

A multiple-case study involves the analysis of several cases that are similar in nature. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to identify similarities and differences between the cases.

For Example, a researcher might conduct a multiple-case study on several companies to explore the factors that contribute to their success or failure. The researcher collects data from each case, compares and contrasts the findings, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as comparative analysis or pattern-matching. The findings of a multiple-case study can be used to develop theories, inform policy or practice, or generate new research questions.

Exploratory Case Study

An exploratory case study is used to explore a new or understudied phenomenon. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to generate hypotheses or theories about the phenomenon.

For Example, a researcher might conduct an exploratory case study on a new technology to understand its potential impact on society. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as grounded theory or content analysis. The findings of an exploratory case study can be used to generate new research questions, develop theories, or inform policy or practice.

Descriptive Case Study

A descriptive case study is used to describe a particular phenomenon in detail. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to provide a comprehensive account of the phenomenon.

For Example, a researcher might conduct a descriptive case study on a particular community to understand its social and economic characteristics. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of a descriptive case study can be used to inform policy or practice or generate new research questions.

Instrumental Case Study

An instrumental case study is used to understand a particular phenomenon that is instrumental in achieving a particular goal. This type of case study is useful when the researcher wants to understand the role of the phenomenon in achieving the goal.

For Example, a researcher might conduct an instrumental case study on a particular policy to understand its impact on achieving a particular goal, such as reducing poverty. The researcher collects data from multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, and documents, and uses various techniques to analyze the data, such as content analysis or thematic analysis. The findings of an instrumental case study can be used to inform policy or practice or generate new research questions.

Case Study Data Collection Methods

Here are some common data collection methods for case studies:

Interviews involve asking questions to individuals who have knowledge or experience relevant to the case study. Interviews can be structured (where the same questions are asked to all participants) or unstructured (where the interviewer follows up on the responses with further questions). Interviews can be conducted in person, over the phone, or through video conferencing.

Observations

Observations involve watching and recording the behavior and activities of individuals or groups relevant to the case study. Observations can be participant (where the researcher actively participates in the activities) or non-participant (where the researcher observes from a distance). Observations can be recorded using notes, audio or video recordings, or photographs.

Documents can be used as a source of information for case studies. Documents can include reports, memos, emails, letters, and other written materials related to the case study. Documents can be collected from the case study participants or from public sources.

Surveys involve asking a set of questions to a sample of individuals relevant to the case study. Surveys can be administered in person, over the phone, through mail or email, or online. Surveys can be used to gather information on attitudes, opinions, or behaviors related to the case study.

Artifacts are physical objects relevant to the case study. Artifacts can include tools, equipment, products, or other objects that provide insights into the case study phenomenon.

How to conduct Case Study Research

Conducting a case study research involves several steps that need to be followed to ensure the quality and rigor of the study. Here are the steps to conduct case study research:

  • Define the research questions: The first step in conducting a case study research is to define the research questions. The research questions should be specific, measurable, and relevant to the case study phenomenon under investigation.
  • Select the case: The next step is to select the case or cases to be studied. The case should be relevant to the research questions and should provide rich and diverse data that can be used to answer the research questions.
  • Collect data: Data can be collected using various methods, such as interviews, observations, documents, surveys, and artifacts. The data collection method should be selected based on the research questions and the nature of the case study phenomenon.
  • Analyze the data: The data collected from the case study should be analyzed using various techniques, such as content analysis, thematic analysis, or grounded theory. The analysis should be guided by the research questions and should aim to provide insights and conclusions relevant to the research questions.
  • Draw conclusions: The conclusions drawn from the case study should be based on the data analysis and should be relevant to the research questions. The conclusions should be supported by evidence and should be clearly stated.
  • Validate the findings: The findings of the case study should be validated by reviewing the data and the analysis with participants or other experts in the field. This helps to ensure the validity and reliability of the findings.
  • Write the report: The final step is to write the report of the case study research. The report should provide a clear description of the case study phenomenon, the research questions, the data collection methods, the data analysis, the findings, and the conclusions. The report should be written in a clear and concise manner and should follow the guidelines for academic writing.

Examples of Case Study

Here are some examples of case study research:

  • The Hawthorne Studies : Conducted between 1924 and 1932, the Hawthorne Studies were a series of case studies conducted by Elton Mayo and his colleagues to examine the impact of work environment on employee productivity. The studies were conducted at the Hawthorne Works plant of the Western Electric Company in Chicago and included interviews, observations, and experiments.
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment: Conducted in 1971, the Stanford Prison Experiment was a case study conducted by Philip Zimbardo to examine the psychological effects of power and authority. The study involved simulating a prison environment and assigning participants to the role of guards or prisoners. The study was controversial due to the ethical issues it raised.
  • The Challenger Disaster: The Challenger Disaster was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. The study included interviews, observations, and analysis of data to identify the technical, organizational, and cultural factors that contributed to the disaster.
  • The Enron Scandal: The Enron Scandal was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the Enron Corporation’s bankruptcy in 2001. The study included interviews, analysis of financial data, and review of documents to identify the accounting practices, corporate culture, and ethical issues that led to the company’s downfall.
  • The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster : The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster was a case study conducted to examine the causes of the nuclear accident that occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan in 2011. The study included interviews, analysis of data, and review of documents to identify the technical, organizational, and cultural factors that contributed to the disaster.

Application of Case Study

Case studies have a wide range of applications across various fields and industries. Here are some examples:

Business and Management

Case studies are widely used in business and management to examine real-life situations and develop problem-solving skills. Case studies can help students and professionals to develop a deep understanding of business concepts, theories, and best practices.

Case studies are used in healthcare to examine patient care, treatment options, and outcomes. Case studies can help healthcare professionals to develop critical thinking skills, diagnose complex medical conditions, and develop effective treatment plans.

Case studies are used in education to examine teaching and learning practices. Case studies can help educators to develop effective teaching strategies, evaluate student progress, and identify areas for improvement.

Social Sciences

Case studies are widely used in social sciences to examine human behavior, social phenomena, and cultural practices. Case studies can help researchers to develop theories, test hypotheses, and gain insights into complex social issues.

Law and Ethics

Case studies are used in law and ethics to examine legal and ethical dilemmas. Case studies can help lawyers, policymakers, and ethical professionals to develop critical thinking skills, analyze complex cases, and make informed decisions.

Purpose of Case Study

The purpose of a case study is to provide a detailed analysis of a specific phenomenon, issue, or problem in its real-life context. A case study is a qualitative research method that involves the in-depth exploration and analysis of a particular case, which can be an individual, group, organization, event, or community.

The primary purpose of a case study is to generate a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the case, including its history, context, and dynamics. Case studies can help researchers to identify and examine the underlying factors, processes, and mechanisms that contribute to the case and its outcomes. This can help to develop a more accurate and detailed understanding of the case, which can inform future research, practice, or policy.

Case studies can also serve other purposes, including:

  • Illustrating a theory or concept: Case studies can be used to illustrate and explain theoretical concepts and frameworks, providing concrete examples of how they can be applied in real-life situations.
  • Developing hypotheses: Case studies can help to generate hypotheses about the causal relationships between different factors and outcomes, which can be tested through further research.
  • Providing insight into complex issues: Case studies can provide insights into complex and multifaceted issues, which may be difficult to understand through other research methods.
  • Informing practice or policy: Case studies can be used to inform practice or policy by identifying best practices, lessons learned, or areas for improvement.

Advantages of Case Study Research

There are several advantages of case study research, including:

  • In-depth exploration: Case study research allows for a detailed exploration and analysis of a specific phenomenon, issue, or problem in its real-life context. This can provide a comprehensive understanding of the case and its dynamics, which may not be possible through other research methods.
  • Rich data: Case study research can generate rich and detailed data, including qualitative data such as interviews, observations, and documents. This can provide a nuanced understanding of the case and its complexity.
  • Holistic perspective: Case study research allows for a holistic perspective of the case, taking into account the various factors, processes, and mechanisms that contribute to the case and its outcomes. This can help to develop a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of the case.
  • Theory development: Case study research can help to develop and refine theories and concepts by providing empirical evidence and concrete examples of how they can be applied in real-life situations.
  • Practical application: Case study research can inform practice or policy by identifying best practices, lessons learned, or areas for improvement.
  • Contextualization: Case study research takes into account the specific context in which the case is situated, which can help to understand how the case is influenced by the social, cultural, and historical factors of its environment.

Limitations of Case Study Research

There are several limitations of case study research, including:

  • Limited generalizability : Case studies are typically focused on a single case or a small number of cases, which limits the generalizability of the findings. The unique characteristics of the case may not be applicable to other contexts or populations, which may limit the external validity of the research.
  • Biased sampling: Case studies may rely on purposive or convenience sampling, which can introduce bias into the sample selection process. This may limit the representativeness of the sample and the generalizability of the findings.
  • Subjectivity: Case studies rely on the interpretation of the researcher, which can introduce subjectivity into the analysis. The researcher’s own biases, assumptions, and perspectives may influence the findings, which may limit the objectivity of the research.
  • Limited control: Case studies are typically conducted in naturalistic settings, which limits the control that the researcher has over the environment and the variables being studied. This may limit the ability to establish causal relationships between variables.
  • Time-consuming: Case studies can be time-consuming to conduct, as they typically involve a detailed exploration and analysis of a specific case. This may limit the feasibility of conducting multiple case studies or conducting case studies in a timely manner.
  • Resource-intensive: Case studies may require significant resources, including time, funding, and expertise. This may limit the ability of researchers to conduct case studies in resource-constrained settings.

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Muhammad Hassan

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Writing a Case Study

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What is a case study?

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A Case study is: 

  • An in-depth research design that primarily uses a qualitative methodology but sometimes​​ includes quantitative methodology.
  • Used to examine an identifiable problem confirmed through research.
  • Used to investigate an individual, group of people, organization, or event.
  • Used to mostly answer "how" and "why" questions.

What are the different types of case studies?

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Note: These are the primary case studies. As you continue to research and learn

about case studies you will begin to find a robust list of different types. 

Who are your case study participants?

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What is triangulation ? 

Validity and credibility are an essential part of the case study. Therefore, the researcher should include triangulation to ensure trustworthiness while accurately reflecting what the researcher seeks to investigate.

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How to write a Case Study?

When developing a case study, there are different ways you could present the information, but remember to include the five parts for your case study.

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NCU Library Home

What is case study research?

Last updated

8 February 2023

Reviewed by

Cathy Heath

Suppose a company receives a spike in the number of customer complaints, or medical experts discover an outbreak of illness affecting children but are not quite sure of the reason. In both cases, carrying out a case study could be the best way to get answers.

Organization

Case studies can be carried out across different disciplines, including education, medicine, sociology, and business.

Most case studies employ qualitative methods, but quantitative methods can also be used. Researchers can then describe, compare, evaluate, and identify patterns or cause-and-effect relationships between the various variables under study. They can then use this knowledge to decide what action to take. 

Another thing to note is that case studies are generally singular in their focus. This means they narrow focus to a particular area, making them highly subjective. You cannot always generalize the results of a case study and apply them to a larger population. However, they are valuable tools to illustrate a principle or develop a thesis.

Analyze case study research

Dovetail streamlines case study research to help you uncover and share actionable insights

  • What are the different types of case study designs?

Researchers can choose from a variety of case study designs. The design they choose is dependent on what questions they need to answer, the context of the research environment, how much data they already have, and what resources are available.

Here are the common types of case study design:

Explanatory

An explanatory case study is an initial explanation of the how or why that is behind something. This design is commonly used when studying a real-life phenomenon or event. Once the organization understands the reasons behind a phenomenon, it can then make changes to enhance or eliminate the variables causing it. 

Here is an example: How is co-teaching implemented in elementary schools? The title for a case study of this subject could be “Case Study of the Implementation of Co-Teaching in Elementary Schools.”

Descriptive

An illustrative or descriptive case study helps researchers shed light on an unfamiliar object or subject after a period of time. The case study provides an in-depth review of the issue at hand and adds real-world examples in the area the researcher wants the audience to understand. 

The researcher makes no inferences or causal statements about the object or subject under review. This type of design is often used to understand cultural shifts.

Here is an example: How did people cope with the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami? This case study could be titled "A Case Study of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and its Effect on the Indonesian Population."

Exploratory

Exploratory research is also called a pilot case study. It is usually the first step within a larger research project, often relying on questionnaires and surveys . Researchers use exploratory research to help narrow down their focus, define parameters, draft a specific research question , and/or identify variables in a larger study. This research design usually covers a wider area than others, and focuses on the ‘what’ and ‘who’ of a topic.

Here is an example: How do nutrition and socialization in early childhood affect learning in children? The title of the exploratory study may be “Case Study of the Effects of Nutrition and Socialization on Learning in Early Childhood.”

An intrinsic case study is specifically designed to look at a unique and special phenomenon. At the start of the study, the researcher defines the phenomenon and the uniqueness that differentiates it from others. 

In this case, researchers do not attempt to generalize, compare, or challenge the existing assumptions. Instead, they explore the unique variables to enhance understanding. Here is an example: “Case Study of Volcanic Lightning.”

This design can also be identified as a cumulative case study. It uses information from past studies or observations of groups of people in certain settings as the foundation of the new study. Given that it takes multiple areas into account, it allows for greater generalization than a single case study. 

The researchers also get an in-depth look at a particular subject from different viewpoints.  Here is an example: “Case Study of how PTSD affected Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Differently Due to Advances in Military Technology.”

Critical instance

A critical case study incorporates both explanatory and intrinsic study designs. It does not have predetermined purposes beyond an investigation of the said subject. It can be used for a deeper explanation of the cause-and-effect relationship. It can also be used to question a common assumption or myth. 

The findings can then be used further to generalize whether they would also apply in a different environment.  Here is an example: “What Effect Does Prolonged Use of Social Media Have on the Mind of American Youth?”

Instrumental

Instrumental research attempts to achieve goals beyond understanding the object at hand. Researchers explore a larger subject through different, separate studies and use the findings to understand its relationship to another subject. This type of design also provides insight into an issue or helps refine a theory. 

For example, you may want to determine if violent behavior in children predisposes them to crime later in life. The focus is on the relationship between children and violent behavior, and why certain children do become violent. Here is an example: “Violence Breeds Violence: Childhood Exposure and Participation in Adult Crime.”

Evaluation case study design is employed to research the effects of a program, policy, or intervention, and assess its effectiveness and impact on future decision-making. 

For example, you might want to see whether children learn times tables quicker through an educational game on their iPad versus a more teacher-led intervention. Here is an example: “An Investigation of the Impact of an iPad Multiplication Game for Primary School Children.” 

  • When do you use case studies?

Case studies are ideal when you want to gain a contextual, concrete, or in-depth understanding of a particular subject. It helps you understand the characteristics, implications, and meanings of the subject.

They are also an excellent choice for those writing a thesis or dissertation, as they help keep the project focused on a particular area when resources or time may be too limited to cover a wider one. You may have to conduct several case studies to explore different aspects of the subject in question and understand the problem.

  • What are the steps to follow when conducting a case study?

1. Select a case

Once you identify the problem at hand and come up with questions, identify the case you will focus on. The study can provide insights into the subject at hand, challenge existing assumptions, propose a course of action, and/or open up new areas for further research.

2. Create a theoretical framework

While you will be focusing on a specific detail, the case study design you choose should be linked to existing knowledge on the topic. This prevents it from becoming an isolated description and allows for enhancing the existing information. 

It may expand the current theory by bringing up new ideas or concepts, challenge established assumptions, or exemplify a theory by exploring how it answers the problem at hand. A theoretical framework starts with a literature review of the sources relevant to the topic in focus. This helps in identifying key concepts to guide analysis and interpretation.

