All entries for Sunday 25 September 2016

September 25, 2016

All Case Study Aspects Dropped: the case, pun intended, for this

Ok, after much deliberation I have decided to drop all case study elements from my research. Debates and discussions regarding the inclusion of case study elements within a mixed methods context utalising grounded theory vary widely. But for me the case study approach goes against the nature of the research and the research intentions even if it were used for only framing the research questions and the data collection and analysis procedures, because quite frankly relevant approaches from critical realism, mixed methods and grounded theory appear to encompass all that is required, making the case-based study or strategy rather redundant. Despite numerous reasons for being initially attracted to case study aspects e.g., exploration of phenomenon in its natural setting and the carrying out of an intensive and detailed study on a phenomenon, the five key deciders for dropping any mention of a case study are discussed. Note that what is discussed has come not from actually carrying out case study research, but from logic and reason based on my current understanding.


Theoretical incompatibility


Intentions of my research are to develop theory from the grounded theory data within the quantitative strand, test the theory using the quantitative strand, and then use the quantitative data to refine the theory. Case study emphasises not the development of theory, according to key authors Eisenhardt and Yin, but the testing of a theoretical framework, either existing or developed through the analysis of literature, before commencing any case study research.


The emphasis on the theory development through literature and prior to carrying out the research is incompatible with grounded theory, which suggests that an existing theoretical framework should not be forced onto the data but emerge and develop from the data. I accept however that there are theses out there that have not developed a theory prior to carrying out a mixed methods case study, but for me and the intentions of my research that approach would not work.


Additionally, I am unsure of case study’s stance on theory refinement. Plentiful literature describes it as an effective strategy or methodology, depending on the way it is used, for theory development, but nothing on actual theory refinement.


Sampling Incompatibility


From my understanding, everything needs to be designed, developed and explored relevant to the case or a series of cases. Whilst case study research employs a form of purposive sampling of cases, it appears to me that all participants of a particular case must be included in the research with no "outsiders". Whilst this is fine if that is the intention, the mixed methods approach being developed for my research requires different population samples from outside of the cases that shall be explored, and this does not appear to fit within the use of sampling for a case study. If I were to use a sequential explanatory mixed methods this would not be an issue, but because I am developing a sequential exploratory, an amended version, this would be a problem. A problem would involve the fact that the theory would be tested on a population sample different to the participants of the cases explored through grounded theory. The fact the samples shall differ between qualitative and quantitative makes case study incompatible.



Non-Triangulated research


Case study actively encourages triangulation of research findings, meaning that the findings come from different research methods for a variety of purposes including corroborating data and improving research validity. The concurrent triangulation variation of mixed methods was going to be used until it was realised that this would have led to difficulties in the research design and therefore render it unreliable, therefore it was switched to a sequential exploratory approach. Concurrent triangulation would have achieved the triangulation objective of the case study approach, but the sequential exploratory does not: at least, not the in the way it is being used in this research to develop a theory.



Replication Logic


Replication logic is what gives case study a mode of generalisability or in other words the ability to generalise identified events and activities across a series of cases. Replication appears on two levels: literal replication if few cases are explored and theoretical replication if several are selected. The former is used for predicting similar results across cases whilst the latter is used for predicting contrasting results across cases but for reasons that can be anticipated. Yin’s description of replication logic is akin to experimental designs: the focus is on replicating findings in some way, and therefore highlights a positivist approach to research, which would in my opinion oppose the general philosophical stance of grounded theory. Grounded theory is a mode of interpreting data and is therefore not a mode of enforcing a particular theoretical framework upon data in order to find some sort of replication. There is a form of replication that can be found within grounded theory, but this does not come from an enforcement of a theoretical perspective but is allowed to emerge naturally from the data relative to the perspectives and interpretations of the researcher.


Therefore, replication logic appears to be based on replication based on pre-existing theoretical frameworks and assumptions. This is unlikely to work in my research.

Well then!


No, no, I am not going to say that the sequential exploratory mixed methods using grounded theory and questionnaire (more than likely: depends on the findings of the grounded theory) underpinned by critical realism shall be the research design because I might change my mind, but it’s not likely though I have said that before! But that’s the beauty of research: you can never really be certain or absolute of anything.


