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close this bookDesigning Human Settlements Training in African Countries - Volume 2: Trainer's Tool Kit (HABITAT, 1994, 182 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe lecture
View the documentVisual aids
View the documentQuestion and answer
View the documentDiscussion
View the documentDemonstration
View the documentSimulation
View the documentThe case method
View the documentCritical incidents
View the documentRole-playing
View the documentInstrumentation
View the documentBrainstorming
View the documentNominal group technique (NGT)
View the documentForce field analysis
View the documentAction planning
View the documentOther learning transfer strategies
View the documentPerformance analysis & needs assessment
View the documentTraining impact evaluation
View the documentTraining the staff to train
View the documentCoaching
View the documentTeam development
View the documentRole negotiation
View the documentIntergroup conflict intervention
View the documentOrganizational goal setting
View the documentA closing note

The case method

Learning Emphasis

Organization Focus

On the whole, it must be more important to be skillful in thinking than to be stuffed with facts.

- Edward deBono

The case method was initiated at Harvard University in the latter part of the 19th century. Its principal use during its early years was as practice for students contemplating the practice of law. It is used today as a non-directive, educational device aimed at helping students in many professional areas to think effectively.

Cases used in training take many forms. They may be quite long and describe completely a situation that exists now or that did exist in the past. On the other hand, they may be quite short and pungent, of the vignette variety. Either way, the purpose is the same - to cause participants to draw conclusions from a set of facts that lead to decisions which they can generalize to their own work situations.*

The case method assumes group discussion. The cases are sufficiently involved and detailed to produce a wide range of opinions concerning, (a) who was to blame, (b) what caused a person to behave as he or she did, and (c) what is the best remedy. The important contributions of the case method to training include:

1. Discouraging participants from making snap judgements about people and behaviour,

2. Discouraging a search for the one “best answer,”

3. Illustrating graphically how the same set of events can be perceived differently by people with similar backgrounds,

4. Encouraging training participants to discuss things with others and to experience the broadening value of interaction, and

5. Emphasising the value of practical thinking.

The case method is participant-centred. The well-constructed case stimulates participants to take a spirited role in analysing and discussing what the case is about. They are encouraged to contribute ideas, opinions and reactions. As they do, the discussion moves forward. Ideas are picked up by others, considered, bounced back and forth, and then integrated by the group as a whole. The trainer’s role in the case method is to distribute the case, invite participants to read and study it, feed back ideas generated through discussion of the case and, occasionally, challenge participants with questions about their observations. Sometimes participants are given a written set of questions to consider as they discuss the case.

Normally, the case method is carried out in two steps:


Participants are given a case to read. It may be distributed in advance or at the time in the programme when it is scheduled to be used. Either way, participants must be given adequate time to read and digest the material. If questions are to be used, these are handed out by the trainer to stimulate discussion.


Participants are asked to discuss the case. All participants are expected to respond to the questions furnished by the trainer or to share their opinions and what they consider to be an appropriate decision. The participants (and the trainer) challenge each other on their views and ask for the rationale for reaching that conclusion. The process concludes when participants are asked by the trainer to generalize from the facts of the case and the ensuing discussion.

Case studies are sometimes long and complex, like the one presented in Volume 1 of Designing Human Settlements Training in African Countries. Others are comparatively brief but still surprisingly rich in learning value. A good illustration is a case study written recently by a small group of participants for a training-of-trainers course in East Africa. The case is presented below, edited slightly for inclusion in this volume.

Case of the Poorly Informed Councillor

Comment: When individuals are elected to a city council, rarely do they come to the position with the knowledge and skill to advocate effectively for the needs of the people they represent. Yet, advocacy for public needs is a councillor’s principal role in a representative system of government. As we see in the case of Councillor Mlohla, a record of ineffective performance as a public advocate can lead to personal frustration for the councillor and growing disillusionment for his constituents.

The situation

On his way home late one Friday evening Councillor James Mlohla stopped off at a local club in Makokoba Township to see some of his friends. Councillor Mlohla had been to a meeting of the Mambo City Council. Several issues had been discussed at the meeting. The chief issue of concern to him was a resolution approved unanimously by the Council to increase rents by 100 per cent throughout the city. He was particularly concerned with the impact of the rent increase on his ward which consisted mainly of the lowest-paid workers in Mambo City.

Entering the club, Councillor Mlohla noticed several of his friends seated together at a corner table. As he came up to the table, Mr. Tsopano, a resident of Makokoba and a friend of Councillor Mlohla, greeted him, saying:

“Tell us James, what have you people decided today? Higher rates, higher rents, higher water and electricity charges! What about tarring the roads in Makokoba. Dust gets into houses, into our food; everywhere is dust. You know that, James!”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” echoed the others at the table in support of Mr. Tsopano, prompting Councillor Mlohla to respond:

“Listen, gentlemen. The council has no money to tar these roads here. This is why today the council has resolved to put up rents by 100 per cent. This means double the rents we are paying now.”

On hearing this, Ms. Chimodzi, another Makokoba resident, spoke up in apparent disbelief:

“That cannot be true. Last January, it was reported in the paper that the Mambo City Council had made a profit of K10m from beer sales alone. What have you done with all this money? Did you share it among yourselves?”

Feeling the blood rise in his face, Councillor Mlohla began to reply:

“We did not share the money. Instead, the council has used it in many ways as you know...” but, he was interrupted in the middle of his reply by Ms. Chimodzi, obviously disturbed by what she was hearing:

“No! That cannot be true.” With anger and desperation in her voice, Chimodzi continued to speak: “Please make sure you raise this question in the council next Friday and come and tell us. In addition, tell the Council that residents of Makokoba Township want all roads tarred like in Theo Township or we and our children will die from the dust.”

With that, Councillor Mlohla left the club. The following Friday he was at a meeting of the Mambo City Council. On standing to be recognized by the Mayor, Councillor Mlohla said:

“Your worship, unless roads in Makokoba Township are tarred, my people will die from the dust. Before I sit down Your Worship, may I also know what happened to the K10m profit we made from beer sales last year?”

With impatience in his voice, the mayor responded to the councillor’s remarks.

“Councillor Mlohla, we discussed and passed the budget for this year here in a council meeting which you attended.”

Discussion Questions

1. What is the proper role of a councillor as an advocate for the needs of the people in his ward?

2. In what ways did Councillor Mlohla fail to be a proper advocate?

3. How might a councillor become informed about the needs of his people?

4. What implications does this case have for the training of elected officials?


A well-constructed case gives a learner the opportunity to take an active part in analysing and discussing real-life situations. Case materials present practical work illustrations with which participants are already familiar. The realism of the case and the involvement in it with other participants stimulate the learner to move from the known to the unknown; acts as a springboard for the acceptance of new knowledge, skills and attitudes.