Defining the Scope of Case Study Research - What is a best practice?

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Re: Thematic Discussion: Case studies are Signposts for Recognition and Encouragement

INTERIM SUMMARY

Dear all,

The first topic of this thematic discussion on case study research dealt with defining what a case study is. The topic's moderator Girija Bharat said case studies are investigations, in that they are based on knowledge and experience and involve the collection and analysis of data. They look in-depth at the issues. They provide insights into how something takes place. To be meaningful, she said longitudinal studies are necessary. However, field staff often it hard to understand what a case study is. It could be the normal, every-day activities of a project, or the extra-ordinary. Hence the need to demystify case study research so field staff can participate.

Nipun Vinayak said any study that captures a principle leading to achievement of desirable and sustainable outcomes at scale in a short period of time can be a case study. Capturing principles may be more important than capturing a practice. He gave the example of the practice of sustaining ODF. The set of activities to sustain ODF would be more important that the distinct practices. The underlying principles include
L
  • eadership and initiative by a champion
  • Fostering collective spirit – only group sports were chosen to further gel the ODF community and enhance their team spirit required for sustainabilty.
  • Positive discrimination and enhancing competition, by disallowing non-ODF villages from participating
  • Flexibility to the district to take decisions
  • [Productive engagement of village-level motivators in people engagement activities (and not bureaucratic work alone!)
However, in the same example, individual practices would include ODF Olympics, walks of pride, award ceremonies, etc.

Alka Palrecha reiterated case study is a method in social science research used for building and testing theories. Their biggest contribution is in communication i.e., dissemination of 'good' and 'bad' practices. Value judgements can be attributed only in hindsight, a limitation of the case study approach. The exemplary value needs to be explained for justifying the choice of the case. A clear line of discovery of the case normally will assert its value. Case studies are useful when the researcher aims to study the dynamic relationship between rationality and power; in planning and, more generally, modern democracy at work; tell a story that will elicit critical thinking and action on the part of readers; and look at planning (or any other disciplines) from a novel perspective.

Abhishek Mendiratta remarked too often case studies are written up to satisfy a donor, or make an organization look good. Effective case studies need to be written up honestly. Elisabeth van Muench reiterated this, and brought up SuSanA's earlier work on case studies that are available at this URL . A template for SuSanA's case studies is available at www.susana.org/en/resources/case-studies/details/2259. This has a section 11 on Practical experiences and lessons learnt. The important thing is to share the good and the bad so others can avoid making the same mistakes. The template has a section on long-term impacts. However, as people write about their own projects, again it might be hard to stay objective and neutral.

Srinivas Rao Podipireddy defined a case study as a place where a best practice has been tried and tested and delivered the intended result. Further, the result has been to be sustained in a given conditions. What is important is ‘what best practice was followed to achieve what’. A best practice is also about optics – demonstration /visibility is important. Perhaps, that is a condition for choosing a best practice to showcase for scaling up.

Robin Van Kippersluis felt an important component of a best practice is something that has worked in different settings - and hence offers opportunities for replication at scale. Lessons can be drawn from both quantitative and qualitative research and every-day challenges, but are are not necessarily all captured in case studies. They are also not necessarily tested to work in different settings. Failures also yield lessons on 'how not to do something'. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has launched the Swachh Sangraha portal where local lessons and solutions on sanitation can be found.

Under SBM, said Sujoy Mojumdar, case studies demonstrate innovations in implementation that are generally context-specific, and those reporting initiatives taken up by implementing agencies. Both have an inherent bias but lessons are sometimes useful and can be taken up by others. Few have critical conclusions and these are discouraged. They do not give results of evaluations which can be used for learning and course correction.
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  • am101
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Re: Defining the Scope of Case Study Research - What is a best practice?

Dear Members,
You can go through newspaper link epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/Article.aspx...all-a-28042017005016.
epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/Article.aspx...aking-28042017005018
These stories reflect what is actually happening in the field.
The same thing can be presented in different manner. For ex some agency is funding CLTS/CATS /MHM campaigns in certain area they will try to show that whole coverage is because of them.This will help them getting more CLTS/CATS/MHM contracts but the truth is something else.Our aim is to bring truth out so the problems can be tackled and rectified and everyone is benefited.
Best regards,
Abhishek Mendiratta

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Re: Thematic Discussion: Case studies are Signposts for Recognition and Encouragement

Dear members,

I am posting below a response from Sameer Jain from Active Allocator:


Hi Girija,

Water and waste and sanitation issues are completely outside my area of expertise. But I was very intrigued for this is huge, staring at us all citizens in the face. The possibilities for creating case studies are endless – my recommendation would be to have a cross functional inter disciplinary approach to tackle this problem. Especially because this is firmly at the centre of the political agenda in India too from what I see on the internet. From a media perspective, depending on which sites one visits are in the headlines as never before. With political engagement at a high level, it is clear that they should impact the full range of public sector departments at a country and regional level - it is not just a conversation for a single Ministry.