3. Collect the data

Case studies are frequently supplemented with qualitative data such as observations, interviews, and a review of both primary and secondary sources such as official records, news articles, and photographs. There may also be quantitative data —this data assists in understanding the case thoroughly.

4. Analyze your case

The results of the research depend on the research design. Most case studies are structured with chapters or topic headings for easy explanation and presentation. Others may be written as narratives to allow researchers to explore various angles of the topic and analyze its meanings and implications.

In all areas, always give a detailed contextual understanding of the case and connect it to the existing theory and literature before discussing how it fits into your problem area.

  • What are some case study examples?

What are the best approaches for introducing our product into the Kenyan market?

How does the change in marketing strategy aid in increasing the sales volumes of product Y?

How can teachers enhance student participation in classrooms?

How does poverty affect literacy levels in children?

Case study topics

Case study of product marketing strategies in the Kenyan market

Case study of the effects of a marketing strategy change on product Y sales volumes

Case study of X school teachers that encourage active student participation in the classroom

Case study of the effects of poverty on literacy levels in children

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Continuing to enhance the quality of case study methodology in health services research

Shannon l. sibbald.

1 Faculty of Health Sciences, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.

2 Department of Family Medicine, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.

3 The Schulich Interfaculty Program in Public Health, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.

Stefan Paciocco

Meghan fournie, rachelle van asseldonk, tiffany scurr.

Case study methodology has grown in popularity within Health Services Research (HSR). However, its use and merit as a methodology are frequently criticized due to its flexible approach and inconsistent application. Nevertheless, case study methodology is well suited to HSR because it can track and examine complex relationships, contexts, and systems as they evolve. Applied appropriately, it can help generate information on how multiple forms of knowledge come together to inform decision-making within healthcare contexts. In this article, we aim to demystify case study methodology by outlining its philosophical underpinnings and three foundational approaches. We provide literature-based guidance to decision-makers, policy-makers, and health leaders on how to engage in and critically appraise case study design. We advocate that researchers work in collaboration with health leaders to detail their research process with an aim of strengthening the validity and integrity of case study for its continued and advanced use in HSR.

Introduction

The popularity of case study research methodology in Health Services Research (HSR) has grown over the past 40 years. 1 This may be attributed to a shift towards the use of implementation research and a newfound appreciation of contextual factors affecting the uptake of evidence-based interventions within diverse settings. 2 Incorporating context-specific information on the delivery and implementation of programs can increase the likelihood of success. 3 , 4 Case study methodology is particularly well suited for implementation research in health services because it can provide insight into the nuances of diverse contexts. 5 , 6 In 1999, Yin 7 published a paper on how to enhance the quality of case study in HSR, which was foundational for the emergence of case study in this field. Yin 7 maintains case study is an appropriate methodology in HSR because health systems are constantly evolving, and the multiple affiliations and diverse motivations are difficult to track and understand with traditional linear methodologies.

Despite its increased popularity, there is debate whether a case study is a methodology (ie, a principle or process that guides research) or a method (ie, a tool to answer research questions). Some criticize case study for its high level of flexibility, perceiving it as less rigorous, and maintain that it generates inadequate results. 8 Others have noted issues with quality and consistency in how case studies are conducted and reported. 9 Reporting is often varied and inconsistent, using a mix of approaches such as case reports, case findings, and/or case study. Authors sometimes use incongruent methods of data collection and analysis or use the case study as a default when other methodologies do not fit. 9 , 10 Despite these criticisms, case study methodology is becoming more common as a viable approach for HSR. 11 An abundance of articles and textbooks are available to guide researchers through case study research, including field-specific resources for business, 12 , 13 nursing, 14 and family medicine. 15 However, there remains confusion and a lack of clarity on the key tenets of case study methodology.

Several common philosophical underpinnings have contributed to the development of case study research 1 which has led to different approaches to planning, data collection, and analysis. This presents challenges in assessing quality and rigour for researchers conducting case studies and stakeholders reading results.

This article discusses the various approaches and philosophical underpinnings to case study methodology. Our goal is to explain it in a way that provides guidance for decision-makers, policy-makers, and health leaders on how to understand, critically appraise, and engage in case study research and design, as such guidance is largely absent in the literature. This article is by no means exhaustive or authoritative. Instead, we aim to provide guidance and encourage dialogue around case study methodology, facilitating critical thinking around the variety of approaches and ways quality and rigour can be bolstered for its use within HSR.

Purpose of case study methodology

Case study methodology is often used to develop an in-depth, holistic understanding of a specific phenomenon within a specified context. 11 It focuses on studying one or multiple cases over time and uses an in-depth analysis of multiple information sources. 16 , 17 It is ideal for situations including, but not limited to, exploring under-researched and real-life phenomena, 18 especially when the contexts are complex and the researcher has little control over the phenomena. 19 , 20 Case studies can be useful when researchers want to understand how interventions are implemented in different contexts, and how context shapes the phenomenon of interest.

In addition to demonstrating coherency with the type of questions case study is suited to answer, there are four key tenets to case study methodologies: (1) be transparent in the paradigmatic and theoretical perspectives influencing study design; (2) clearly define the case and phenomenon of interest; (3) clearly define and justify the type of case study design; and (4) use multiple data collection sources and analysis methods to present the findings in ways that are consistent with the methodology and the study’s paradigmatic base. 9 , 16 The goal is to appropriately match the methods to empirical questions and issues and not to universally advocate any single approach for all problems. 21

Approaches to case study methodology

Three authors propose distinct foundational approaches to case study methodology positioned within different paradigms: Yin, 19 , 22 Stake, 5 , 23 and Merriam 24 , 25 ( Table 1 ). Yin is strongly post-positivist whereas Stake and Merriam are grounded in a constructivist paradigm. Researchers should locate their research within a paradigm that explains the philosophies guiding their research 26 and adhere to the underlying paradigmatic assumptions and key tenets of the appropriate author’s methodology. This will enhance the consistency and coherency of the methods and findings. However, researchers often do not report their paradigmatic position, nor do they adhere to one approach. 9 Although deliberately blending methodologies may be defensible and methodologically appropriate, more often it is done in an ad hoc and haphazard way, without consideration for limitations.

Cross-analysis of three case study approaches, adapted from Yazan 2015

The post-positive paradigm postulates there is one reality that can be objectively described and understood by “bracketing” oneself from the research to remove prejudice or bias. 27 Yin focuses on general explanation and prediction, emphasizing the formulation of propositions, akin to hypothesis testing. This approach is best suited for structured and objective data collection 9 , 11 and is often used for mixed-method studies.

Constructivism assumes that the phenomenon of interest is constructed and influenced by local contexts, including the interaction between researchers, individuals, and their environment. 27 It acknowledges multiple interpretations of reality 24 constructed within the context by the researcher and participants which are unlikely to be replicated, should either change. 5 , 20 Stake and Merriam’s constructivist approaches emphasize a story-like rendering of a problem and an iterative process of constructing the case study. 7 This stance values researcher reflexivity and transparency, 28 acknowledging how researchers’ experiences and disciplinary lenses influence their assumptions and beliefs about the nature of the phenomenon and development of the findings.

Defining a case

A key tenet of case study methodology often underemphasized in literature is the importance of defining the case and phenomenon. Researches should clearly describe the case with sufficient detail to allow readers to fully understand the setting and context and determine applicability. Trying to answer a question that is too broad often leads to an unclear definition of the case and phenomenon. 20 Cases should therefore be bound by time and place to ensure rigor and feasibility. 6

Yin 22 defines a case as “a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context,” (p13) which may contain a single unit of analysis, including individuals, programs, corporations, or clinics 29 (holistic), or be broken into sub-units of analysis, such as projects, meetings, roles, or locations within the case (embedded). 30 Merriam 24 and Stake 5 similarly define a case as a single unit studied within a bounded system. Stake 5 , 23 suggests bounding cases by contexts and experiences where the phenomenon of interest can be a program, process, or experience. However, the line between the case and phenomenon can become muddy. For guidance, Stake 5 , 23 describes the case as the noun or entity and the phenomenon of interest as the verb, functioning, or activity of the case.

Designing the case study approach

Yin’s approach to a case study is rooted in a formal proposition or theory which guides the case and is used to test the outcome. 1 Stake 5 advocates for a flexible design and explicitly states that data collection and analysis may commence at any point. Merriam’s 24 approach blends both Yin and Stake’s, allowing the necessary flexibility in data collection and analysis to meet the needs.

Yin 30 proposed three types of case study approaches—descriptive, explanatory, and exploratory. Each can be designed around single or multiple cases, creating six basic case study methodologies. Descriptive studies provide a rich description of the phenomenon within its context, which can be helpful in developing theories. To test a theory or determine cause and effect relationships, researchers can use an explanatory design. An exploratory model is typically used in the pilot-test phase to develop propositions (eg, Sibbald et al. 31 used this approach to explore interprofessional network complexity). Despite having distinct characteristics, the boundaries between case study types are flexible with significant overlap. 30 Each has five key components: (1) research question; (2) proposition; (3) unit of analysis; (4) logical linking that connects the theory with proposition; and (5) criteria for analyzing findings.

Contrary to Yin, Stake 5 believes the research process cannot be planned in its entirety because research evolves as it is performed. Consequently, researchers can adjust the design of their methods even after data collection has begun. Stake 5 classifies case studies into three categories: intrinsic, instrumental, and collective/multiple. Intrinsic case studies focus on gaining a better understanding of the case. These are often undertaken when the researcher has an interest in a specific case. Instrumental case study is used when the case itself is not of the utmost importance, and the issue or phenomenon (ie, the research question) being explored becomes the focus instead (eg, Paciocco 32 used an instrumental case study to evaluate the implementation of a chronic disease management program). 5 Collective designs are rooted in an instrumental case study and include multiple cases to gain an in-depth understanding of the complexity and particularity of a phenomenon across diverse contexts. 5 , 23 In collective designs, studying similarities and differences between the cases allows the phenomenon to be understood more intimately (for examples of this in the field, see van Zelm et al. 33 and Burrows et al. 34 In addition, Sibbald et al. 35 present an example where a cross-case analysis method is used to compare instrumental cases).

Merriam’s approach is flexible (similar to Stake) as well as stepwise and linear (similar to Yin). She advocates for conducting a literature review before designing the study to better understand the theoretical underpinnings. 24 , 25 Unlike Stake or Yin, Merriam proposes a step-by-step guide for researchers to design a case study. These steps include performing a literature review, creating a theoretical framework, identifying the problem, creating and refining the research question(s), and selecting a study sample that fits the question(s). 24 , 25 , 36

Data collection and analysis

Using multiple data collection methods is a key characteristic of all case study methodology; it enhances the credibility of the findings by allowing different facets and views of the phenomenon to be explored. 23 Common methods include interviews, focus groups, observation, and document analysis. 5 , 37 By seeking patterns within and across data sources, a thick description of the case can be generated to support a greater understanding and interpretation of the whole phenomenon. 5 , 17 , 20 , 23 This technique is called triangulation and is used to explore cases with greater accuracy. 5 Although Stake 5 maintains case study is most often used in qualitative research, Yin 17 supports a mix of both quantitative and qualitative methods to triangulate data. This deliberate convergence of data sources (or mixed methods) allows researchers to find greater depth in their analysis and develop converging lines of inquiry. For example, case studies evaluating interventions commonly use qualitative interviews to describe the implementation process, barriers, and facilitators paired with a quantitative survey of comparative outcomes and effectiveness. 33 , 38 , 39

Yin 30 describes analysis as dependent on the chosen approach, whether it be (1) deductive and rely on theoretical propositions; (2) inductive and analyze data from the “ground up”; (3) organized to create a case description; or (4) used to examine plausible rival explanations. According to Yin’s 40 approach to descriptive case studies, carefully considering theory development is an important part of study design. “Theory” refers to field-relevant propositions, commonly agreed upon assumptions, or fully developed theories. 40 Stake 5 advocates for using the researcher’s intuition and impression to guide analysis through a categorical aggregation and direct interpretation. Merriam 24 uses six different methods to guide the “process of making meaning” (p178) : (1) ethnographic analysis; (2) narrative analysis; (3) phenomenological analysis; (4) constant comparative method; (5) content analysis; and (6) analytic induction.

Drawing upon a theoretical or conceptual framework to inform analysis improves the quality of case study and avoids the risk of description without meaning. 18 Using Stake’s 5 approach, researchers rely on protocols and previous knowledge to help make sense of new ideas; theory can guide the research and assist researchers in understanding how new information fits into existing knowledge.

Practical applications of case study research

Columbia University has recently demonstrated how case studies can help train future health leaders. 41 Case studies encompass components of systems thinking—considering connections and interactions between components of a system, alongside the implications and consequences of those relationships—to equip health leaders with tools to tackle global health issues. 41 Greenwood 42 evaluated Indigenous peoples’ relationship with the healthcare system in British Columbia and used a case study to challenge and educate health leaders across the country to enhance culturally sensitive health service environments.

An important but often omitted step in case study research is an assessment of quality and rigour. We recommend using a framework or set of criteria to assess the rigour of the qualitative research. Suitable resources include Caelli et al., 43 Houghten et al., 44 Ravenek and Rudman, 45 and Tracy. 46

New directions in case study

Although “pragmatic” case studies (ie, utilizing practical and applicable methods) have existed within psychotherapy for some time, 47 , 48 only recently has the applicability of pragmatism as an underlying paradigmatic perspective been considered in HSR. 49 This is marked by uptake of pragmatism in Randomized Control Trials, recognizing that “gold standard” testing conditions do not reflect the reality of clinical settings 50 , 51 nor do a handful of epistemologically guided methodologies suit every research inquiry.

Pragmatism positions the research question as the basis for methodological choices, rather than a theory or epistemology, allowing researchers to pursue the most practical approach to understanding a problem or discovering an actionable solution. 52 Mixed methods are commonly used to create a deeper understanding of the case through converging qualitative and quantitative data. 52 Pragmatic case study is suited to HSR because its flexibility throughout the research process accommodates complexity, ever-changing systems, and disruptions to research plans. 49 , 50 Much like case study, pragmatism has been criticized for its flexibility and use when other approaches are seemingly ill-fit. 53 , 54 Similarly, authors argue that this results from a lack of investigation and proper application rather than a reflection of validity, legitimizing the need for more exploration and conversation among researchers and practitioners. 55

Although occasionally misunderstood as a less rigourous research methodology, 8 case study research is highly flexible and allows for contextual nuances. 5 , 6 Its use is valuable when the researcher desires a thorough understanding of a phenomenon or case bound by context. 11 If needed, multiple similar cases can be studied simultaneously, or one case within another. 16 , 17 There are currently three main approaches to case study, 5 , 17 , 24 each with their own definitions of a case, ontological and epistemological paradigms, methodologies, and data collection and analysis procedures. 37

Individuals’ experiences within health systems are influenced heavily by contextual factors, participant experience, and intricate relationships between different organizations and actors. 55 Case study research is well suited for HSR because it can track and examine these complex relationships and systems as they evolve over time. 6 , 7 It is important that researchers and health leaders using this methodology understand its key tenets and how to conduct a proper case study. Although there are many examples of case study in action, they are often under-reported and, when reported, not rigorously conducted. 9 Thus, decision-makers and health leaders should use these examples with caution. The proper reporting of case studies is necessary to bolster their credibility in HSR literature and provide readers sufficient information to critically assess the methodology. We also call on health leaders who frequently use case studies 56 – 58 to report them in the primary research literature.

