Guidelines on Case Studies for Learning


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These guidelines target UNDP staff and other development practitioners who want to create educational case studies that reflect the working environment and challenges of their organization

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Guidelines on Case Studies for Learning

  1. 1. How to develop Case Studies for Training and Learning Effective adult learning comes in many different shapes. This document presents brief guidelines on how to develop Case Studies for training events and learning curricula.CONTENT The purpose of this How-To Guide is to enable UNDP colleagues and other development practitioners to create educational Case  What are Case Studies? Studies that reflect the working environment and challenges of  In what settings can Case Studies be their organization. This document aims at all UNDP colleagues used?  Eight Steps on developing a Case who develop content for trainings; face-to-face and online. Study for Training and Learning in UNDP In the past years, many internal customers of UNDP’s Learning 1. Find a Story 2. Identify the Challenge Resources Centre expressed a demand for customized Case 3. Get the Facts Studies that reflect the challenges in an aid and development 4. Ensure Consent and Anonymity 5. Write the Case Study context. With these guidelines we want to provide general 6. Refine the Questions guidance on how to develop such Case Studies; the relevant 7. Get Final Approval 8. Prepare Teaching Notes context depends on your training and learning plans. What are Case Studies? This document focuses only on educational Case Studies; they are based on a specific event and present a development and management challenge. Educational Case Studies are puzzles that need to be solved; there are not scientific studies with right or wrong answers or stories that can be used for outreach and advocacy. The description of the case needs to include specific information about the problem, the development context and the people involved. Generally, this information should be anonymous and not be traceable to real people. Engaging Case Studies trigger reflection about the problem and give the learner the opportunity to formulate her/his own answers. “When successful, the case method of instruction produces a manager grounded in theory and abstract knowledge, and more important, able to apply those elements.” (C. Roland Christensen, Professor Harvard Business School) 1|Page
  2. 2. How to develop Case Studies for Training and LearningCase Studies support learners in further advancing skills such as:1  identifying problems  understanding and interpreting data  understanding and recognizing assumptions, as opposed to concrete facts  thinking analytically and critically  assessing interpersonal relationships  exercising and making judgments  communicating ideas and opinions  making and defending decisionsIn what settings can Case Studies be used?Educational Case Studies can be used for individual reflection or group exercises; either in face-to-face settings or virtual environments. In face-to-face settings, Case Studies are a great tool totrigger social learning: participants share their thoughts, question their approaches and refinepossible solutions together.Eight Steps on developing a Case Study for Training andLearning in UNDP 1.) Find a Story 2.) Identify the Challenge 3.) Get the Facts 4.) Ensure Consent and Anonymity 5.) Write the Case Study 6.) Refine the Questions 7.) Get Final Approval 8.) Prepare Teaching Notes1 The list is based on: International Council of Archives / International Records Trust Found: Writing Case Studies: AManual, 1999. Online: (Accessed on 10 October2011) 2|Page
  3. 3. How to develop Case Studies for Training and Learning 1. Find the Story Good stories for Case Studies can be found every day; starting to listen more carefully to colleagues and their problems is the first step to get your story. The type of story you are looking for depends on your training topic. Are you interested in a management or leadership issue? In a problem related to development programming or an intercultural challenge? Here are a few general tips: Make a list with specific topics for Case Studies. Think of the content of the upcoming training or a curriculum you are working on. Have a clear image of your audience. Are you developing a learning exercise for experts in a specific development field, for managers in general or do you want to sensitize all staff on an issue? Listen carefully to colleagues when they talk about problems at work. Could their experience be used for a Case Study? Does it contain a challenging problem? Read UNDP’s publication. Is a story featured on UNDP’s website or UNDP’s blog suitable for your purpose? Can you identify and contact the author? Take notes at workshops. During many face-to-face events great stories with lots of valuable insights are shared but most of them are never re-used. Follow relevant colleagues on Teamworks. A growing number of UNDP colleagues uses Teamworks in their everyday work. Many share what they work on in blog posts, articles and in their status updates. Identify colleagues that work in your field, add them to your colleagues list and follow their activities. 3|Page
  4. 4. How to develop Case Studies for Training and Learning 2. Identify the Challenge After you have heard a story that has the potential for a Case Study, do not immediately start interviewing the resource person. Think about the questions you want the learners to work on. What do they need to know to come up with good responses? It is virtually impossible to get all the facts of a complex situation. To know what the essential ones are, you need to be clear what challenges you want the learners to work on. For example, are the grades of the people involved an important fact? Do you need to include information about past events to provide sufficient context? Write down 2-3 questions that are related to the story. At this stage you might not have the full picture of the story yourself, but still formulate some questions. Find a colleague, tell the story and ask the questions. Most likely, your colleague will immediately ask you some questions for clarifications. These are the facts that you need to get from your resource persons. Make sure to write them down and prepare Step 3. 3. Get the Facts No matter if you interview a resource person in a face-to-face setting, if you interact virtually or if you develop a Case Study ba sed on a document - make sure you have the essentials of the story. It is, in fact, more than getting the facts. A good Case Study engages the learner makes her/him relate to the situation. To achieve this, list the situational facts and try to also get the characteristics of the people involved. If applicable, ask about the resource person about how she/he felt in the given situation. The more you are able to have the learners experience the situation, the better the learning will be. 4|Page