All of my latest ideas about the research design is to be confirmed as appropriate by the supervisor.



References


Those of you interested:


Robert Yin’s book on case study methods: Case Study Research: Design and methods. The fourth edition is available on Google books, and all University libraries! Though a bit difficult to get hold of from a University library if you are not a registered student or researcher at that University……


Plus, Kathleen Eisenhardt’s research paper Building Theories From Case Study Research available from The Academy of Management Review journal.


Plus, before any person comments, I realise that is not the formal way to reference materials! Have to adore Harvard referencing………


Case study? Case–based strategy? Not a case–based strategy? What is it then?

Remember the time I posted up a post that began with remember the time when I said that my research design is complete? I’m saying it again: remember the time when I said that my research design is complete? Well, earlier in the day a thought literally struck my ideas of a case study down, stamped all over them, and performed some sort of war dance over them chanting in some intelligible language. So, I will not dance about and sing claiming that I have found my research design because, given that I am a critical realist, to claim that I have found an absolute research design would be complete and utter nonsense.


Regardless, the intention was never to implement a full case study design as the research uses a particular variant of the mixed methods methodology. Whilst mixed methods can be used within a case study design, I have come to realise that the type of mixed methods that I am proposing (an amended version of Creswell’s sequential exploratory to reflect better the theory refinement phase) and the types of methods being used is making me question the use and role of a case study approach.


So I began thinking about the idea of calling case implementation a case-based strategy for framing the research questions and acting as a general guide for guiding the mixed methods data collection and analysis sequences, but it was realised that this didn’t really make much sense because it would only apply to the qualitative aspect and not the quantitative aspect, and also from what I understand all phases of a sequential mixed methods approach would have to study the same participants because it is about studying a single case e.g., a group of people, an organisation and so on. Sequential exploratory calls for different population samples, though sharing the same basic characteristics, for both qualitative and quantitative strands.


A key question that has been playing on my mind is, is it really the right way to call something a case study or even a case study strategy if some of the key aspects of such an approach are not going to be utalised? Can you really mould and combine bits of different methodologies and methods and call it by a particular name e.g., is it really right to call my study an exploratory mixed methods case study on X phenomenon if most of the key functions of a case study shall not be used?


If not, then what can I call it? What does it all even mean?

Case-based?


Could my research be case-based? There are clear examples of cases existing, with a case being defined as simply an instance of a phenomenon of interest e.g., I am exploring a particular process of learning so a case would simply be defined as a separate but related instance of this phenomenon. In terms of Education think of a “case” as a classroom, or an individual student, or a group of learners.


A discussion on the academic site ResearcherGate included a comment suggesting that within a sequential mixed methods design, a case study can be used as part of the qualitative component but because my research design has been amended slightly to reflect theory refinement, it kind of goes beyond the limit of what a case study is supposed to achieve, in my opinion from what I can currently understand. Another debate revolves around if whether or not aspects of case study can really be used within a grounded theory exploration, and opinions on this appear to vary widely with some supporters of this idea whilst former Ph.D. candidates stated that their examiners were critical of this approach. An interesting comment suggests that if an approach uses an existing theoretical framework upon the data then it is difficult to call this grounded theory, because all versions of grounded theory does not work strictly within a theoretical framework. The commentator suggests that if a project contains more case study principles than grounded theory principles then it would be incorrect to call it a grounded theory study, which makes sense. If on the other hand, as another commentator alluded, and as my research appears to be leaning towards, the project contains more grounded theory elements than case study elements then it would be wrong to call that something like a case study grounded theory project, because it would not be adhering to case study principles.


So perhaps I have to think of my research in terms of it being case-based, and not actually call it a case study or even a case strategy. Interestingly I have just read a research paper that states that studying cases is not exclusive to case study research, but can be present in all approaches that adhere to qualitative assumptions and this includes grounded theory.


Ultimately, is there really a need for any reference to case study or case strategy if all what I need in reference to studying instances (cases?) qualitatively resides within a grounded theory approach?


Something to think about!


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