The purpose of this article is to advocate for the continued and advanced use of case study in HSR and to provide literature-based guidance for decision-makers, policy-makers, and health leaders on how to engage in, read, and interpret findings from case study research. As health systems progress and evolve, the application of case study research will continue to increase as researchers and health leaders aim to capture the inherent complexities, nuances, and contextual factors. 7

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Case Study Research Method in Psychology

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Editor-in-Chief for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, PhD., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years of experience in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Learn about our Editorial Process

Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

On This Page:

Case studies are in-depth investigations of a person, group, event, or community. Typically, data is gathered from various sources using several methods (e.g., observations & interviews).

The case study research method originated in clinical medicine (the case history, i.e., the patient’s personal history). In psychology, case studies are often confined to the study of a particular individual.

The information is mainly biographical and relates to events in the individual’s past (i.e., retrospective), as well as to significant events that are currently occurring in his or her everyday life.

The case study is not a research method, but researchers select methods of data collection and analysis that will generate material suitable for case studies.

Freud (1909a, 1909b) conducted very detailed investigations into the private lives of his patients in an attempt to both understand and help them overcome their illnesses.

This makes it clear that the case study is a method that should only be used by a psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist, i.e., someone with a professional qualification.

There is an ethical issue of competence. Only someone qualified to diagnose and treat a person can conduct a formal case study relating to atypical (i.e., abnormal) behavior or atypical development.

case study

 Famous Case Studies

  • Anna O – One of the most famous case studies, documenting psychoanalyst Josef Breuer’s treatment of “Anna O” (real name Bertha Pappenheim) for hysteria in the late 1800s using early psychoanalytic theory.
  • Little Hans – A child psychoanalysis case study published by Sigmund Freud in 1909 analyzing his five-year-old patient Herbert Graf’s house phobia as related to the Oedipus complex.
  • Bruce/Brenda – Gender identity case of the boy (Bruce) whose botched circumcision led psychologist John Money to advise gender reassignment and raise him as a girl (Brenda) in the 1960s.
  • Genie Wiley – Linguistics/psychological development case of the victim of extreme isolation abuse who was studied in 1970s California for effects of early language deprivation on acquiring speech later in life.
  • Phineas Gage – One of the most famous neuropsychology case studies analyzes personality changes in railroad worker Phineas Gage after an 1848 brain injury involving a tamping iron piercing his skull.

Clinical Case Studies

  • Studying the effectiveness of psychotherapy approaches with an individual patient
  • Assessing and treating mental illnesses like depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD
  • Neuropsychological cases investigating brain injuries or disorders

Child Psychology Case Studies

  • Studying psychological development from birth through adolescence
  • Cases of learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, ADHD
  • Effects of trauma, abuse, deprivation on development

Types of Case Studies

  • Explanatory case studies : Used to explore causation in order to find underlying principles. Helpful for doing qualitative analysis to explain presumed causal links.
  • Exploratory case studies : Used to explore situations where an intervention being evaluated has no clear set of outcomes. It helps define questions and hypotheses for future research.
  • Descriptive case studies : Describe an intervention or phenomenon and the real-life context in which it occurred. It is helpful for illustrating certain topics within an evaluation.
  • Multiple-case studies : Used to explore differences between cases and replicate findings across cases. Helpful for comparing and contrasting specific cases.
  • Intrinsic : Used to gain a better understanding of a particular case. Helpful for capturing the complexity of a single case.
  • Collective : Used to explore a general phenomenon using multiple case studies. Helpful for jointly studying a group of cases in order to inquire into the phenomenon.

Where Do You Find Data for a Case Study?

There are several places to find data for a case study. The key is to gather data from multiple sources to get a complete picture of the case and corroborate facts or findings through triangulation of evidence. Most of this information is likely qualitative (i.e., verbal description rather than measurement), but the psychologist might also collect numerical data.

1. Primary sources

  • Interviews – Interviewing key people related to the case to get their perspectives and insights. The interview is an extremely effective procedure for obtaining information about an individual, and it may be used to collect comments from the person’s friends, parents, employer, workmates, and others who have a good knowledge of the person, as well as to obtain facts from the person him or herself.
  • Observations – Observing behaviors, interactions, processes, etc., related to the case as they unfold in real-time.
  • Documents & Records – Reviewing private documents, diaries, public records, correspondence, meeting minutes, etc., relevant to the case.

2. Secondary sources

  • News/Media – News coverage of events related to the case study.
  • Academic articles – Journal articles, dissertations etc. that discuss the case.
  • Government reports – Official data and records related to the case context.
  • Books/films – Books, documentaries or films discussing the case.

3. Archival records

Searching historical archives, museum collections and databases to find relevant documents, visual/audio records related to the case history and context.

Public archives like newspapers, organizational records, photographic collections could all include potentially relevant pieces of information to shed light on attitudes, cultural perspectives, common practices and historical contexts related to psychology.

4. Organizational records

Organizational records offer the advantage of often having large datasets collected over time that can reveal or confirm psychological insights.

Of course, privacy and ethical concerns regarding confidential data must be navigated carefully.

However, with proper protocols, organizational records can provide invaluable context and empirical depth to qualitative case studies exploring the intersection of psychology and organizations.

  • Organizational/industrial psychology research : Organizational records like employee surveys, turnover/retention data, policies, incident reports etc. may provide insight into topics like job satisfaction, workplace culture and dynamics, leadership issues, employee behaviors etc.
  • Clinical psychology : Therapists/hospitals may grant access to anonymized medical records to study aspects like assessments, diagnoses, treatment plans etc. This could shed light on clinical practices.
  • School psychology : Studies could utilize anonymized student records like test scores, grades, disciplinary issues, and counseling referrals to study child development, learning barriers, effectiveness of support programs, and more.

How do I Write a Case Study in Psychology?

Follow specified case study guidelines provided by a journal or your psychology tutor. General components of clinical case studies include: background, symptoms, assessments, diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes. Interpreting the information means the researcher decides what to include or leave out. A good case study should always clarify which information is the factual description and which is an inference or the researcher’s opinion.

1. Introduction

  • Provide background on the case context and why it is of interest, presenting background information like demographics, relevant history, and presenting problem.
  • Compare briefly to similar published cases if applicable. Clearly state the focus/importance of the case.

2. Case Presentation

  • Describe the presenting problem in detail, including symptoms, duration,and impact on daily life.
  • Include client demographics like age and gender, information about social relationships, and mental health history.
  • Describe all physical, emotional, and/or sensory symptoms reported by the client.
  • Use patient quotes to describe the initial complaint verbatim. Follow with full-sentence summaries of relevant history details gathered, including key components that led to a working diagnosis.
  • Summarize clinical exam results, namely orthopedic/neurological tests, imaging, lab tests, etc. Note actual results rather than subjective conclusions. Provide images if clearly reproducible/anonymized.
  • Clearly state the working diagnosis or clinical impression before transitioning to management.

3. Management and Outcome

  • Indicate the total duration of care and number of treatments given over what timeframe. Use specific names/descriptions for any therapies/interventions applied.
  • Present the results of the intervention,including any quantitative or qualitative data collected.
  • For outcomes, utilize visual analog scales for pain, medication usage logs, etc., if possible. Include patient self-reports of improvement/worsening of symptoms. Note the reason for discharge/end of care.

4. Discussion

  • Analyze the case, exploring contributing factors, limitations of the study, and connections to existing research.
  • Analyze the effectiveness of the intervention,considering factors like participant adherence, limitations of the study, and potential alternative explanations for the results.
  • Identify any questions raised in the case analysis and relate insights to established theories and current research if applicable. Avoid definitive claims about physiological explanations.
  • Offer clinical implications, and suggest future research directions.

5. Additional Items

  • Thank specific assistants for writing support only. No patient acknowledgments.
  • References should directly support any key claims or quotes included.
  • Use tables/figures/images only if substantially informative. Include permissions and legends/explanatory notes.
  • Provides detailed (rich qualitative) information.
  • Provides insight for further research.
  • Permitting investigation of otherwise impractical (or unethical) situations.

Case studies allow a researcher to investigate a topic in far more detail than might be possible if they were trying to deal with a large number of research participants (nomothetic approach) with the aim of ‘averaging’.

Because of their in-depth, multi-sided approach, case studies often shed light on aspects of human thinking and behavior that would be unethical or impractical to study in other ways.

Research that only looks into the measurable aspects of human behavior is not likely to give us insights into the subjective dimension of experience, which is important to psychoanalytic and humanistic psychologists.

Case studies are often used in exploratory research. They can help us generate new ideas (that might be tested by other methods). They are an important way of illustrating theories and can help show how different aspects of a person’s life are related to each other.

The method is, therefore, important for psychologists who adopt a holistic point of view (i.e., humanistic psychologists ).

Limitations

  • Lacking scientific rigor and providing little basis for generalization of results to the wider population.
  • Researchers’ own subjective feelings may influence the case study (researcher bias).
  • Difficult to replicate.
  • Time-consuming and expensive.
  • The volume of data, together with the time restrictions in place, impacted the depth of analysis that was possible within the available resources.

Because a case study deals with only one person/event/group, we can never be sure if the case study investigated is representative of the wider body of “similar” instances. This means the conclusions drawn from a particular case may not be transferable to other settings.

Because case studies are based on the analysis of qualitative (i.e., descriptive) data , a lot depends on the psychologist’s interpretation of the information she has acquired.

This means that there is a lot of scope for Anna O , and it could be that the subjective opinions of the psychologist intrude in the assessment of what the data means.

For example, Freud has been criticized for producing case studies in which the information was sometimes distorted to fit particular behavioral theories (e.g., Little Hans ).

This is also true of Money’s interpretation of the Bruce/Brenda case study (Diamond, 1997) when he ignored evidence that went against his theory.

Breuer, J., & Freud, S. (1895).  Studies on hysteria . Standard Edition 2: London.

Curtiss, S. (1981). Genie: The case of a modern wild child .

Diamond, M., & Sigmundson, K. (1997). Sex Reassignment at Birth: Long-term Review and Clinical Implications. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine , 151(3), 298-304

Freud, S. (1909a). Analysis of a phobia of a five year old boy. In The Pelican Freud Library (1977), Vol 8, Case Histories 1, pages 169-306

Freud, S. (1909b). Bemerkungen über einen Fall von Zwangsneurose (Der “Rattenmann”). Jb. psychoanal. psychopathol. Forsch ., I, p. 357-421; GW, VII, p. 379-463; Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis, SE , 10: 151-318.

Harlow J. M. (1848). Passage of an iron rod through the head.  Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, 39 , 389–393.

Harlow, J. M. (1868).  Recovery from the Passage of an Iron Bar through the Head .  Publications of the Massachusetts Medical Society. 2  (3), 327-347.

Money, J., & Ehrhardt, A. A. (1972).  Man & Woman, Boy & Girl : The Differentiation and Dimorphism of Gender Identity from Conception to Maturity. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Money, J., & Tucker, P. (1975). Sexual signatures: On being a man or a woman.

Further Information

  • Case Study Approach
  • Case Study Method
  • Enhancing the Quality of Case Studies in Health Services Research
  • “We do things together” A case study of “couplehood” in dementia
  • Using mixed methods for evaluating an integrative approach to cancer care: a case study

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a research strategy whose characteristics include

  • a focus on the interrelationships that constitute the context of a specific entity (such as an organization, event, phenomenon, or person),
  • analysis of the relationship between the contextual factors and the entity being studied, and
  • the explicit purpose of using those insights (of the interactions between contextual relationships and the entity in question) to generate theory and/or contribute to extant theory. 

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What is the value of working with case studies.

Professor Todd Landman explains how case studies can be used in research. He discusses the importance of choosing a case study correctly and warns about limitations of case study research.

This is just one segment in a series about case studies. You can find the rest of the series in our SAGE database, Research Methods:

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Assignments

  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Analyzing a Scholarly Journal Article
  • Group Presentations
  • Dealing with Nervousness
  • Using Visual Aids
  • Grading Someone Else's Paper
  • Types of Structured Group Activities
  • Group Project Survival Skills
  • Leading a Class Discussion
  • Multiple Book Review Essay
  • Reviewing Collected Works
  • Writing a Case Analysis Paper
  • Writing a Case Study
  • About Informed Consent
  • Writing Field Notes
  • Writing a Policy Memo
  • Writing a Reflective Paper
  • Writing a Research Proposal
  • Generative AI and Writing
  • Acknowledgments

A case study research paper examines a person, place, event, condition, phenomenon, or other type of subject of analysis in order to extrapolate  key themes and results that help predict future trends, illuminate previously hidden issues that can be applied to practice, and/or provide a means for understanding an important research problem with greater clarity. A case study research paper usually examines a single subject of analysis, but case study papers can also be designed as a comparative investigation that shows relationships between two or more subjects. The methods used to study a case can rest within a quantitative, qualitative, or mixed-method investigative paradigm.

Case Studies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010 ; “What is a Case Study?” In Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London: SAGE, 2010.

How to Approach Writing a Case Study Research Paper

General information about how to choose a topic to investigate can be found under the " Choosing a Research Problem " tab in the Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper writing guide. Review this page because it may help you identify a subject of analysis that can be investigated using a case study design.

However, identifying a case to investigate involves more than choosing the research problem . A case study encompasses a problem contextualized around the application of in-depth analysis, interpretation, and discussion, often resulting in specific recommendations for action or for improving existing conditions. As Seawright and Gerring note, practical considerations such as time and access to information can influence case selection, but these issues should not be the sole factors used in describing the methodological justification for identifying a particular case to study. Given this, selecting a case includes considering the following:

  • The case represents an unusual or atypical example of a research problem that requires more in-depth analysis? Cases often represent a topic that rests on the fringes of prior investigations because the case may provide new ways of understanding the research problem. For example, if the research problem is to identify strategies to improve policies that support girl's access to secondary education in predominantly Muslim nations, you could consider using Azerbaijan as a case study rather than selecting a more obvious nation in the Middle East. Doing so may reveal important new insights into recommending how governments in other predominantly Muslim nations can formulate policies that support improved access to education for girls.
  • The case provides important insight or illuminate a previously hidden problem? In-depth analysis of a case can be based on the hypothesis that the case study will reveal trends or issues that have not been exposed in prior research or will reveal new and important implications for practice. For example, anecdotal evidence may suggest drug use among homeless veterans is related to their patterns of travel throughout the day. Assuming prior studies have not looked at individual travel choices as a way to study access to illicit drug use, a case study that observes a homeless veteran could reveal how issues of personal mobility choices facilitate regular access to illicit drugs. Note that it is important to conduct a thorough literature review to ensure that your assumption about the need to reveal new insights or previously hidden problems is valid and evidence-based.
  • The case challenges and offers a counter-point to prevailing assumptions? Over time, research on any given topic can fall into a trap of developing assumptions based on outdated studies that are still applied to new or changing conditions or the idea that something should simply be accepted as "common sense," even though the issue has not been thoroughly tested in current practice. A case study analysis may offer an opportunity to gather evidence that challenges prevailing assumptions about a research problem and provide a new set of recommendations applied to practice that have not been tested previously. For example, perhaps there has been a long practice among scholars to apply a particular theory in explaining the relationship between two subjects of analysis. Your case could challenge this assumption by applying an innovative theoretical framework [perhaps borrowed from another discipline] to explore whether this approach offers new ways of understanding the research problem. Taking a contrarian stance is one of the most important ways that new knowledge and understanding develops from existing literature.
  • The case provides an opportunity to pursue action leading to the resolution of a problem? Another way to think about choosing a case to study is to consider how the results from investigating a particular case may result in findings that reveal ways in which to resolve an existing or emerging problem. For example, studying the case of an unforeseen incident, such as a fatal accident at a railroad crossing, can reveal hidden issues that could be applied to preventative measures that contribute to reducing the chance of accidents in the future. In this example, a case study investigating the accident could lead to a better understanding of where to strategically locate additional signals at other railroad crossings so as to better warn drivers of an approaching train, particularly when visibility is hindered by heavy rain, fog, or at night.
  • The case offers a new direction in future research? A case study can be used as a tool for an exploratory investigation that highlights the need for further research about the problem. A case can be used when there are few studies that help predict an outcome or that establish a clear understanding about how best to proceed in addressing a problem. For example, after conducting a thorough literature review [very important!], you discover that little research exists showing the ways in which women contribute to promoting water conservation in rural communities of east central Africa. A case study of how women contribute to saving water in a rural village of Uganda can lay the foundation for understanding the need for more thorough research that documents how women in their roles as cooks and family caregivers think about water as a valuable resource within their community. This example of a case study could also point to the need for scholars to build new theoretical frameworks around the topic [e.g., applying feminist theories of work and family to the issue of water conservation].