My jumbled thoughts in no particular order of significance below.

Some examples of advisory-level dialogue that such case studies can trigger could include:

Housing policy: ensuring that all social housing (and public sector real-estate) are water and sanitation friendly by 2025 plus encouraging private housing stock to do so - how to finance?

Water policy: How can a government meet increasing water demands and minimize environmental disruption?

Industrial policy: How best to leverage entrepreneurship and business to produce the kinds of environmentally mitigating and adapting technology needed? How should we structure environmental markets to produce economic pricing to achieve green ends?

Consumer policy: How can we help the consumer to take greater individual responsibility for their own usage?

Development policy: How can we make best use of available budgets to ensure that we support such sustainable development?

Security policy: How can we help to mitigate/ avoid issues which may threaten our society in future (e.g. water shortages)?

Regional policy: How do we address growing amounts of household and industrial waste?
Governments and the public sector play a number of key roles. Showcase that role through 1 page cases
Governments make the rules and laws and provide the regulatory framework;

State Governments can initiate policies and programs to mitigate or enable economies and societies to adapt to climate change;

Governments and their agencies are large emitters too – they own buildings, energy and water utilities, run transport system. Especially in developing countries.
What policies and regulatory framework do individual countries have in response? Borrow from other countries ahead of us in India

Mitigation And Adaptation
There are a large variety of responses. In general terms governments have taken, or should be taking actions to:

Mitigate i.e., reduce them; and

Adapt to the consequences of such change.
These are two very different sorts of policy responses. Mitigation is susceptible to regional policy, because water contamination damage in an area ( we have seen as in China) is completely fungible i.e. it does not matter where on the earth’s surface a unit of contamination is emitted or reduced, its effect is the same within hundreds of miles. Also in Nuclear bomb testing. Adaptation has to do more with local impacts and responses. More effort has been spent on mitigation than adaptation. But some adaptation will be required.

Mitigation: Key Objectives Of Government Policy

Countries, states and cities also need to set other relevant targets such as percentages or quotas by certain dates. The key objectives of mitigation regulation and policy could mostly involve:

Reduce demand for water related goods and services;

Improve waste processing and disposal efficiency;

Encourage new technologies and processes that produce less waste ( food compactors for homes etc);

Mitigation: Focus on Sectors

Zero in to the main segments of the economy that contribute to such things:

Stationery homes; Industrial processes; Buildings; Agriculture.

Stationery assets:
Smart metering, differential pricing and demand management; Quest for efficient methods; Quest for more efficient ways of transporting water and sewage; Alliances between manufacturers and suppliers of appliances and producers and retailers; Voluntary and mandatory standards on appliances.

Industrial:
Waste minimization, recycling; Quest for lower intensity processes in many industries.

Building:
Design of new buildings to minimize consumption of water. Sometimes mandated standards; Retrofit of buildings to minimize consumption. Audits of buildings; Time of use metering and differential pricing; Appliance rating and mandatory standards for appliances;

Agriculture:
Modified tillage and cropping; Reforestation and afforestation – planting trees and vegetation.
Learning from Emissions: Sanitation Pricing through Trading?
There is an emerging consensus that the central policy tool for dealing with climate change is carbon pricing, possibly through taxation but more likely through emissions trading. Why not extend this same concept to water, sanitation too? After all the emitter creates negative public externalities.

Cap the amount of waste that is able to be emitted by a locality in a city; Convert this amount into a limited number of permits to create sewage; Allocate these permits to players in the economy either by auction or some other method based on historical or equity considerations or economic development considerations; Allow owners of permits ( localities/ municipalities ) to trade them freely; Allow additional permits or “credits” to be created where there is some additional action to reduce waste.

Government as Catalyst

• Government could provide the platform for a series of national or regional Sanitation and Waste Limitation Funds, whereby a government would invest seed capital (or more), leverage it via pension funds and institutional/retail investors (using their influence or regulation). A government could do this themselves, but would be unable to convince investors that it would be run on a commercial basis, so in order to ensure investment in green technology, would outsource the fund to the private sector. Private actors could manage the fund and make the investments according to criteria laid down by the government (which could be focused by investment size, type, or geography).

