Writing cases – what’s involved?
There are many reasons for writing a teaching case. Often, a suitable subject emerges as part of ongoing research; the topical business scenario may be too good a learning opportunity not to capitalise on. An instructor may feel that the specific needs of their course require a case tailored to the particular participant group. Many cases are based on large multinationals, which some teachers may feel are not relevant to their local environment or culture and they therefore choose to develop something more pertinent.
Types of case
The majority of cases are still published in the traditional ‘story-telling’ format, where a business dilemma is presented for discussion. Usually, the real company is portrayed, though some cases may disguise its identity and others are even based on fictitious companies or individuals to shed light on a particular business or management dilemma. Cases often include exhibits like financial data or examples of relevant corporate branding, and most have a teaching note offering pedagogical guidance from the author to the instructor. The majority of these cases are electronically downloadable and participants will frequently work on the case ahead of the class. Technology is playing an ever more powerful role in the content of cases too, offering greater interactivity between participants and the subject matter.
But most fundamental to the planning of a new case is whether it is based on field research, or created from published sources. Perhaps, in an ideal world, all cases would be based on original research; however, sometimes it is simply not possible or practical to gain the involvement of a company in the development of a case.
Planning and writing
Once a subject has been identified, as a first step, many case authors acquaint themselves with all relevant previously published materials, including other cases.
The preparatory phase of a field researched case requires patience and, crucially, the building of a trusting relationship with the subject company. This can be challenging, not least because many decision-making executives are unfamiliar with the design and purpose of a teaching case, and may fear adverse comments for the organisation. As the case will eventually require formal ‘release’ from the subject company before publication, investment in this stage of the process is essential to ensuring the case will eventually be published.
A really successful case has to read well. Rigorous attention to content and stylistic detail, and thorough editing, are vital if a case is to withstand the test of the classroom and beyond.
All new cases will benefit from trialling in the classroom. Many authors testify to the importance of this test stage in ironing out issues relating to the pedagogy of the case and ensuring it works as planned. This is often the stage at which the teaching note is developed and perfected. A good teaching note is an invaluable support to any future instructor who may decide to use the case. It will summarise the case, its objectives and target audience and give guidance about teaching approaches and how to strategise the class discussion.
One of the main issues prospective case authors face is making precious time available for an activity that is not equally recognised by schools worldwide. For the most part, national academic research assessment exercises do not incorporate the same recognition for case production as for journal-published, original research. Some institutional credit may be gained in so far as new cases contribute to recognition of original teaching excellence. Nevertheless, many schools do actively encourage and support the development of original case materials and understand the edge this can give to their programmes.
Jordi Canals, former Dean of IESE Business School, observes: "Relevance in management education is an indispensable attribute. Good business cases highlight the complexity of organisational challenges and the contradictory criteria to be used in decision-making. They help both students and senior executives develop their capabilities in a context where people learn from one another in reflecting upon a problem, thinking on different solutions and designing action plans. It should not be a surprise that some business schools invest in developing such a powerful learning tool".
Schools that encourage case writing often operate a mentoring system for new case authors. This support can be invaluable both in planning and drafting the case, and especially during the classroom testing phase. For those taking more of a pioneering role in case writing at their institution, various books and articles are available, written by eminent experts at some of the world’s leading case writing schools.
Written for the Chartered ABS by The Case Centre.
If you’d like to find out more about writing a case why not come to The Case Centre’s Professional Development Workshop, 'The Secrets for Successful Case Writing', at the Chartered ABS's Learning, Teaching & Student Experience (LTSE) conference. The workshop takes place from 14.00 to 17.00 on Monday 13 May, the day before the main conference. This workshop is free to attend for LTSE 2019 attendees - contact Pritika Pau if you would like to attend firstname.lastname@example.org.