Eisenhardt, Kathleen M. “Building Theories from Case Study Research.” Academy of Management Review 14 (October 1989): 532-550; Emmel, Nick. Sampling and Choosing Cases in Qualitative Research: A Realist Approach . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2013; Gerring, John. “What Is a Case Study and What Is It Good for?” American Political Science Review 98 (May 2004): 341-354; Mills, Albert J. , Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Seawright, Jason and John Gerring. "Case Selection Techniques in Case Study Research." Political Research Quarterly 61 (June 2008): 294-308.

Structure and Writing Style

The purpose of a paper in the social sciences designed around a case study is to thoroughly investigate a subject of analysis in order to reveal a new understanding about the research problem and, in so doing, contributing new knowledge to what is already known from previous studies. In applied social sciences disciplines [e.g., education, social work, public administration, etc.], case studies may also be used to reveal best practices, highlight key programs, or investigate interesting aspects of professional work.

In general, the structure of a case study research paper is not all that different from a standard college-level research paper. However, there are subtle differences you should be aware of. Here are the key elements to organizing and writing a case study research paper.

I.  Introduction

As with any research paper, your introduction should serve as a roadmap for your readers to ascertain the scope and purpose of your study . The introduction to a case study research paper, however, should not only describe the research problem and its significance, but you should also succinctly describe why the case is being used and how it relates to addressing the problem. The two elements should be linked. With this in mind, a good introduction answers these four questions:

  • What is being studied? Describe the research problem and describe the subject of analysis [the case] you have chosen to address the problem. Explain how they are linked and what elements of the case will help to expand knowledge and understanding about the problem.
  • Why is this topic important to investigate? Describe the significance of the research problem and state why a case study design and the subject of analysis that the paper is designed around is appropriate in addressing the problem.
  • What did we know about this topic before I did this study? Provide background that helps lead the reader into the more in-depth literature review to follow. If applicable, summarize prior case study research applied to the research problem and why it fails to adequately address the problem. Describe why your case will be useful. If no prior case studies have been used to address the research problem, explain why you have selected this subject of analysis.
  • How will this study advance new knowledge or new ways of understanding? Explain why your case study will be suitable in helping to expand knowledge and understanding about the research problem.

Each of these questions should be addressed in no more than a few paragraphs. Exceptions to this can be when you are addressing a complex research problem or subject of analysis that requires more in-depth background information.

II.  Literature Review

The literature review for a case study research paper is generally structured the same as it is for any college-level research paper. The difference, however, is that the literature review is focused on providing background information and  enabling historical interpretation of the subject of analysis in relation to the research problem the case is intended to address . This includes synthesizing studies that help to:

  • Place relevant works in the context of their contribution to understanding the case study being investigated . This would involve summarizing studies that have used a similar subject of analysis to investigate the research problem. If there is literature using the same or a very similar case to study, you need to explain why duplicating past research is important [e.g., conditions have changed; prior studies were conducted long ago, etc.].
  • Describe the relationship each work has to the others under consideration that informs the reader why this case is applicable . Your literature review should include a description of any works that support using the case to investigate the research problem and the underlying research questions.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research using the case study . If applicable, review any research that has examined the research problem using a different research design. Explain how your use of a case study design may reveal new knowledge or a new perspective or that can redirect research in an important new direction.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies . This refers to synthesizing any literature that points to unresolved issues of concern about the research problem and describing how the subject of analysis that forms the case study can help resolve these existing contradictions.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research . Your review should examine any literature that lays a foundation for understanding why your case study design and the subject of analysis around which you have designed your study may reveal a new way of approaching the research problem or offer a perspective that points to the need for additional research.
  • Expose any gaps that exist in the literature that the case study could help to fill . Summarize any literature that not only shows how your subject of analysis contributes to understanding the research problem, but how your case contributes to a new way of understanding the problem that prior research has failed to do.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important!] . Collectively, your literature review should always place your case study within the larger domain of prior research about the problem. The overarching purpose of reviewing pertinent literature in a case study paper is to demonstrate that you have thoroughly identified and synthesized prior studies in relation to explaining the relevance of the case in addressing the research problem.

III.  Method

In this section, you explain why you selected a particular case [i.e., subject of analysis] and the strategy you used to identify and ultimately decide that your case was appropriate in addressing the research problem. The way you describe the methods used varies depending on the type of subject of analysis that constitutes your case study.

If your subject of analysis is an incident or event . In the social and behavioral sciences, the event or incident that represents the case to be studied is usually bounded by time and place, with a clear beginning and end and with an identifiable location or position relative to its surroundings. The subject of analysis can be a rare or critical event or it can focus on a typical or regular event. The purpose of studying a rare event is to illuminate new ways of thinking about the broader research problem or to test a hypothesis. Critical incident case studies must describe the method by which you identified the event and explain the process by which you determined the validity of this case to inform broader perspectives about the research problem or to reveal new findings. However, the event does not have to be a rare or uniquely significant to support new thinking about the research problem or to challenge an existing hypothesis. For example, Walo, Bull, and Breen conducted a case study to identify and evaluate the direct and indirect economic benefits and costs of a local sports event in the City of Lismore, New South Wales, Australia. The purpose of their study was to provide new insights from measuring the impact of a typical local sports event that prior studies could not measure well because they focused on large "mega-events." Whether the event is rare or not, the methods section should include an explanation of the following characteristics of the event: a) when did it take place; b) what were the underlying circumstances leading to the event; and, c) what were the consequences of the event in relation to the research problem.

If your subject of analysis is a person. Explain why you selected this particular individual to be studied and describe what experiences they have had that provide an opportunity to advance new understandings about the research problem. Mention any background about this person which might help the reader understand the significance of their experiences that make them worthy of study. This includes describing the relationships this person has had with other people, institutions, and/or events that support using them as the subject for a case study research paper. It is particularly important to differentiate the person as the subject of analysis from others and to succinctly explain how the person relates to examining the research problem [e.g., why is one politician in a particular local election used to show an increase in voter turnout from any other candidate running in the election]. Note that these issues apply to a specific group of people used as a case study unit of analysis [e.g., a classroom of students].

If your subject of analysis is a place. In general, a case study that investigates a place suggests a subject of analysis that is unique or special in some way and that this uniqueness can be used to build new understanding or knowledge about the research problem. A case study of a place must not only describe its various attributes relevant to the research problem [e.g., physical, social, historical, cultural, economic, political], but you must state the method by which you determined that this place will illuminate new understandings about the research problem. It is also important to articulate why a particular place as the case for study is being used if similar places also exist [i.e., if you are studying patterns of homeless encampments of veterans in open spaces, explain why you are studying Echo Park in Los Angeles rather than Griffith Park?]. If applicable, describe what type of human activity involving this place makes it a good choice to study [e.g., prior research suggests Echo Park has more homeless veterans].

If your subject of analysis is a phenomenon. A phenomenon refers to a fact, occurrence, or circumstance that can be studied or observed but with the cause or explanation to be in question. In this sense, a phenomenon that forms your subject of analysis can encompass anything that can be observed or presumed to exist but is not fully understood. In the social and behavioral sciences, the case usually focuses on human interaction within a complex physical, social, economic, cultural, or political system. For example, the phenomenon could be the observation that many vehicles used by ISIS fighters are small trucks with English language advertisements on them. The research problem could be that ISIS fighters are difficult to combat because they are highly mobile. The research questions could be how and by what means are these vehicles used by ISIS being supplied to the militants and how might supply lines to these vehicles be cut off? How might knowing the suppliers of these trucks reveal larger networks of collaborators and financial support? A case study of a phenomenon most often encompasses an in-depth analysis of a cause and effect that is grounded in an interactive relationship between people and their environment in some way.

NOTE:   The choice of the case or set of cases to study cannot appear random. Evidence that supports the method by which you identified and chose your subject of analysis should clearly support investigation of the research problem and linked to key findings from your literature review. Be sure to cite any studies that helped you determine that the case you chose was appropriate for examining the problem.

IV.  Discussion

The main elements of your discussion section are generally the same as any research paper, but centered around interpreting and drawing conclusions about the key findings from your analysis of the case study. Note that a general social sciences research paper may contain a separate section to report findings. However, in a paper designed around a case study, it is common to combine a description of the results with the discussion about their implications. The objectives of your discussion section should include the following:

Reiterate the Research Problem/State the Major Findings Briefly reiterate the research problem you are investigating and explain why the subject of analysis around which you designed the case study were used. You should then describe the findings revealed from your study of the case using direct, declarative, and succinct proclamation of the study results. Highlight any findings that were unexpected or especially profound.

Explain the Meaning of the Findings and Why They are Important Systematically explain the meaning of your case study findings and why you believe they are important. Begin this part of the section by repeating what you consider to be your most important or surprising finding first, then systematically review each finding. Be sure to thoroughly extrapolate what your analysis of the case can tell the reader about situations or conditions beyond the actual case that was studied while, at the same time, being careful not to misconstrue or conflate a finding that undermines the external validity of your conclusions.

Relate the Findings to Similar Studies No study in the social sciences is so novel or possesses such a restricted focus that it has absolutely no relation to previously published research. The discussion section should relate your case study results to those found in other studies, particularly if questions raised from prior studies served as the motivation for choosing your subject of analysis. This is important because comparing and contrasting the findings of other studies helps support the overall importance of your results and it highlights how and in what ways your case study design and the subject of analysis differs from prior research about the topic.

Consider Alternative Explanations of the Findings Remember that the purpose of social science research is to discover and not to prove. When writing the discussion section, you should carefully consider all possible explanations revealed by the case study results, rather than just those that fit your hypothesis or prior assumptions and biases. Be alert to what the in-depth analysis of the case may reveal about the research problem, including offering a contrarian perspective to what scholars have stated in prior research if that is how the findings can be interpreted from your case.

Acknowledge the Study's Limitations You can state the study's limitations in the conclusion section of your paper but describing the limitations of your subject of analysis in the discussion section provides an opportunity to identify the limitations and explain why they are not significant. This part of the discussion section should also note any unanswered questions or issues your case study could not address. More detailed information about how to document any limitations to your research can be found here .

Suggest Areas for Further Research Although your case study may offer important insights about the research problem, there are likely additional questions related to the problem that remain unanswered or findings that unexpectedly revealed themselves as a result of your in-depth analysis of the case. Be sure that the recommendations for further research are linked to the research problem and that you explain why your recommendations are valid in other contexts and based on the original assumptions of your study.

V.  Conclusion

As with any research paper, you should summarize your conclusion in clear, simple language; emphasize how the findings from your case study differs from or supports prior research and why. Do not simply reiterate the discussion section. Provide a synthesis of key findings presented in the paper to show how these converge to address the research problem. If you haven't already done so in the discussion section, be sure to document the limitations of your case study and any need for further research.

The function of your paper's conclusion is to: 1) reiterate the main argument supported by the findings from your case study; 2) state clearly the context, background, and necessity of pursuing the research problem using a case study design in relation to an issue, controversy, or a gap found from reviewing the literature; and, 3) provide a place to persuasively and succinctly restate the significance of your research problem, given that the reader has now been presented with in-depth information about the topic.

Consider the following points to help ensure your conclusion is appropriate:

  • If the argument or purpose of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize these points for your reader.
  • If prior to your conclusion, you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the conclusion of your paper to describe your main points and explain their significance.
  • Move from a detailed to a general level of consideration of the case study's findings that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction or within a new context that emerges from your case study findings.

Note that, depending on the discipline you are writing in or the preferences of your professor, the concluding paragraph may contain your final reflections on the evidence presented as it applies to practice or on the essay's central research problem. However, the nature of being introspective about the subject of analysis you have investigated will depend on whether you are explicitly asked to express your observations in this way.

Problems to Avoid

Overgeneralization One of the goals of a case study is to lay a foundation for understanding broader trends and issues applied to similar circumstances. However, be careful when drawing conclusions from your case study. They must be evidence-based and grounded in the results of the study; otherwise, it is merely speculation. Looking at a prior example, it would be incorrect to state that a factor in improving girls access to education in Azerbaijan and the policy implications this may have for improving access in other Muslim nations is due to girls access to social media if there is no documentary evidence from your case study to indicate this. There may be anecdotal evidence that retention rates were better for girls who were engaged with social media, but this observation would only point to the need for further research and would not be a definitive finding if this was not a part of your original research agenda.

Failure to Document Limitations No case is going to reveal all that needs to be understood about a research problem. Therefore, just as you have to clearly state the limitations of a general research study , you must describe the specific limitations inherent in the subject of analysis. For example, the case of studying how women conceptualize the need for water conservation in a village in Uganda could have limited application in other cultural contexts or in areas where fresh water from rivers or lakes is plentiful and, therefore, conservation is understood more in terms of managing access rather than preserving access to a scarce resource.

Failure to Extrapolate All Possible Implications Just as you don't want to over-generalize from your case study findings, you also have to be thorough in the consideration of all possible outcomes or recommendations derived from your findings. If you do not, your reader may question the validity of your analysis, particularly if you failed to document an obvious outcome from your case study research. For example, in the case of studying the accident at the railroad crossing to evaluate where and what types of warning signals should be located, you failed to take into consideration speed limit signage as well as warning signals. When designing your case study, be sure you have thoroughly addressed all aspects of the problem and do not leave gaps in your analysis that leave the reader questioning the results.

Case Studies. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Gerring, John. Case Study Research: Principles and Practices . New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007; Merriam, Sharan B. Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education . Rev. ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1998; Miller, Lisa L. “The Use of Case Studies in Law and Social Science Research.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 14 (2018): TBD; Mills, Albert J., Gabrielle Durepos, and Eiden Wiebe, editors. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010; Putney, LeAnn Grogan. "Case Study." In Encyclopedia of Research Design , Neil J. Salkind, editor. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2010), pp. 116-120; Simons, Helen. Case Study Research in Practice . London: SAGE Publications, 2009;  Kratochwill,  Thomas R. and Joel R. Levin, editors. Single-Case Research Design and Analysis: New Development for Psychology and Education .  Hilldsale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992; Swanborn, Peter G. Case Study Research: What, Why and How? London : SAGE, 2010; Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research: Design and Methods . 6th edition. Los Angeles, CA, SAGE Publications, 2014; Walo, Maree, Adrian Bull, and Helen Breen. “Achieving Economic Benefits at Local Events: A Case Study of a Local Sports Event.” Festival Management and Event Tourism 4 (1996): 95-106.