Upfront Capital
In many cases, in order the make savings over time there needs to be “lumpy” capital investment upfront.
Sometimes that capital investment is commercially justifiable even in the absence of a sanitation price. Energy efficiency projects are sometimes like this too. In other cases what gets the investment across the line commercially is a price of a certain magnitude e.g. the deployment of renewable energy is often more expensive than conventional energy. But a carbon price can bridge this gap. Banks can provide facilities and instruments to overcome the problems of up front capital investment provided there is a revenue stream. The imposition by governments of waste taxes or water usage frivolity prices through trading can provide that revenue stream or part of it. There may well be other sources of revenue such as revenue from the auctioning of permits to emit, taxes, foreign aid and subsidies that can be utilized. There is no doubt in my mind that ultimately the solution to waste will come from the development and deployment of new technology. Markets are only a way of creating incentives and opportunities for the deployment and development of such technology. Investment in R&D and emerging technologies is a key opportunity. Seed capital and pilot projects are key factors in developing new technology.

Aggregation
In many cases a large aggregate saving can be made by a lot of smaller actions by individuals, businesses and communities. For example, if everyone changed their water faucets, appliances, bathroom flushes ? ... In aggregate there would be a large saving. Scale also provides critical economies in the costs of production and installation. To some extent, that can be mandated or coordinated by governments. But also in many cases governments are choosing to create incentives for people to decide for themselves to take action. Competition among retailers creates an incentive for them to offer audits, switching options, even finance for appliances or micro waste management. Banks have facilities and techniques for financing and aggregation, and can create portfolios that diversify risk.

Sameer Jain
Partner
Active Allocator

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  • GB
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Re: Defining the Scope of Case Study Research - What is a best practice?

Abhishek, I agree....many of the times this holds true, unless there is a third party verification. As we have seen in the case of Nirmal Gram Puraskar in the past.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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Re: Defining the Scope of Case Study Research - What is a best practice?

Under the Swachh Bharat Mission in India, one sees mainly two types of case studies happening in rural sanitation
1. Those reporting innovations in implementation - generally context specific
2. Studies reporting initiatives taken up by implementing agencies.

Both these have an inherent bias in them. However the learnings have sometimes been useful, and taken up by others.

Case studies with critical conclusions are rarely seen, and are often discouraged. This is indeed a loss to the programme and the system. Case studies hardly give results of evaluations which are used for learning and course correction.
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Re: Defining the Scope of Case Study Research - What is a best practice?

Dear All,

I am reading your contributions with great interest!

Allow me to add a few thoughts:

1) A good or best practice (on sanitation) can be described in my view in different ways - and many of you provided definitions. For me an important component of a best practice is that something has not only worked in one location or context, but has been tested/proven to work in different settings - and hence offers opportunities for replication at larger scale. In short: best practices are (at least in part) replicable.

2) Another term that is often used (and confused) may be: 'Lessons Learnt'. Lessons can be drawn in different ways; such as from quantitative research or from more qualitative research such as a case study. But lessons are also learned every day in day-to-day life and dealing with (sanitation) challenges. These local lessons are not necessarily all captured in case studies. They are also not necessarily tested to work in different settings. A lesson can also be about 'how not to do something'. In sanitation there are various important lessons learned at the village, block and district level that are worth sharing and trying out in other places, to make the country open defecation free.

3) The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation - as Nitya mentioned - has launched the Swachh Sangraha portal. More and more local lessons and solutions on sanitation can be found there, 'waiting' for further testing and replication and as a source of knowledge and inspiration. Are they case studies? Are they lessons? Are they research? Are they a mix of all of these? Are they automatically replicable? I may post on this a bit more later, with your permission, but they are definitely inspiring ...

Best, Robin
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Re: Fwd: Thematic Discussion on case studies. Defining the Scope of Case Study Research - What is a best practice?

Referring to:

1. What is a best practice / case study? Who qualifies that? Can we use an alternate terminology for this kind of research. Girija Bharat, Director, Mu Gamma Consultants Pvt Ltd., is leading this topic. It will be open for your comments for a week, till 26th April


In my view, a case study is where a best practices has been tried and tested – delivered intended result. Further, the result has been to be sustained in a given conditions. I think the terminology is Ok but ‘what best practice was followed to achieve what’ is the Key. A best practice is also about optics – demonstration /visibility is important. Perhaps, that is a condition for choosing a best practice to showcase for scaling up.

Regards SR
________________________________
Srinivasa Rao Podipireddy
Sr Water and Sanitation Specialist
Tel +91 11 49247662 / Mob +91 9212282335
E This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

HT Building, 18-20 KG Marg, Delhi 110001
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Re: Defining the Scope of Case Study Research - What is a best practice?

I think Abishek made some really good points here:

The motive behind documentation is the force that drives result.For example if an agency has to spend money and show progress they usually try to hire a person that give them what they want.A truly honest person is not their choice.Hence there are very few people who make their sponsor/funder unhappy.

At SuSanA, we had an intensive period during about 2009-2012 where we (=SuSanA secretariat at GIZ) did a heap of work on "case studies of sustainable sanitation projects".
They are available here (94 of them):
www.susana.org/en/resources/case-studies

Looking at this thematic discussion, perhaps they should have been called "project descriptions" rather than "case studies".

