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close this bookCreative Training - A User's Guide (IIRR, 1998, 226 pages)
close this folderMaking and using case studies
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View the documentUsing a case study

Using a case study


This takes up to one day.

Before the session

1. Choose a case study that is appropriate for the group and that will prompt the kind of discussion you plan to have. You may want to adapt a case study to make it culturally relevant. Do not be tempted to change too much or all the details will be lost.

2. Familiarize yourself with the case study. Write discussion questions and try answering them yourself beforehand.

3. Make sure that any equipment required is working and that you know how to use it.


Some case studies can trigger strong emotions. Be aware of how participants may react to the case study you have chosen.

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During the session

1. Present the case study. If it is a written one, it may be best to hand out copies to all the participants but also ask someone - with a talent for storytelling - to read it out

2. Ask the participants to divide themselves into small groups of three to six and spend about 30 minutes discussing the case study, using a list of questions as a guide. People may be more confident about speaking in small groups. Ask them to write all their comments on a large sheet of paper.

Possible questions

· What is the case study about?

· How were the main issues or problems resolved? Would you have resolved them differently?

· How did the personalities of the people involved and their relationships to each other effect what happened?

· Were the views of any people left out from the case study?

· What did the case study not tell you, i.e., Where were the gaps?

· What do you think will happen next? (You could give participants just part of the case study, ask this question, and then show them the rest of the case study to see how their answers compare to what actually happened.)

· How does the case study relate to your own experiences in your work or life?

3. Ask the small groups to report back to the rest of the group. Take one idea from each group at a time for the others to discuss.

4. Ask the participants to further explore the case studies through activities. For example:

· Rewrite the case study from the perspective of one of the people featured in it.

· Have a debate where participants take on the role of different characters in the case study and discuss the program from their perspective.

· Perform a drama to explore a particular issue raised, e.g., the role of women in fish marketing.

· Produce a 'people sculpture' where participants use their bodies to produce a sculpture that symbolizes the main message of the case study, e.g., the need to work together. (This is a useful summing up exercise.)




Participants make their own mini-case studies

If the training is to last several days, there is time for participants to make and present their own mini-case studies, based on their own work or life. They can then share and get advice on these.


· They appeal to people's enjoyment of stories and so - if imaginatively presented -are a popular way of raising awareness.

· Because case studies are set in a particular situation, they are excellent for exploring dynamics among people.

· They can be an impetus for sharing information and forming networks between groups and communities. For example, a case study that describes how one community tackled drug abuse problems could be an inspiration to a community facing similar problems. The next stage could be for members of the two communities to meet up.

· They can be used to provide some distance in discussing delicate issues, e.g., domestic violence or illegal logging.


· Case studies give the illusion of being 'real' but actually only give a snapshot of reality. They highlight certain issues and ignore others that might have had a strong influence on the events described but were 'invisible' to the case study makers, e.g., that they live in a municipality where the local government is supportive of environmental projects.

· Case studies do not lend themselves to incorporate quantitative data. One solution to this is a supporting document containing the 'hard facts'.



Short dilemmas

You can use short dilemmas - drawn from actual situations - to encourage participants to consider issues that are likely to arise in their own lives. The following are four examples taken from a VSO training course for development workers, called 'Working with Communities'.

Your work involves forming women's groups to look at ways of setting up income-generating activities. Concentrating on one area of the town, you meet local women leaders who are very enthusiastic about the idea and decided to have an open meeting to find out what women themselves want. You are feeling quite anxious about the meeting as forming women's groups is a major component of your job. On the day of the meeting, five women turn up.

· How do you react to this situation?
· How could you have approached this differently?

2. You have been involved in setting up a number of village meetings to explore the issues which are of importance to women. Attendance has been good and already a number of interest groups have begun to form. You then hear from a neighbor that the local church leader is annoyed that people have dropped away from groups set up by the church since these new groups have been formed.

· How do you react to this situation?
· What are the main issues in this case?
· How could this have been approached differently?

3. You have attended three community meetings to look at ways of improving children's health. The meetings are well attended and there is a lot of enthusiasm and discussion about how things could be improved. However, the problem seems to be that nobody decides who is going to take responsibility for doing things and so, apart from the meetings, nothing else seems to happen.

· How do you react to this situation?
· What are the main issues in this case?

4. You have been involved in organizing a series of training sessions for farmers and have tried to work in a way that encouraged the farmers themselves to be involved in activities (such as group work, etc.). The sessions have gone well and you are starting to feel more confident about your work. However, a farmer who is attending a session for the first time refuses to participate in the role play activity and continuously interrupts other people to give his own viewpoint.

· How do you react to this situation?
· What are the main issues in this case?