Writing Tip

At Least Five Misconceptions about Case Study Research

Social science case studies are often perceived as limited in their ability to create new knowledge because they are not randomly selected and findings cannot be generalized to larger populations. Flyvbjerg examines five misunderstandings about case study research and systematically "corrects" each one. To quote, these are:

Misunderstanding 1 :  General, theoretical [context-independent] knowledge is more valuable than concrete, practical [context-dependent] knowledge. Misunderstanding 2 :  One cannot generalize on the basis of an individual case; therefore, the case study cannot contribute to scientific development. Misunderstanding 3 :  The case study is most useful for generating hypotheses; that is, in the first stage of a total research process, whereas other methods are more suitable for hypotheses testing and theory building. Misunderstanding 4 :  The case study contains a bias toward verification, that is, a tendency to confirm the researcher’s preconceived notions. Misunderstanding 5 :  It is often difficult to summarize and develop general propositions and theories on the basis of specific case studies [p. 221].

While writing your paper, think introspectively about how you addressed these misconceptions because to do so can help you strengthen the validity and reliability of your research by clarifying issues of case selection, the testing and challenging of existing assumptions, the interpretation of key findings, and the summation of case outcomes. Think of a case study research paper as a complete, in-depth narrative about the specific properties and key characteristics of your subject of analysis applied to the research problem.

Flyvbjerg, Bent. “Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research.” Qualitative Inquiry 12 (April 2006): 219-245.

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when is case study research design used

Case Study Research Design

The case study research design have evolved over the past few years as a useful tool for investigating trends and specific situations in many scientific disciplines.

This article is a part of the guide:

  • Research Designs
  • Quantitative and Qualitative Research
  • Literature Review
  • Quantitative Research Design
  • Descriptive Research

Browse Full Outline

  • 1 Research Designs
  • 2.1 Pilot Study
  • 2.2 Quantitative Research Design
  • 2.3 Qualitative Research Design
  • 2.4 Quantitative and Qualitative Research
  • 3.1 Case Study
  • 3.2 Naturalistic Observation
  • 3.3 Survey Research Design
  • 3.4 Observational Study
  • 4.1 Case-Control Study
  • 4.2 Cohort Study
  • 4.3 Longitudinal Study
  • 4.4 Cross Sectional Study
  • 4.5 Correlational Study
  • 5.1 Field Experiments
  • 5.2 Quasi-Experimental Design
  • 5.3 Identical Twins Study
  • 6.1 Experimental Design
  • 6.2 True Experimental Design
  • 6.3 Double Blind Experiment
  • 6.4 Factorial Design
  • 7.1 Literature Review
  • 7.2 Systematic Reviews
  • 7.3 Meta Analysis

The case study has been especially used in social science, psychology, anthropology and ecology.

This method of study is especially useful for trying to test theoretical models by using them in real world situations. For example, if an anthropologist were to live amongst a remote tribe, whilst their observations might produce no quantitative data, they are still useful to science.

when is case study research design used

What is a Case Study?

Basically, a case study is an in depth study of a particular situation rather than a sweeping statistical survey . It is a method used to narrow down a very broad field of research into one easily researchable topic.

Whilst it will not answer a question completely, it will give some indications and allow further elaboration and hypothesis creation on a subject.

The case study research design is also useful for testing whether scientific theories and models actually work in the real world. You may come out with a great computer model for describing how the ecosystem of a rock pool works but it is only by trying it out on a real life pool that you can see if it is a realistic simulation.

For psychologists, anthropologists and social scientists they have been regarded as a valid method of research for many years. Scientists are sometimes guilty of becoming bogged down in the general picture and it is sometimes important to understand specific cases and ensure a more holistic approach to research .

H.M.: An example of a study using the case study research design.

Case Study

The Argument for and Against the Case Study Research Design

Some argue that because a case study is such a narrow field that its results cannot be extrapolated to fit an entire question and that they show only one narrow example. On the other hand, it is argued that a case study provides more realistic responses than a purely statistical survey.

The truth probably lies between the two and it is probably best to try and synergize the two approaches. It is valid to conduct case studies but they should be tied in with more general statistical processes.

For example, a statistical survey might show how much time people spend talking on mobile phones, but it is case studies of a narrow group that will determine why this is so.

The other main thing to remember during case studies is their flexibility. Whilst a pure scientist is trying to prove or disprove a hypothesis , a case study might introduce new and unexpected results during its course, and lead to research taking new directions.

The argument between case study and statistical method also appears to be one of scale. Whilst many 'physical' scientists avoid case studies, for psychology, anthropology and ecology they are an essential tool. It is important to ensure that you realize that a case study cannot be generalized to fit a whole population or ecosystem.

Finally, one peripheral point is that, when informing others of your results, case studies make more interesting topics than purely statistical surveys, something that has been realized by teachers and magazine editors for many years. The general public has little interest in pages of statistical calculations but some well placed case studies can have a strong impact.

How to Design and Conduct a Case Study

The advantage of the case study research design is that you can focus on specific and interesting cases. This may be an attempt to test a theory with a typical case or it can be a specific topic that is of interest. Research should be thorough and note taking should be meticulous and systematic.

The first foundation of the case study is the subject and relevance. In a case study, you are deliberately trying to isolate a small study group, one individual case or one particular population.

For example, statistical analysis may have shown that birthrates in African countries are increasing. A case study on one or two specific countries becomes a powerful and focused tool for determining the social and economic pressures driving this.

In the design of a case study, it is important to plan and design how you are going to address the study and make sure that all collected data is relevant. Unlike a scientific report, there is no strict set of rules so the most important part is making sure that the study is focused and concise; otherwise you will end up having to wade through a lot of irrelevant information.

It is best if you make yourself a short list of 4 or 5 bullet points that you are going to try and address during the study. If you make sure that all research refers back to these then you will not be far wrong.

With a case study, even more than a questionnaire or survey , it is important to be passive in your research. You are much more of an observer than an experimenter and you must remember that, even in a multi-subject case, each case must be treated individually and then cross case conclusions can be drawn .

How to Analyze the Results

Analyzing results for a case study tends to be more opinion based than statistical methods. The usual idea is to try and collate your data into a manageable form and construct a narrative around it.

Use examples in your narrative whilst keeping things concise and interesting. It is useful to show some numerical data but remember that you are only trying to judge trends and not analyze every last piece of data. Constantly refer back to your bullet points so that you do not lose focus.

It is always a good idea to assume that a person reading your research may not possess a lot of knowledge of the subject so try to write accordingly.

In addition, unlike a scientific study which deals with facts, a case study is based on opinion and is very much designed to provoke reasoned debate. There really is no right or wrong answer in a case study.

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Martyn Shuttleworth (Apr 1, 2008). Case Study Research Design. Retrieved May 18, 2024 from Explorable.com: https://explorable.com/case-study-research-design

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  • Case Study | Definition, Examples & Methods

Case Study | Definition, Examples & Methods

Published on 5 May 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 30 January 2023.

A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organisation, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.

A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods , but quantitative methods are sometimes also used. Case studies are good for describing , comparing, evaluating, and understanding different aspects of a research problem .

Table of contents

When to do a case study, step 1: select a case, step 2: build a theoretical framework, step 3: collect your data, step 4: describe and analyse the case.

A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject. It allows you to explore the key characteristics, meanings, and implications of the case.

Case studies are often a good choice in a thesis or dissertation . They keep your project focused and manageable when you don’t have the time or resources to do large-scale research.

You might use just one complex case study where you explore a single subject in depth, or conduct multiple case studies to compare and illuminate different aspects of your research problem.

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Once you have developed your problem statement and research questions , you should be ready to choose the specific case that you want to focus on. A good case study should have the potential to:

  • Provide new or unexpected insights into the subject
  • Challenge or complicate existing assumptions and theories
  • Propose practical courses of action to resolve a problem
  • Open up new directions for future research

Unlike quantitative or experimental research, a strong case study does not require a random or representative sample. In fact, case studies often deliberately focus on unusual, neglected, or outlying cases which may shed new light on the research problem.

If you find yourself aiming to simultaneously investigate and solve an issue, consider conducting action research . As its name suggests, action research conducts research and takes action at the same time, and is highly iterative and flexible. 

However, you can also choose a more common or representative case to exemplify a particular category, experience, or phenomenon.

While case studies focus more on concrete details than general theories, they should usually have some connection with theory in the field. This way the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge about the topic. It might aim to:

  • Exemplify a theory by showing how it explains the case under investigation
  • Expand on a theory by uncovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
  • Challenge a theory by exploring an outlier case that doesn’t fit with established assumptions

To ensure that your analysis of the case has a solid academic grounding, you should conduct a literature review of sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework . This means identifying key concepts and theories to guide your analysis and interpretation.

There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews, observations, and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g., newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data .

The aim is to gain as thorough an understanding as possible of the case and its context.

In writing up the case study, you need to bring together all the relevant aspects to give as complete a picture as possible of the subject.

How you report your findings depends on the type of research you are doing. Some case studies are structured like a standard scientific paper or thesis, with separate sections or chapters for the methods , results , and discussion .

Others are written in a more narrative style, aiming to explore the case from various angles and analyse its meanings and implications (for example, by using textual analysis or discourse analysis ).

In all cases, though, make sure to give contextual details about the case, connect it back to the literature and theory, and discuss how it fits into wider patterns or debates.

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  • Published: 27 June 2011

The case study approach

  • Sarah Crowe 1 ,
  • Kathrin Cresswell 2 ,
  • Ann Robertson 2 ,
  • Guro Huby 3 ,
  • Anthony Avery 1 &
  • Aziz Sheikh 2  

BMC Medical Research Methodology volume  11 , Article number:  100 ( 2011 ) Cite this article

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The case study approach allows in-depth, multi-faceted explorations of complex issues in their real-life settings. The value of the case study approach is well recognised in the fields of business, law and policy, but somewhat less so in health services research. Based on our experiences of conducting several health-related case studies, we reflect on the different types of case study design, the specific research questions this approach can help answer, the data sources that tend to be used, and the particular advantages and disadvantages of employing this methodological approach. The paper concludes with key pointers to aid those designing and appraising proposals for conducting case study research, and a checklist to help readers assess the quality of case study reports.

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Introduction

The case study approach is particularly useful to employ when there is a need to obtain an in-depth appreciation of an issue, event or phenomenon of interest, in its natural real-life context. Our aim in writing this piece is to provide insights into when to consider employing this approach and an overview of key methodological considerations in relation to the design, planning, analysis, interpretation and reporting of case studies.

The illustrative 'grand round', 'case report' and 'case series' have a long tradition in clinical practice and research. Presenting detailed critiques, typically of one or more patients, aims to provide insights into aspects of the clinical case and, in doing so, illustrate broader lessons that may be learnt. In research, the conceptually-related case study approach can be used, for example, to describe in detail a patient's episode of care, explore professional attitudes to and experiences of a new policy initiative or service development or more generally to 'investigate contemporary phenomena within its real-life context' [ 1 ]. Based on our experiences of conducting a range of case studies, we reflect on when to consider using this approach, discuss the key steps involved and illustrate, with examples, some of the practical challenges of attaining an in-depth understanding of a 'case' as an integrated whole. In keeping with previously published work, we acknowledge the importance of theory to underpin the design, selection, conduct and interpretation of case studies[ 2 ]. In so doing, we make passing reference to the different epistemological approaches used in case study research by key theoreticians and methodologists in this field of enquiry.

This paper is structured around the following main questions: What is a case study? What are case studies used for? How are case studies conducted? What are the potential pitfalls and how can these be avoided? We draw in particular on four of our own recently published examples of case studies (see Tables 1 , 2 , 3 and 4 ) and those of others to illustrate our discussion[ 3 – 7 ].

What is a case study?

A case study is a research approach that is used to generate an in-depth, multi-faceted understanding of a complex issue in its real-life context. It is an established research design that is used extensively in a wide variety of disciplines, particularly in the social sciences. A case study can be defined in a variety of ways (Table 5 ), the central tenet being the need to explore an event or phenomenon in depth and in its natural context. It is for this reason sometimes referred to as a "naturalistic" design; this is in contrast to an "experimental" design (such as a randomised controlled trial) in which the investigator seeks to exert control over and manipulate the variable(s) of interest.

Stake's work has been particularly influential in defining the case study approach to scientific enquiry. He has helpfully characterised three main types of case study: intrinsic , instrumental and collective [ 8 ]. An intrinsic case study is typically undertaken to learn about a unique phenomenon. The researcher should define the uniqueness of the phenomenon, which distinguishes it from all others. In contrast, the instrumental case study uses a particular case (some of which may be better than others) to gain a broader appreciation of an issue or phenomenon. The collective case study involves studying multiple cases simultaneously or sequentially in an attempt to generate a still broader appreciation of a particular issue.

These are however not necessarily mutually exclusive categories. In the first of our examples (Table 1 ), we undertook an intrinsic case study to investigate the issue of recruitment of minority ethnic people into the specific context of asthma research studies, but it developed into a instrumental case study through seeking to understand the issue of recruitment of these marginalised populations more generally, generating a number of the findings that are potentially transferable to other disease contexts[ 3 ]. In contrast, the other three examples (see Tables 2 , 3 and 4 ) employed collective case study designs to study the introduction of workforce reconfiguration in primary care, the implementation of electronic health records into hospitals, and to understand the ways in which healthcare students learn about patient safety considerations[ 4 – 6 ]. Although our study focusing on the introduction of General Practitioners with Specialist Interests (Table 2 ) was explicitly collective in design (four contrasting primary care organisations were studied), is was also instrumental in that this particular professional group was studied as an exemplar of the more general phenomenon of workforce redesign[ 4 ].

What are case studies used for?

According to Yin, case studies can be used to explain, describe or explore events or phenomena in the everyday contexts in which they occur[ 1 ]. These can, for example, help to understand and explain causal links and pathways resulting from a new policy initiative or service development (see Tables 2 and 3 , for example)[ 1 ]. In contrast to experimental designs, which seek to test a specific hypothesis through deliberately manipulating the environment (like, for example, in a randomised controlled trial giving a new drug to randomly selected individuals and then comparing outcomes with controls),[ 9 ] the case study approach lends itself well to capturing information on more explanatory ' how ', 'what' and ' why ' questions, such as ' how is the intervention being implemented and received on the ground?'. The case study approach can offer additional insights into what gaps exist in its delivery or why one implementation strategy might be chosen over another. This in turn can help develop or refine theory, as shown in our study of the teaching of patient safety in undergraduate curricula (Table 4 )[ 6 , 10 ]. Key questions to consider when selecting the most appropriate study design are whether it is desirable or indeed possible to undertake a formal experimental investigation in which individuals and/or organisations are allocated to an intervention or control arm? Or whether the wish is to obtain a more naturalistic understanding of an issue? The former is ideally studied using a controlled experimental design, whereas the latter is more appropriately studied using a case study design.

Case studies may be approached in different ways depending on the epistemological standpoint of the researcher, that is, whether they take a critical (questioning one's own and others' assumptions), interpretivist (trying to understand individual and shared social meanings) or positivist approach (orientating towards the criteria of natural sciences, such as focusing on generalisability considerations) (Table 6 ). Whilst such a schema can be conceptually helpful, it may be appropriate to draw on more than one approach in any case study, particularly in the context of conducting health services research. Doolin has, for example, noted that in the context of undertaking interpretative case studies, researchers can usefully draw on a critical, reflective perspective which seeks to take into account the wider social and political environment that has shaped the case[ 11 ].

How are case studies conducted?

Here, we focus on the main stages of research activity when planning and undertaking a case study; the crucial stages are: defining the case; selecting the case(s); collecting and analysing the data; interpreting data; and reporting the findings.