In any case, when I reviewed those documents during that time, I tried really hard to make them neutral - not gloating!

We added into the template a section on "long-term impacts" and that was always the hardest section to fill in.

By the way, the template is here as a Word document if anyone wants to use it:
www.susana.org/en/resources/case-studies/details/2259

We put there for Section 11 on Practical experiences and lessons learnt:

Description of experiences (acceptance of technologies, technical aspects, scale of impact on the stakeholders involved, gender issues, mistakes made, lessons learnt, etc. Also include analysis of occurred problems, challenges, constraints and recommendations for future activities.

Remember if any mistakes were made, these are the best lessons for others to avoid making the same mistakes. So it is interesting to hear about all the good and bad things with the project.


We also pointed out in Section 12 about long-term impacts:

Example text:
With regards to long-term impacts of the project, the main expected impact of the project is improved public health (e.g. reduced rate of diarrhoea incidences in children). It is planned to assess this at the end of the project in late 2012.


Another tool that SuSanA provides is the project database:
www.susana.org/en/resources/projects

SuSanA partners have the option to provide details about their projects here. However, as people write about their own projects, again it might be hard to stay objective and neutral. If we could establish a culture of honesty and learning from mistakes, that would be very awesome. But it's hard! (this Forum can help with that, too)

Regards,
Elisabeth

P.S. Speaking of admitting and documenting failures, you might find this Wikipedia article interesting which is based on work started by Susan Davis:
Failures of water supply and sanitation systems
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Failures_of_water_...d_sanitation_systems

See also here on the Forum: forum.susana.org/component/kunena/183-mo...ow-also-on-wikipedia
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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Located in Ulm, Germany
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My Wikipedia user profile: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:EMsmile
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/elisabethvonmuench/

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Re: Defining the Scope of Case Study Research - What is a best practice?

Thanks Nipun for sharing your knowledge, insights and wisdom. Much appreciate!

Best,

Girija

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Re: Defining the Scope of Case Study Research - What is a best practice?

Thanks Alka for sharing your insights. The points you have mentioned are very pertinent. I agree that in most of the cases, the case studies are the ones which have been successful. The unsuccessful case studies have important lessons embedded in them but in almost all instances, they are not documented.

Best,

Girija

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Re: Defining the Scope of Case Study Research - What is a best practice?

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Re: Defining the Scope of Case Study Research - What is a best practice?

Dear All,

It is good to know of the interest on the topic of case studies and its design and its relevance. I am a planner and with the perspective of planning, following are my views.

Case study is a method and is a methodology. In social science research is normally used for building theories and testing theories. Case studies can be used for both. However, I feel that its major contribution is in communication i.e. dissemination of practice - its 'good' and its 'bad'. The limitation of case study approach in my view is that whether a case has exemplary value is known only posteriori. The exemplary value needs to be explained for justifying the choice of the case. A clear line of discovery of the case normally will assert its value. The value of "case" also can be asserted by mentioning what it is not! In a case study approach 'data' is not important but 'assertions' seem to be important that does not come from statistics but from analysis.

Flyvbjerg (1998) mentions the triple goal that most authors seem to have pursued with their case based research. Case studies, he argues, are useful when the researcher aims to study
the dynamic relationship between rationality and power; in planning and, more generally, modern democracy at work.
tell a story that will elicit critical thinking and action on the part of readers; and
look at planning (or any other disciplines) from a novel perspective.

Other disciplines like policy, public administration, organisational/management studies, political science, etc. too; may find case studies useful for above aims.

"Case studies" for communication, advocacy and dissemination may be an umbrella term that encompasses lessons learned, success stories, best practices, etc. I think we need to differentiate between documenting/ disseminating "best practices" and studying "case/s". In my view, a case study will have following characters.

1. Intensive Study
2. Indepth Examination
3. Systematic way for collection, analysis, reporting
4. Understanding why and What?
5. Generating and Testing Hypothesis
6. Involvement of Stakeholders in identification of variables
7. Ratifies data/numbers

While "best practices" may have the key characteristics as follows.
1. Replicable/adaptable
2. Proven process (within a geographical location)
3. Reflect the process
4. Community owned & tested procedures
5. Tested innovations

The reasons best practices are useful to generate are that they sustain over a period of time, provide a road map for expansion/scaling up, saves time by giving knowledge for future replication and by way of sharing knowledge provides options and choices.

It may be mentioned that "case studies" are generalisable but the "best practices" may not be generalisable as the rigour of writing 'best practices' in my views is limited.

Lastly, normally case studies do not tell about failures, shortcomings, missed opportunities, and crises; but they sometimes yield the best lessons.

Regards,

Alka
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