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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 documentMaking a case study
View the documentUsing a case study

Making a case study


· existing documents that give background information
· optional: camera/video camera/tape recorder


Takes a few hours to several days


Making a case study can open 'a can of worms' since it may lead to the group/community identifying new problems. How will you deal with these? Avoid raising expectations that you cannot fulfill.

1. Decide as a group the focus of the case study. Is it an intention to explore an event, project or process in which the participants have played a part or is it to look at an issue that has affected their community or another community? Field trips can provide an excellent source to put together a case study (see Field Trips).

2. Ask the following important questions.

· What are the main issues that we want to draw out and explore in making this case study?

· Are we doing the case study just for our own learning or do we want it to be used later by other people? If so, who will these be and how will they use it?


If the case study touches on controversial issues, be aware that you may be placing individuals or whole communities in difficult or even dangerous positions. Make sure participants understand the implications of putting their views 'on record'. Some may wish to remain anonymous. Also be careful of libel; if you are going to make an accusation in a case study, make sure you can back it up.

3. Bring together all the background information needed. Decide what new information you need and how to get it, e.g., what places need to be visited and who are the people to be interviewed?

4. Work together to collect the new information. (Action Research offers useful advice on how to do this.)

5. Work with the participants in producing an outline of what has happened; this usually leads to heated debate. Ideally, anybody outside the group who had been interviewed should also be there. Try to draw out the views of all the participants. Reaching a consensus can be a lengthy but enlightening process. You might want to highlight the differences of opinion in your case studies, but be careful that the main points are not lost.

6. Discuss what medium you want to present your story line in, for example, written, video, drama, comic strip and photo story (a series of photos with captions and speech bubbles). You might be able to draw on legends and use dance, theater or mime particular to the participants or community (see Folkstorytelling).



Comic strip


Photo story

7. Ensure that the case study 'flows'. A possible framework for looking at a project is:

· Introduction, i.e., setting the scene.
· How the project was implemented, the event happened or the issue affected people.
· What is happening now?
· Conclusion, i.e., what we can draw out from this?


· The terms 'introduction' and 'conclusion' sound rather dry, so try to think of something else to call them in your actual case study. For example, "In the beginning was a sausage factory...."

· Include what went wrong when doing a case study on a project or process as this can often provide useful insights.

· A bit of humor will go a long way in making the case study enjoyable, so try to incorporate amusing anecdotes - and visual humor if making a video or a play.

8. Be prepared to have to go through various drafts in making the case study.

9. If the subject of the case study is people outside the group making the case study, give them a copy of the case study, credit their involvement, and keep them informed if the case study is being used elsewhere and the feedback it had.


In Loon, Bohol, Philippines, a high school student wrote a play script about a case of illegal fishing where the fisherfolk were caught using dynamite and ended up in prison. With very limited funding from a local organization, the drama was presented to over 300 people at the local fiesta. Local leaders, fisherfolks and many other people attended and so became aware of the dilemmas involved. Particularly effective was a scene that showed how distressed a fisherfolk's family was when he was arrested and imprisoned. The drama was videoed and is now used as a training tool with fisherfolk in the whole of Bohol.



People's Organizations for Social Transformation (POST), a network of community-based organization in Northern Philippines, wanted to produce case studies that would help their organizations understand how all their livelihoods were interlinked. For example, tailings from the mining in the mountains were polluting the coastal fishing areas, forcing fishers to migrate to the mountains in search of work in vegetable gardens.

The first case study was done with a fishing cooperative in La Union. At a community meeting, the history of the cooperative was discussed, leading to much debate. That night, one of the field workers produced a rough draft of the story for feedback from the others. The final comic strip was made by an artist in Baguio, drawing caricatures of the members of the people's organization based on photos. Copies were printed for all the organizations. The fisherfolks were pleased to see their story put into such a professional format. However, it might have been better for the artist to have gone to La Union and worked with the community to produce the final comic strip so that they would have learn these skills.