Defining the case

Carefully formulated research question(s), informed by the existing literature and a prior appreciation of the theoretical issues and setting(s), are all important in appropriately and succinctly defining the case[ 8 , 12 ]. Crucially, each case should have a pre-defined boundary which clarifies the nature and time period covered by the case study (i.e. its scope, beginning and end), the relevant social group, organisation or geographical area of interest to the investigator, the types of evidence to be collected, and the priorities for data collection and analysis (see Table 7 )[ 1 ]. A theory driven approach to defining the case may help generate knowledge that is potentially transferable to a range of clinical contexts and behaviours; using theory is also likely to result in a more informed appreciation of, for example, how and why interventions have succeeded or failed[ 13 ].

For example, in our evaluation of the introduction of electronic health records in English hospitals (Table 3 ), we defined our cases as the NHS Trusts that were receiving the new technology[ 5 ]. Our focus was on how the technology was being implemented. However, if the primary research interest had been on the social and organisational dimensions of implementation, we might have defined our case differently as a grouping of healthcare professionals (e.g. doctors and/or nurses). The precise beginning and end of the case may however prove difficult to define. Pursuing this same example, when does the process of implementation and adoption of an electronic health record system really begin or end? Such judgements will inevitably be influenced by a range of factors, including the research question, theory of interest, the scope and richness of the gathered data and the resources available to the research team.

Selecting the case(s)

The decision on how to select the case(s) to study is a very important one that merits some reflection. In an intrinsic case study, the case is selected on its own merits[ 8 ]. The case is selected not because it is representative of other cases, but because of its uniqueness, which is of genuine interest to the researchers. This was, for example, the case in our study of the recruitment of minority ethnic participants into asthma research (Table 1 ) as our earlier work had demonstrated the marginalisation of minority ethnic people with asthma, despite evidence of disproportionate asthma morbidity[ 14 , 15 ]. In another example of an intrinsic case study, Hellstrom et al.[ 16 ] studied an elderly married couple living with dementia to explore how dementia had impacted on their understanding of home, their everyday life and their relationships.

For an instrumental case study, selecting a "typical" case can work well[ 8 ]. In contrast to the intrinsic case study, the particular case which is chosen is of less importance than selecting a case that allows the researcher to investigate an issue or phenomenon. For example, in order to gain an understanding of doctors' responses to health policy initiatives, Som undertook an instrumental case study interviewing clinicians who had a range of responsibilities for clinical governance in one NHS acute hospital trust[ 17 ]. Sampling a "deviant" or "atypical" case may however prove even more informative, potentially enabling the researcher to identify causal processes, generate hypotheses and develop theory.

In collective or multiple case studies, a number of cases are carefully selected. This offers the advantage of allowing comparisons to be made across several cases and/or replication. Choosing a "typical" case may enable the findings to be generalised to theory (i.e. analytical generalisation) or to test theory by replicating the findings in a second or even a third case (i.e. replication logic)[ 1 ]. Yin suggests two or three literal replications (i.e. predicting similar results) if the theory is straightforward and five or more if the theory is more subtle. However, critics might argue that selecting 'cases' in this way is insufficiently reflexive and ill-suited to the complexities of contemporary healthcare organisations.

The selected case study site(s) should allow the research team access to the group of individuals, the organisation, the processes or whatever else constitutes the chosen unit of analysis for the study. Access is therefore a central consideration; the researcher needs to come to know the case study site(s) well and to work cooperatively with them. Selected cases need to be not only interesting but also hospitable to the inquiry [ 8 ] if they are to be informative and answer the research question(s). Case study sites may also be pre-selected for the researcher, with decisions being influenced by key stakeholders. For example, our selection of case study sites in the evaluation of the implementation and adoption of electronic health record systems (see Table 3 ) was heavily influenced by NHS Connecting for Health, the government agency that was responsible for overseeing the National Programme for Information Technology (NPfIT)[ 5 ]. This prominent stakeholder had already selected the NHS sites (through a competitive bidding process) to be early adopters of the electronic health record systems and had negotiated contracts that detailed the deployment timelines.

It is also important to consider in advance the likely burden and risks associated with participation for those who (or the site(s) which) comprise the case study. Of particular importance is the obligation for the researcher to think through the ethical implications of the study (e.g. the risk of inadvertently breaching anonymity or confidentiality) and to ensure that potential participants/participating sites are provided with sufficient information to make an informed choice about joining the study. The outcome of providing this information might be that the emotive burden associated with participation, or the organisational disruption associated with supporting the fieldwork, is considered so high that the individuals or sites decide against participation.

In our example of evaluating implementations of electronic health record systems, given the restricted number of early adopter sites available to us, we sought purposively to select a diverse range of implementation cases among those that were available[ 5 ]. We chose a mixture of teaching, non-teaching and Foundation Trust hospitals, and examples of each of the three electronic health record systems procured centrally by the NPfIT. At one recruited site, it quickly became apparent that access was problematic because of competing demands on that organisation. Recognising the importance of full access and co-operative working for generating rich data, the research team decided not to pursue work at that site and instead to focus on other recruited sites.

Collecting the data

In order to develop a thorough understanding of the case, the case study approach usually involves the collection of multiple sources of evidence, using a range of quantitative (e.g. questionnaires, audits and analysis of routinely collected healthcare data) and more commonly qualitative techniques (e.g. interviews, focus groups and observations). The use of multiple sources of data (data triangulation) has been advocated as a way of increasing the internal validity of a study (i.e. the extent to which the method is appropriate to answer the research question)[ 8 , 18 – 21 ]. An underlying assumption is that data collected in different ways should lead to similar conclusions, and approaching the same issue from different angles can help develop a holistic picture of the phenomenon (Table 2 )[ 4 ].

Brazier and colleagues used a mixed-methods case study approach to investigate the impact of a cancer care programme[ 22 ]. Here, quantitative measures were collected with questionnaires before, and five months after, the start of the intervention which did not yield any statistically significant results. Qualitative interviews with patients however helped provide an insight into potentially beneficial process-related aspects of the programme, such as greater, perceived patient involvement in care. The authors reported how this case study approach provided a number of contextual factors likely to influence the effectiveness of the intervention and which were not likely to have been obtained from quantitative methods alone.

In collective or multiple case studies, data collection needs to be flexible enough to allow a detailed description of each individual case to be developed (e.g. the nature of different cancer care programmes), before considering the emerging similarities and differences in cross-case comparisons (e.g. to explore why one programme is more effective than another). It is important that data sources from different cases are, where possible, broadly comparable for this purpose even though they may vary in nature and depth.

Analysing, interpreting and reporting case studies

Making sense and offering a coherent interpretation of the typically disparate sources of data (whether qualitative alone or together with quantitative) is far from straightforward. Repeated reviewing and sorting of the voluminous and detail-rich data are integral to the process of analysis. In collective case studies, it is helpful to analyse data relating to the individual component cases first, before making comparisons across cases. Attention needs to be paid to variations within each case and, where relevant, the relationship between different causes, effects and outcomes[ 23 ]. Data will need to be organised and coded to allow the key issues, both derived from the literature and emerging from the dataset, to be easily retrieved at a later stage. An initial coding frame can help capture these issues and can be applied systematically to the whole dataset with the aid of a qualitative data analysis software package.

The Framework approach is a practical approach, comprising of five stages (familiarisation; identifying a thematic framework; indexing; charting; mapping and interpretation) , to managing and analysing large datasets particularly if time is limited, as was the case in our study of recruitment of South Asians into asthma research (Table 1 )[ 3 , 24 ]. Theoretical frameworks may also play an important role in integrating different sources of data and examining emerging themes. For example, we drew on a socio-technical framework to help explain the connections between different elements - technology; people; and the organisational settings within which they worked - in our study of the introduction of electronic health record systems (Table 3 )[ 5 ]. Our study of patient safety in undergraduate curricula drew on an evaluation-based approach to design and analysis, which emphasised the importance of the academic, organisational and practice contexts through which students learn (Table 4 )[ 6 ].

Case study findings can have implications both for theory development and theory testing. They may establish, strengthen or weaken historical explanations of a case and, in certain circumstances, allow theoretical (as opposed to statistical) generalisation beyond the particular cases studied[ 12 ]. These theoretical lenses should not, however, constitute a strait-jacket and the cases should not be "forced to fit" the particular theoretical framework that is being employed.

When reporting findings, it is important to provide the reader with enough contextual information to understand the processes that were followed and how the conclusions were reached. In a collective case study, researchers may choose to present the findings from individual cases separately before amalgamating across cases. Care must be taken to ensure the anonymity of both case sites and individual participants (if agreed in advance) by allocating appropriate codes or withholding descriptors. In the example given in Table 3 , we decided against providing detailed information on the NHS sites and individual participants in order to avoid the risk of inadvertent disclosure of identities[ 5 , 25 ].

What are the potential pitfalls and how can these be avoided?

The case study approach is, as with all research, not without its limitations. When investigating the formal and informal ways undergraduate students learn about patient safety (Table 4 ), for example, we rapidly accumulated a large quantity of data. The volume of data, together with the time restrictions in place, impacted on the depth of analysis that was possible within the available resources. This highlights a more general point of the importance of avoiding the temptation to collect as much data as possible; adequate time also needs to be set aside for data analysis and interpretation of what are often highly complex datasets.

Case study research has sometimes been criticised for lacking scientific rigour and providing little basis for generalisation (i.e. producing findings that may be transferable to other settings)[ 1 ]. There are several ways to address these concerns, including: the use of theoretical sampling (i.e. drawing on a particular conceptual framework); respondent validation (i.e. participants checking emerging findings and the researcher's interpretation, and providing an opinion as to whether they feel these are accurate); and transparency throughout the research process (see Table 8 )[ 8 , 18 – 21 , 23 , 26 ]. Transparency can be achieved by describing in detail the steps involved in case selection, data collection, the reasons for the particular methods chosen, and the researcher's background and level of involvement (i.e. being explicit about how the researcher has influenced data collection and interpretation). Seeking potential, alternative explanations, and being explicit about how interpretations and conclusions were reached, help readers to judge the trustworthiness of the case study report. Stake provides a critique checklist for a case study report (Table 9 )[ 8 ].

Conclusions

The case study approach allows, amongst other things, critical events, interventions, policy developments and programme-based service reforms to be studied in detail in a real-life context. It should therefore be considered when an experimental design is either inappropriate to answer the research questions posed or impossible to undertake. Considering the frequency with which implementations of innovations are now taking place in healthcare settings and how well the case study approach lends itself to in-depth, complex health service research, we believe this approach should be more widely considered by researchers. Though inherently challenging, the research case study can, if carefully conceptualised and thoughtfully undertaken and reported, yield powerful insights into many important aspects of health and healthcare delivery.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the participants and colleagues who contributed to the individual case studies that we have drawn on. This work received no direct funding, but it has been informed by projects funded by Asthma UK, the NHS Service Delivery Organisation, NHS Connecting for Health Evaluation Programme, and Patient Safety Research Portfolio. We would also like to thank the expert reviewers for their insightful and constructive feedback. Our thanks are also due to Dr. Allison Worth who commented on an earlier draft of this manuscript.

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Developing a survey to measure nursing students’ knowledge, attitudes and beliefs, influences, and willingness to be involved in Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD): a mixed method modified e-Delphi study

  • Jocelyn Schroeder 1 ,
  • Barbara Pesut 1 , 2 ,
  • Lise Olsen 2 ,
  • Nelly D. Oelke 2 &
  • Helen Sharp 2  

BMC Nursing volume  23 , Article number:  326 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) was legalized in Canada in 2016. Canada’s legislation is the first to permit Nurse Practitioners (NP) to serve as independent MAiD assessors and providers. Registered Nurses’ (RN) also have important roles in MAiD that include MAiD care coordination; client and family teaching and support, MAiD procedural quality; healthcare provider and public education; and bereavement care for family. Nurses have a right under the law to conscientious objection to participating in MAiD. Therefore, it is essential to prepare nurses in their entry-level education for the practice implications and moral complexities inherent in this practice. Knowing what nursing students think about MAiD is a critical first step. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to develop a survey to measure nursing students’ knowledge, attitudes and beliefs, influences, and willingness to be involved in MAiD in the Canadian context.

The design was a mixed-method, modified e-Delphi method that entailed item generation from the literature, item refinement through a 2 round survey of an expert faculty panel, and item validation through a cognitive focus group interview with nursing students. The settings were a University located in an urban area and a College located in a rural area in Western Canada.

During phase 1, a 56-item survey was developed from existing literature that included demographic items and items designed to measure experience with death and dying (including MAiD), education and preparation, attitudes and beliefs, influences on those beliefs, and anticipated future involvement. During phase 2, an expert faculty panel reviewed, modified, and prioritized the items yielding 51 items. During phase 3, a sample of nursing students further evaluated and modified the language in the survey to aid readability and comprehension. The final survey consists of 45 items including 4 case studies.

Systematic evaluation of knowledge-to-date coupled with stakeholder perspectives supports robust survey design. This study yielded a survey to assess nursing students’ attitudes toward MAiD in a Canadian context.

The survey is appropriate for use in education and research to measure knowledge and attitudes about MAiD among nurse trainees and can be a helpful step in preparing nursing students for entry-level practice.

Peer Review reports

Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) is permitted under an amendment to Canada’s Criminal Code which was passed in 2016 [ 1 ]. MAiD is defined in the legislation as both self-administered and clinician-administered medication for the purpose of causing death. In the 2016 Bill C-14 legislation one of the eligibility criteria was that an applicant for MAiD must have a reasonably foreseeable natural death although this term was not defined. It was left to the clinical judgement of MAiD assessors and providers to determine the time frame that constitutes reasonably foreseeable [ 2 ]. However, in 2021 under Bill C-7, the eligibility criteria for MAiD were changed to allow individuals with irreversible medical conditions, declining health, and suffering, but whose natural death was not reasonably foreseeable, to receive MAiD [ 3 ]. This population of MAiD applicants are referred to as Track 2 MAiD (those whose natural death is foreseeable are referred to as Track 1). Track 2 applicants are subject to additional safeguards under the 2021 C-7 legislation.

Three additional proposed changes to the legislation have been extensively studied by Canadian Expert Panels (Council of Canadian Academics [CCA]) [ 4 , 5 , 6 ] First, under the legislation that defines Track 2, individuals with mental disease as their sole underlying medical condition may apply for MAiD, but implementation of this practice is embargoed until March 2027 [ 4 ]. Second, there is consideration of allowing MAiD to be implemented through advanced consent. This would make it possible for persons living with dementia to receive MAID after they have lost the capacity to consent to the procedure [ 5 ]. Third, there is consideration of extending MAiD to mature minors. A mature minor is defined as “a person under the age of majority…and who has the capacity to understand and appreciate the nature and consequences of a decision” ([ 6 ] p. 5). In summary, since the legalization of MAiD in 2016 the eligibility criteria and safeguards have evolved significantly with consequent implications for nurses and nursing care. Further, the number of Canadians who access MAiD shows steady increases since 2016 [ 7 ] and it is expected that these increases will continue in the foreseeable future.

Nurses have been integral to MAiD care in the Canadian context. While other countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands also permit euthanasia, Canada is the first country to allow Nurse Practitioners (Registered Nurses with additional preparation typically achieved at the graduate level) to act independently as assessors and providers of MAiD [ 1 ]. Although the role of Registered Nurses (RNs) in MAiD is not defined in federal legislation, it has been addressed at the provincial/territorial-level with variability in scope of practice by region [ 8 , 9 ]. For example, there are differences with respect to the obligation of the nurse to provide information to patients about MAiD, and to the degree that nurses are expected to ensure that patient eligibility criteria and safeguards are met prior to their participation [ 10 ]. Studies conducted in the Canadian context indicate that RNs perform essential roles in MAiD care coordination; client and family teaching and support; MAiD procedural quality; healthcare provider and public education; and bereavement care for family [ 9 , 11 ]. Nurse practitioners and RNs are integral to a robust MAiD care system in Canada and hence need to be well-prepared for their role [ 12 ].

