Beyond its publicised use in the Research Excellence Framework, James Harvey considers
the wider role of the case study as a research method and underlines
its often overlooked function as a tool for communicating with different
audiences and stakeholders. The case study’s versatility and scope for
reflection means the form is an accessible device for communicating research evidence to policy makers and reaching other important end-users of research findings.
The humble case study is often overlooked as a powerful tool for
analysis even though it very often forms the backbone of many of the
working papers, briefs, summaries and reviews that we encounter in our
work. Increasingly practitioners and researchers are being asked to
develop case studies that support project evaluation or, as in the case
of the Research Excellence Framework 2014 (REF),
provide traceable evidence of impact. There are many specific examples
of case studies, but at the most basic level, what exactly is the
function of a case study?
The answer to that question will be different for every discipline.
Case studies may describe a particularly interesting set of
circumstances from which lessons can be learned; they may illustrate a
particular theory or conceptual framework by reference to a specific
example; or they may be used as a device for teaching purposes and
publication of findings. In short, they are a dynamic and versatile
means of storytelling for different purposes and audiences.