  5. 5. How to develop Case Studies for Training and Learning WHO? (Make sure to get the elements needed to solve the puzzle. This might entail age, gender, grade, background, language skills and expertise.) WHERE and WHEN? (What is important to know? The exact date; the country or just the continent? CHALLENGE (What was the problem that triggered the story?) ACTION (Clearly describe the sequence of events. Be sure to know who did what.) ENDING (How did the people involved resolve the issue?) Remember that every story has different sides. There is no “true” story but different individual perspectives on a past event. Assess how impartial your source is. If you perceive the need to get more perspectives; try to talk to other resource persons and ask your informant questions such as:  How do you think the other persons involved would tell the story?  How happy were the other persons with the outcome? What triggered their reactions? 5|Page
  6. 6. How to develop Case Studies for Training and Learning 4. Ensure Consent and Anonymity Do not publish or use a Case Study without the consent of the resource person. As a general rule: events and people of a Case Study in UNDP should be anonymous. Change characteristics of the people involved, for example their sex or background, leave out the exact location and, if necessary, alter some of the actions that took place. Finding the balance between keeping it realistic and not compromising confidential information is not easy. Remember: UNDP and other development organizations are rather small environments. 5. Write the Case Study In workshops or online trainings, Case Studies should present one scenario, not several. The learners should be able to develop solutions with the information provided; the Case Study should be usable without any other sources. If you are using the Case Study for a workshop, make sure not to exceed one page. If it is used in an online course, keep the maximum text to two pages. Here is a list of content items; the sequence will vary but a good Case Study needs to include all of the following elements: 6|Page
  7. 7. How to develop Case Studies for Training and Learning Content Element Description Introduction Start with a bang. Engage the reader with the first two phrases; introduce a character with her/his biggest problem. Then introduce the environment and the actors. Environment Describe the external and internal environment in which the Case Study is set. Explain facts pertinent to the case, especially relevant data about the development context and, if applicable the country/region. Organization Describe the organization, its structure and the organizational culture in which the Case Study is situated. Specific Sub- Describe the specific group in which the case is situated, Group for example section, section or local community. Protagonists Describe the individuals and their relation to each other. Situation Describe the specific situation in a clear chronological sequence. Constraints and Specify all constraints such as time pressure, lack of Requirements funding, specific criteria that must be met and requirements for a possible solution. Ending Ideally, the challenge remains unsolved. Formulate an open-ending that motivates the learners to develop solutions to the problem.  A good Case Study is short and candid.  Each story element from the list above moves the narrative forward.  It is specific, easily digestible and contains information that can be generalized. 7|Page
  8. 8. How to develop Case Studies for Training and Learning  It reveals real business pain and a legitimate problem the learner can relate to.  A good Case Study keeps jargon to a minimum  It entails only few relevant numbers; they must be directly related to solving the problem.  An effective Case Study presents opposing points of view.  It contains dialogues: straight narrative easily gets boring.  It provokes the learner to solve the puzzle.  A good Case Study does not suggest how the puzzle should be solved.  The questions should stimulate self-reflection and the application of learned concepts. As a rule of thumb: the relevance of a good Case Study expires after 2-3 years. Generally, they refer to recent events. The context of aid and development is changing at a fast pace and so are our challenges. 6. Refine the Questions Case Studies are meant to improve learning experiences; hence clear and challenging questions are key. Most Case Studies end with 2-3 questions which generally take one of four forms:  Ask the learners to analyze the situation and identify the main challenges.  Ask the learners what they would do next: how can the burning issues be addressed?  Ask the learners to do a specific task such as writing a report recommending an action. 8|Page
  9. 9. How to develop Case Studies for Training and Learning  Ask the learners to share a similar experience; how they handled it, what they would do differently today based on what they have learned. Always ask open questions; avoid yes/no items. Test the Case Study and the questions with 2-3 colleagues before you use it for a learning event. If the colleagues ask for more information or if they invent additional facts to answer the questions, you need to go back and insert necessary information. 7. Get Final Approval Once you developed a good Case Study with suitable questions, share it with your resource person and ask for final approval. Most Case Studies are used in closed learning environments; specify in what context the story will be published but remember that it is impossible to guarantee that the Case Study will end up publically available somewhere on the Internet. 8. Prepare Facilitation Notes Facilitation notes are instructions on how to use the Case Study. If you do not intend to have other instructors use the Case Study, it is still advisable to write facilitation notes for yourself: it will further clarify the scope of the exercise and most likely improve the way you interact with the learners (online or face- to-face). Facilitation notes should contain information about why the case study was written, further questions that might arise from it as well as practical and theoretical issues that should be raised in the discussion. It is important to state the learning objectives of the exercise. Ideally, facilitation notes are updated each time you conduct the Case Study exercise reflecting the issues raised in the last discussion. 9|Page