Previous studies have found that end of life care, and MAiD specifically, raise complex moral and ethical issues for nurses [ 13 , 14 , 15 , 16 ]. The knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of nurses are important across practice settings because nurses have consistent, ongoing, and direct contact with patients who experience chronic or life-limiting health conditions. Canadian studies exploring nurses’ moral and ethical decision-making in relation to MAiD reveal that although some nurses are clear in their support for, or opposition to, MAiD, others are unclear on what they believe to be good and right [ 14 ]. Empirical findings suggest that nurses go through a period of moral sense-making that is often informed by their family, peers, and initial experiences with MAID [ 17 , 18 ]. Canadian legislation and policy specifies that nurses are not required to participate in MAiD and may recuse themselves as conscientious objectors with appropriate steps to ensure ongoing and safe care of patients [ 1 , 19 ]. However, with so many nurses having to reflect on and make sense of their moral position, it is essential that they are given adequate time and preparation to make an informed and thoughtful decision before they participate in a MAID death [ 20 , 21 ].

It is well established that nursing students receive inconsistent exposure to end of life care issues [ 22 ] and little or no training related to MAiD [ 23 ]. Without such education and reflection time in pre-entry nursing preparation, nurses are at significant risk for moral harm. An important first step in providing this preparation is to be able to assess the knowledge, values, and beliefs of nursing students regarding MAID and end of life care. As demand for MAiD increases along with the complexities of MAiD, it is critical to understand the knowledge, attitudes, and likelihood of engagement with MAiD among nursing students as a baseline upon which to build curriculum and as a means to track these variables over time.

Aim, design, and setting

The aim of this study was to develop a survey to measure nursing students’ knowledge, attitudes and beliefs, influences, and willingness to be involved in MAiD in the Canadian context. We sought to explore both their willingness to be involved in the registered nursing role and in the nurse practitioner role should they chose to prepare themselves to that level of education. The design was a mixed-method, modified e-Delphi method that entailed item generation, item refinement through an expert faculty panel [ 24 , 25 , 26 ], and initial item validation through a cognitive focus group interview with nursing students [ 27 ]. The settings were a University located in an urban area and a College located in a rural area in Western Canada.

Participants

A panel of 10 faculty from the two nursing education programs were recruited for Phase 2 of the e-Delphi. To be included, faculty were required to have a minimum of three years of experience in nurse education, be employed as nursing faculty, and self-identify as having experience with MAiD. A convenience sample of 5 fourth-year nursing students were recruited to participate in Phase 3. Students had to be in good standing in the nursing program and be willing to share their experiences of the survey in an online group interview format.

The modified e-Delphi was conducted in 3 phases: Phase 1 entailed item generation through literature and existing survey review. Phase 2 entailed item refinement through a faculty expert panel review with focus on content validity, prioritization, and revision of item wording [ 25 ]. Phase 3 entailed an assessment of face validity through focus group-based cognitive interview with nursing students.

Phase I. Item generation through literature review

The goal of phase 1 was to develop a bank of survey items that would represent the variables of interest and which could be provided to expert faculty in Phase 2. Initial survey items were generated through a literature review of similar surveys designed to assess knowledge and attitudes toward MAiD/euthanasia in healthcare providers; Canadian empirical studies on nurses’ roles and/or experiences with MAiD; and legislative and expert panel documents that outlined proposed changes to the legislative eligibility criteria and safeguards. The literature review was conducted in three online databases: CINAHL, PsycINFO, and Medline. Key words for the search included nurses , nursing students , medical students , NPs, MAiD , euthanasia , assisted death , and end-of-life care . Only articles written in English were reviewed. The legalization and legislation of MAiD is new in many countries; therefore, studies that were greater than twenty years old were excluded, no further exclusion criteria set for country.

Items from surveys designed to measure similar variables in other health care providers and geographic contexts were placed in a table and similar items were collated and revised into a single item. Then key variables were identified from the empirical literature on nurses and MAiD in Canada and checked against the items derived from the surveys to ensure that each of the key variables were represented. For example, conscientious objection has figured prominently in the Canadian literature, but there were few items that assessed knowledge of conscientious objection in other surveys and so items were added [ 15 , 21 , 28 , 29 ]. Finally, four case studies were added to the survey to address the anticipated changes to the Canadian legislation. The case studies were based upon the inclusion of mature minors, advanced consent, and mental disorder as the sole underlying medical condition. The intention was to assess nurses’ beliefs and comfort with these potential legislative changes.

Phase 2. Item refinement through expert panel review

The goal of phase 2 was to refine and prioritize the proposed survey items identified in phase 1 using a modified e-Delphi approach to achieve consensus among an expert panel [ 26 ]. Items from phase 1 were presented to an expert faculty panel using a Qualtrics (Provo, UT) online survey. Panel members were asked to review each item to determine if it should be: included, excluded or adapted for the survey. When adapted was selected faculty experts were asked to provide rationale and suggestions for adaptation through the use of an open text box. Items that reached a level of 75% consensus for either inclusion or adaptation were retained [ 25 , 26 ]. New items were categorized and added, and a revised survey was presented to the panel of experts in round 2. Panel members were again asked to review items, including new items, to determine if it should be: included, excluded, or adapted for the survey. Round 2 of the modified e-Delphi approach also included an item prioritization activity, where participants were then asked to rate the importance of each item, based on a 5-point Likert scale (low to high importance), which De Vaus [ 30 ] states is helpful for increasing the reliability of responses. Items that reached a 75% consensus on inclusion were then considered in relation to the importance it was given by the expert panel. Quantitative data were managed using SPSS (IBM Corp).

Phase 3. Face validity through cognitive interviews with nursing students

The goal of phase 3 was to obtain initial face validity of the proposed survey using a sample of nursing student informants. More specifically, student participants were asked to discuss how items were interpreted, to identify confusing wording or other problematic construction of items, and to provide feedback about the survey as a whole including readability and organization [ 31 , 32 , 33 ]. The focus group was held online and audio recorded. A semi-structured interview guide was developed for this study that focused on clarity, meaning, order and wording of questions; emotions evoked by the questions; and overall survey cohesion and length was used to obtain data (see Supplementary Material 2  for the interview guide). A prompt to “think aloud” was used to limit interviewer-imposed bias and encourage participants to describe their thoughts and response to a given item as they reviewed survey items [ 27 ]. Where needed, verbal probes such as “could you expand on that” were used to encourage participants to expand on their responses [ 27 ]. Student participants’ feedback was collated verbatim and presented to the research team where potential survey modifications were negotiated and finalized among team members. Conventional content analysis [ 34 ] of focus group data was conducted to identify key themes that emerged through discussion with students. Themes were derived from the data by grouping common responses and then using those common responses to modify survey items.

Ten nursing faculty participated in the expert panel. Eight of the 10 faculty self-identified as female. No faculty panel members reported conscientious objector status and ninety percent reported general agreement with MAiD with one respondent who indicated their view as “unsure.” Six of the 10 faculty experts had 16 years of experience or more working as a nurse educator.

Five nursing students participated in the cognitive interview focus group. The duration of the focus group was 2.5 h. All participants identified that they were born in Canada, self-identified as female (one preferred not to say) and reported having received some instruction about MAiD as part of their nursing curriculum. See Tables  1 and 2 for the demographic descriptors of the study sample. Study results will be reported in accordance with the study phases. See Fig.  1 for an overview of the results from each phase.

figure 1

Fig. 1  Overview of survey development findings

Phase 1: survey item generation

Review of the literature identified that no existing survey was available for use with nursing students in the Canadian context. However, an analysis of themes across qualitative and quantitative studies of physicians, medical students, nurses, and nursing students provided sufficient data to develop a preliminary set of items suitable for adaptation to a population of nursing students.

Four major themes and factors that influence knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about MAiD were evident from the literature: (i) endogenous or individual factors such as age, gender, personally held values, religion, religiosity, and/or spirituality [ 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 , 40 , 41 , 42 ], (ii) experience with death and dying in personal and/or professional life [ 35 , 40 , 41 , 43 , 44 , 45 ], (iii) training including curricular instruction about clinical role, scope of practice, or the law [ 23 , 36 , 39 ], and (iv) exogenous or social factors such as the influence of key leaders, colleagues, friends and/or family, professional and licensure organizations, support within professional settings, and/or engagement in MAiD in an interdisciplinary team context [ 9 , 35 , 46 ].

Studies of nursing students also suggest overlap across these categories. For example, value for patient autonomy [ 23 ] and the moral complexity of decision-making [ 37 ] are important factors that contribute to attitudes about MAiD and may stem from a blend of personally held values coupled with curricular content, professional training and norms, and clinical exposure. For example, students report that participation in end of life care allows for personal growth, shifts in perception, and opportunities to build therapeutic relationships with their clients [ 44 , 47 , 48 ].

Preliminary items generated from the literature resulted in 56 questions from 11 published sources (See Table  3 ). These items were constructed across four main categories: (i) socio-demographic questions; (ii) end of life care questions; (iii) knowledge about MAiD; or (iv) comfort and willingness to participate in MAiD. Knowledge questions were refined to reflect current MAiD legislation, policies, and regulatory frameworks. Falconer [ 39 ] and Freeman [ 45 ] studies were foundational sources for item selection. Additionally, four case studies were written to reflect the most recent anticipated changes to MAiD legislation and all used the same open-ended core questions to address respondents’ perspectives about the patient’s right to make the decision, comfort in assisting a physician or NP to administer MAiD in that scenario, and hypothesized comfort about serving as a primary provider if qualified as an NP in future. Response options for the survey were also constructed during this stage and included: open text, categorical, yes/no , and Likert scales.

Phase 2: faculty expert panel review

Of the 56 items presented to the faculty panel, 54 questions reached 75% consensus. However, based upon the qualitative responses 9 items were removed largely because they were felt to be repetitive. Items that generated the most controversy were related to measuring religion and spirituality in the Canadian context, defining end of life care when there is no agreed upon time frames (e.g., last days, months, or years), and predicting willingness to be involved in a future events – thus predicting their future selves. Phase 2, round 1 resulted in an initial set of 47 items which were then presented back to the faculty panel in round 2.

Of the 47 initial questions presented to the panel in round 2, 45 reached a level of consensus of 75% or greater, and 34 of these questions reached a level of 100% consensus [ 27 ] of which all participants chose to include without any adaptations) For each question, level of importance was determined based on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = very unimportant, 2 = somewhat unimportant, 3 = neutral, 4 = somewhat important, and 5 = very important). Figure  2 provides an overview of the level of importance assigned to each item.

figure 2

Ranking level of importance for survey items

After round 2, a careful analysis of participant comments and level of importance was completed by the research team. While the main method of survey item development came from participants’ response to the first round of Delphi consensus ratings, level of importance was used to assist in the decision of whether to keep or modify questions that created controversy, or that rated lower in the include/exclude/adapt portion of the Delphi. Survey items that rated low in level of importance included questions about future roles, sex and gender, and religion/spirituality. After deliberation by the research committee, these questions were retained in the survey based upon the importance of these variables in the scientific literature.

Of the 47 questions remaining from Phase 2, round 2, four were revised. In addition, the two questions that did not meet the 75% cut off level for consensus were reviewed by the research team. The first question reviewed was What is your comfort level with providing a MAiD death in the future if you were a qualified NP ? Based on a review of participant comments, it was decided to retain this question for the cognitive interviews with students in the final phase of testing. The second question asked about impacts on respondents’ views of MAiD and was changed from one item with 4 subcategories into 4 separate items, resulting in a final total of 51 items for phase 3. The revised survey was then brought forward to the cognitive interviews with student participants in Phase 3. (see Supplementary Material 1 for a complete description of item modification during round 2).

Phase 3. Outcomes of cognitive interview focus group

Of the 51 items reviewed by student participants, 29 were identified as clear with little or no discussion. Participant comments for the remaining 22 questions were noted and verified against the audio recording. Following content analysis of the comments, four key themes emerged through the student discussion: unclear or ambiguous wording; difficult to answer questions; need for additional response options; and emotional response evoked by questions. An example of unclear or ambiguous wording was a request for clarity in the use of the word “sufficient” in the context of assessing an item that read “My nursing education has provided sufficient content about the nursing role in MAiD.” “Sufficient” was viewed as subjective and “laden with…complexity that distracted me from the question.” The group recommended rewording the item to read “My nursing education has provided enough content for me to care for a patient considering or requesting MAiD.”

An example of having difficulty answering questions related to limited knowledge related to terms used in the legislation such as such as safeguards , mature minor , eligibility criteria , and conscientious objection. Students were unclear about what these words meant relative to the legislation and indicated that this lack of clarity would hamper appropriate responses to the survey. To ensure that respondents are able to answer relevant questions, student participants recommended that the final survey include explanation of key terms such as mature minor and conscientious objection and an overview of current legislation.

Response options were also a point of discussion. Participants noted a lack of distinction between response options of unsure and unable to say . Additionally, scaling of attitudes was noted as important since perspectives about MAiD are dynamic and not dichotomous “agree or disagree” responses. Although the faculty expert panel recommended the integration of the demographic variables of religious and/or spiritual remain as a single item, the student group stated a preference to have religion and spirituality appear as separate items. The student focus group also took issue with separate items for the variables of sex and gender, specifically that non-binary respondents might feel othered or “outed” particularly when asked to identify their sex. These variables had been created based upon best practices in health research but students did not feel they were appropriate in this context [ 49 ]. Finally, students agreed with the faculty expert panel in terms of the complexity of projecting their future involvement as a Nurse Practitioner. One participant stated: “I certainly had to like, whoa, whoa, whoa. Now let me finish this degree first, please.” Another stated, “I'm still imagining myself, my future career as an RN.”

Finally, student participants acknowledged the array of emotions that some of the items produced for them. For example, one student described positive feelings when interacting with the survey. “Brought me a little bit of feeling of joy. Like it reminded me that this is the last piece of independence that people grab on to.” Another participant, described the freedom that the idea of an advance request gave her. “The advance request gives the most comfort for me, just with early onset Alzheimer’s and knowing what it can do.” But other participants described less positive feelings. For example, the mature minor case study yielded a comment: “This whole scenario just made my heart hurt with the idea of a child requesting that.”

Based on the data gathered from the cognitive interview focus group of nursing students, revisions were made to 11 closed-ended questions (see Table  4 ) and 3 items were excluded. In the four case studies, the open-ended question related to a respondents’ hypothesized actions in a future role as NP were removed. The final survey consists of 45 items including 4 case studies (see Supplementary Material 3 ).

The aim of this study was to develop and validate a survey that can be used to track the growth of knowledge about MAiD among nursing students over time, inform training programs about curricular needs, and evaluate attitudes and willingness to participate in MAiD at time-points during training or across nursing programs over time.

The faculty expert panel and student participants in the cognitive interview focus group identified a need to establish core knowledge of the terminology and legislative rules related to MAiD. For example, within the cognitive interview group of student participants, several acknowledged lack of clear understanding of specific terms such as “conscientious objector” and “safeguards.” Participants acknowledged discomfort with the uncertainty of not knowing and their inclination to look up these terms to assist with answering the questions. This survey can be administered to nursing or pre-nursing students at any phase of their training within a program or across training programs. However, in doing so it is important to acknowledge that their baseline knowledge of MAiD will vary. A response option of “not sure” is important and provides a means for respondents to convey uncertainty. If this survey is used to inform curricular needs, respondents should be given explicit instructions not to conduct online searches to inform their responses, but rather to provide an honest appraisal of their current knowledge and these instructions are included in the survey (see Supplementary Material 3 ).

Some provincial regulatory bodies have established core competencies for entry-level nurses that include MAiD. For example, the BC College of Nurses and Midwives (BCCNM) requires “knowledge about ethical, legal, and regulatory implications of medical assistance in dying (MAiD) when providing nursing care.” (10 p. 6) However, across Canada curricular content and coverage related to end of life care and MAiD is variable [ 23 ]. Given the dynamic nature of the legislation that includes portions of the law that are embargoed until 2024, it is important to ensure that respondents are guided by current and accurate information. As the law changes, nursing curricula, and public attitudes continue to evolve, inclusion of core knowledge and content is essential and relevant for investigators to be able to interpret the portions of the survey focused on attitudes and beliefs about MAiD. Content knowledge portions of the survey may need to be modified over time as legislation and training change and to meet the specific purposes of the investigator.

Given the sensitive nature of the topic, it is strongly recommended that surveys be conducted anonymously and that students be provided with an opportunity to discuss their responses to the survey. A majority of feedback from both the expert panel of faculty and from student participants related to the wording and inclusion of demographic variables, in particular religion, religiosity, gender identity, and sex assigned at birth. These and other demographic variables have the potential to be highly identifying in small samples. In any instance in which the survey could be expected to yield demographic group sizes less than 5, users should eliminate the demographic variables from the survey. For example, the profession of nursing is highly dominated by females with over 90% of nurses who identify as female [ 50 ]. Thus, a survey within a single class of students or even across classes in a single institution is likely to yield a small number of male respondents and/or respondents who report a difference between sex assigned at birth and gender identity. When variables that serve to identify respondents are included, respondents are less likely to complete or submit the survey, to obscure their responses so as not to be identifiable, or to be influenced by social desirability bias in their responses rather than to convey their attitudes accurately [ 51 ]. Further, small samples do not allow for conclusive analyses or interpretation of apparent group differences. Although these variables are often included in surveys, such demographics should be included only when anonymity can be sustained. In small and/or known samples, highly identifying variables should be omitted.

There are several limitations associated with the development of this survey. The expert panel was comprised of faculty who teach nursing students and are knowledgeable about MAiD and curricular content, however none identified as a conscientious objector to MAiD. Ideally, our expert panel would have included one or more conscientious objectors to MAiD to provide a broader perspective. Review by practitioners who participate in MAiD, those who are neutral or undecided, and practitioners who are conscientious objectors would ensure broad applicability of the survey. This study included one student cognitive interview focus group with 5 self-selected participants. All student participants had held discussions about end of life care with at least one patient, 4 of 5 participants had worked with a patient who requested MAiD, and one had been present for a MAiD death. It is not clear that these participants are representative of nursing students demographically or by experience with end of life care. It is possible that the students who elected to participate hold perspectives and reflections on patient care and MAiD that differ from students with little or no exposure to end of life care and/or MAiD. However, previous studies find that most nursing students have been involved with end of life care including meaningful discussions about patients’ preferences and care needs during their education [ 40 , 44 , 47 , 48 , 52 ]. Data collection with additional student focus groups with students early in their training and drawn from other training contexts would contribute to further validation of survey items.

Future studies should incorporate pilot testing with small sample of nursing students followed by a larger cross-program sample to allow evaluation of the psychometric properties of specific items and further refinement of the survey tool. Consistent with literature about the importance of leadership in the context of MAiD [ 12 , 53 , 54 ], a study of faculty knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes toward MAiD would provide context for understanding student perspectives within and across programs. Additional research is also needed to understand the timing and content coverage of MAiD across Canadian nurse training programs’ curricula.

The implementation of MAiD is complex and requires understanding of the perspectives of multiple stakeholders. Within the field of nursing this includes clinical providers, educators, and students who will deliver clinical care. A survey to assess nursing students’ attitudes toward and willingness to participate in MAiD in the Canadian context is timely, due to the legislation enacted in 2016 and subsequent modifications to the law in 2021 with portions of the law to be enacted in 2027. Further development of this survey could be undertaken to allow for use in settings with practicing nurses or to allow longitudinal follow up with students as they enter practice. As the Canadian landscape changes, ongoing assessment of the perspectives and needs of health professionals and students in the health professions is needed to inform policy makers, leaders in practice, curricular needs, and to monitor changes in attitudes and practice patterns over time.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are not publicly available due to small sample sizes, but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Abbreviations

British Columbia College of Nurses and Midwives

Medical assistance in dying

Nurse practitioner

Registered nurse

University of British Columbia Okanagan

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We would like to acknowledge the faculty and students who generously contributed their time to this work.

JS received a student traineeship through the Principal Research Chairs program at the University of British Columbia Okanagan.

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JS made substantial contributions to the conception of the work; data acquisition, analysis, and interpretation; and drafting and substantively revising the work. JS has approved the submitted version and agreed to be personally accountable for the author's own contributions and to ensure that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work, even ones in which the author was not personally involved, are appropriately investigated, resolved, and the resolution documented in the literature. BP made substantial contributions to the conception of the work; data acquisition, analysis, and interpretation; and drafting and substantively revising the work. BP has approved the submitted version and agreed to be personally accountable for the author's own contributions and to ensure that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work, even ones in which the author was not personally involved, are appropriately investigated, resolved, and the resolution documented in the literature. LO made substantial contributions to the conception of the work; data acquisition, analysis, and interpretation; and substantively revising the work. LO has approved the submitted version and agreed to be personally accountable for the author's own contributions and to ensure that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work, even ones in which the author was not personally involved, are appropriately investigated, resolved, and the resolution documented in the literature. NDO made substantial contributions to the conception of the work; data acquisition, analysis, and interpretation; and substantively revising the work. NDO has approved the submitted version and agreed to be personally accountable for the author's own contributions and to ensure that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work, even ones in which the author was not personally involved, are appropriately investigated, resolved, and the resolution documented in the literature. HS made substantial contributions to drafting and substantively revising the work. HS has approved the submitted version and agreed to be personally accountable for the author's own contributions and to ensure that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work, even ones in which the author was not personally involved, are appropriately investigated, resolved, and the resolution documented in the literature.

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Schroeder, J., Pesut, B., Olsen, L. et al. Developing a survey to measure nursing students’ knowledge, attitudes and beliefs, influences, and willingness to be involved in Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD): a mixed method modified e-Delphi study. BMC Nurs 23 , 326 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12912-024-01984-z

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Endogenous motivation to stimulate farmers runs through not only poverty alleviation but also the entire process of rural revitalization. As spatial production is the general carrier of spatial resources to the countryside, if it does not activate the local internal public, the space rent can easily be seized by external forces, and spatial injustice becomes inevitable. The barriers to spatial production are lack of organisable labour force, low human capital and inadequate access to resources. The spatial production model is used to break down the barriers, particularly in the spatial production of organisational mobilisation by mobilising the development of local resources through the use of ICT endogenous capabilities and fostering the social capital of individuals. The Ecological Civilization Talent Station in China is treated as a case of participatory research by the author’s team to analyze the mechanism of spatial production in the sustainable endogenous development of villages and towns.

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This paper was supported by Introduction of Talents and Social Science Project of Minjiang University (MJY21045); Fujian Innovation Strategy Research Project (2022R0106); Research Project of Fashu Foundation (MFS23006).

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Xiaoli Jiang

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College of Public Management, The Open University of Fujian, Fuzhou, Fujian, China

Lingyu Wang

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Xiaofeng Su

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Jiang, X., Ma, X., Gao, Y. et al. Spatial production, organizational mobilization, and sustainable endogenous development: a case study of China. Environ Dev Sustain (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-024-05010-9

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ESDRI Seed Grants Enable Early-Stage Research on Indigenous Land Conservation, Carbon Stabilization, and Invasive Species

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Each year the  Environmental Science and Design Research Institute (ESDRI) hosts a competitive request for proposals which are reviewed by an interdisciplinary panel, awarding seed grants with funding up to $12,000 for multidisciplinary research related to ESDRI’s wide-ranging  areas of focus . These seed grants provide funds for preliminary or early-stage research, facilitating the building blocks to apply for extramural funding.

The application cycle for seed grants is typically early spring. To apply, at least one person from the research team must be an  ESDRI affiliated faculty member . If you are interested in becoming an ESDRI affiliated faculty member, please email  [email protected] .

This year the institute awarded three seed grants and they are thrilled to support this important and timely research!

"Two-eyed seeing in Earth observations: co-creating data tools and capacity for Earth observations data analysis in support of California’s land transfer policy"

Elaine Hsiao

Elaine (Lan Yin) Hsiao, PhD (Assistant Professor, School of Peace and Conflict Studies) and  He Yin, PhD (Assistant Professor, Department of Geography) were awarded an ESDRI seed grant to conduct a pilot study focused on supporting the transfer of land back to California Tribal Nations using two-eyed seeing that combines both remote sensing and Indigenous knowledge. This includes identifying lands that are at risk, from stressors such as degradation or wildfire, that would benefit from Indigenous conservation. “This work has real world implications because it is taking place in a state where funds are provided for Tribes to buy back land,” says Hsiao, “Within this project we can identify lands that might be optimal for land transfer while at the same time strengthening the argument that these lands should be given back.” 

This work centers around workshops with Tribal members in which they will first meet and begin the project design process, then the core research team will bring initial research back to Tribal members, and finally the whole team will work together to pull everything they have learned into a larger project proposal for external funding. The first workshop, taking place this summer, will include “listening sessions to understand the needs of the stakeholders,” tells He, “which are much needed to guide our remote sensing work.” He is excited to begin his first remote sensing project in the environmental justice sphere, adding “What is even more exciting is that I will co-design the research with the stakeholder, rather than just working alone.”

Joining Hsiao and He on this project are undergraduate students Rae Baba (Junior, Environmental Studies with Environment, Peace, and Justice minor) and Andrew Shenal (Sophomore, Environmental Studies with Geography and GIS minors). Both are participants in the  Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program and are supported by ESDRI and the  Anti-Racism and Equity Institute (AREI), respectively.

Butte Creek

The research team states that the seed grant makes this co-design process possible. By creating the workshops in California, it allows them to physically meet with partners and design together, from the basic plans of the project to how data is managed. Hsiao says, “This level of collaboration requires a lot of time together to work through questions and ideas, and it is really not possible to build this trust and side-by-side cooperation otherwise.”

Find out more about this Indigenous land conservation research project 

"Unlocking secrets below: Investigating the spatial heterogeneity of carbon stabilization in Arctic lake sediments through a visual lens"

Chelsea Smith

Chelsea Smith, PhD (Postdoctoral Scholar, Department of Earth Sciences),  Allyson Tessin, PhD (Assistant Professor, Department of Earth Sciences), and  Shannon Hines  (Manager, Design Innovation Hub) will be deploying a camera system to study lake sediments in an Arctic lake in Alaska with their seed grant. Lakes hold an important role in carbon sequestration, but with climate change, that carbon isn’t necessarily going to remain stored in lake sediments. “Warming causes more carbon to enter lakes from the surrounding landscape as permafrost thaws, then in turn microbes can eat that carbon, releasing carbon dioxide,” tells Smith, “However, metals, such as iron and manganese, may stabilize the carbon, making it inaccessible to microbes allowing it to eventually become buried in the sediments over time.” The group's preliminary research shows that some parts of their research lake, Lake Toolik, are high in iron, while other parts are high in manganese. This interesting feature of the lake will allow them to look at the role of each of these metals separately and see if they are doing similar or different things.

sediment core

Being awarded an ESDRI seed grant allowed an increase in interdisciplinarity for this research. Smith and Tessin brought on Hines as well as Nicholas Cindrich (BE ‘24, Mechatronics Engineering Technology), to help with the planning and design of the 3D printed camera and light attachments that will fasten to their sediment coring device. Sediment cores are a traditional way to sample sediment in lakes, but adding the camera and light allows for videos to be taken of the process to use in outreach and education material. Additionally, the team noticed some odd striations in one sampling site in Toolik Lake (right) and this new tool will allow them to examine that abnormality more closely. A prototype of this camera system will be tested out in the Central Basin of Lake Erie in June with plans to take it to Alaska in August.

Researchers on boat in lake and sign for Toolik Field Station

Smith is very passionate about outreach and has plans to disseminate this information as well as generally teach students about this type of research in collaboration with the Toolik Field Station, the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, and as a Scientist in Residency at the Sitka Sound Science Center. Through these programs she’ll be with students from grade school through high school, participating in workshops, group projects, panel discussions, radio and podcast interviews, and classroom visits.

Find out more about this carbon stabilization research project

"Understanding the Early-Stage Invasion Dynamics of Box Tree Moths in Midwestern USA: Integrating Genomics and Landscape Approaches"

Sangeet Lamichhaney

Sangeet Lamichhaney, PhD (Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences),  Sarah Eichler, PhD  (Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences), and  He Yin, PhD (Assistant Professor, Department of Geography) were awarded a seed grant to study the early-stage invasion of the Box Tree Moth (Cydalima perspectalis) in Ohio, Michigan, and New York. This work will be key to understanding the invasion dynamics of this moth, which decimates boxwood trees (Buxus sps.), but also has the potential to answer bigger questions in the field of invasion biology. “Most invasive systems we study are already established systems. We don’t normally get to study the biological processes associated with early stages of invasion, so we have a very interesting case with the Box Tree Moths which were first identified in the USA in 2021,” says Lamichhaney. “We will begin trapping Box Tree Moth adults and larvae in May and use genomics tools to characterize genetic diversity and population structure of local invasive populations, identify genetic markers associated with their successful introduction and explore where these populations originated from.”

box tree moth

During this time Eichler will lead the collection of “on the ground” data, and states “we will do a rapid assessment of the plant community near each trap as well as assess the relative development intensity of the area.” The team will also obtain plant tissue and soil samples to test the attractiveness of pests based on plant and soil nutrition. Alongside, He will be at the field sites to learn about the vegetation and landscape. “Such information is vital for guiding remote sensing work,” says He.

One of the key pieces to this work is the combination of genomic and landscape approaches. In addition to this “on the ground” data collection, Eichler and Yin will be analyzing landscape characteristics such as topography, land use patterns, habitat composition from satellite imagery to see if plant community may be a factor in where the moths become established. He tells us “While you cannot detect individual moths from satellite images, we can see the damage of the moth to plants, which can be used to trace moths.” These elements will be combined to answer the questions about the invasion dynamics of this pest. Lamichhaney, Eichler and He expect to accomplish a detailed assessment of surrounding landscape features in the invasion areas and identify the spatial relationships between genetic variations in local invasive populations and landscape features.

box tree moth

The team includes a handful of students with key skills from genomics to remote sensing and GIS: Aarati Basnet (PhD Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), Carter Henry (Junior, Zoology), Aciano Leipply-Caban (Sophomore, Botany with Climate Change and GIS minors), and Gus Holman (incoming PhD Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology). 

The research team states that this new collaboration and the transdisciplinarity of the project was made possible, in part, by ESDRI. They are currently collaborating with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), with plans to produce public awareness campaign materials based on the results of this study. Given the popularity of the Box Tree as an ornamental plant, it is crucial to involve the public in understanding the invasion in our region and methods for its control.    

Find out more about this invasive species research project

Kent State University is proud to be ranked as an  R1 Carnegie Classification .  Aside from the Environmental Science and Design Research Institute,  explore the other institutes and initiatives that are dedicated to cutting edge research and development .

To learn more about the Environmental Science and Design Research Institute’s Seed Grant Program as well view past awarded projects, please visit the Seed Grant Program page

  • Environmental Science and Design Research Institute
  • Department of Biological Sciences
  • Department of Earth Sciences
  • Department of Geography
  • School of Peace and Conflict Studies
  • Anti-Racism and Equity Institute

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