Case Studies

  1. definitions
  2. brief description of the methodological approach
  3. examples and/or illustrations
  4. other useful sources
  5. bibliography


  1. a study of an individual unit, as a person, family, or social group, usually emphasizing developmental issues and relationships with the environment, especially in order to compare a larger group to the individual unit.
  2. case history
    (See dictionary.com at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/case+studies. Accessed on December 8th, 2011)
  3. a detailed analysis of a person or group, especially as a model of medical, psychiatric, psychological, or social phenomena.
  4. An exemplary or cautionary model; an instructive example.
    (See Medical Dictionary at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/case+studies, Accessed on December 8th, 2011)

“Broadly and simply defined a case study is a description of a situation in which one or more persons made, influenced, or implemented a decision. Marie Bittner has defined a case study as “a realistic application or demonstration of a theory or principle.” Josephine Ruggiero states that cases are “short, realistic, action-oriented, storey-like accounts … designed to raise issues. (Hutchings 1993, p. 14) The actor, or actors, in the case face a problem or conflict which requires a solution.”
(See James C. Simeon, “Introduction,” in Case Studies in Public Management and Administration. (Concord, Ontario: Captus Press Inc., 2009), pp. 3-4. www.captus.com,)


Brief Description of the Methodological Approach

Case studies are stories or scenarios, often in narrative form, created and used as a tool for analysis and discussion. They have a long tradition of use in higher education particularly in business and law. Cases are often based on actual events which add a sense of urgency or reality. Case studies have elements of simulations but the students are observers rather than participants. A good case has sufficient detail to necessitate research and to stimulate analysis from a variety of viewpoints or perspectives. They place the learner in the position of problem solver. Students become actively engaged in the materials discovering underlying issues, dilemmas and conflict issues.

Case content will usually reflect the purposes of the course. A history class might examine the European geopolitical situation that impacted the Quebec Act of 1760. A French class may look at issues around teaching English to Spanish speaking kids in southern California. A media studies class could consider the factors in debating the cancellation of a television program. A biology class may investigate the ethics of stem cell research.

Instructional Strategies Online, December 9, 2011,

What is a Case Study?

A case study is a description of an actual administrative situation involving a decision to be made or a problem to be solved. It can be a real situation that actually happened just as described, or portions have been disguised for reasons of privacy. Most case studies are written in such a way that the reader takes the place of the manager whose responsibility is to make decisions to help solve the problem. In almost all case studies, a decision must be made, although that decision might be to leave the situation as it is and do nothing.

The Case Method as a Learning Tool

The case method of analysis is a learning tool in which students and instructors participate in direct discussion of case studies, as opposed to the lecture method, where the instructor speaks and students listen and take notes. In the case method, students teach themselves, with the instructor being an active guide, rather than just a talking head delivering content. The focus is on students’ learning through their joint, co-operative effort.

 Assigned cases are first prepared by students, and this preparation forms the basis for class discussion under the direction of the instructor. Students learn, often unconsciously, how to evaluate a problem, how to make decisions, and how to argue orally a point of view. Using this method, they also learn how to think in terms of the problems faced by an administrator. In courses that use the case method extensively, a significant part of the student’s evaluation may rest with classroom participation in case discussions, with another substantial portion resting on written case analyses. For these reasons, using the case method tends to be very intensive for both students and instructor.

How to do a Case Study

While there is no one definitive “Case Method” or approach, there are common steps that most approaches recommend be followed in tackling a case study. It is inevitable that different Instructors will tell you to do things differently, this is part of life and will also be part of working for others. This variety is beneficial since it will show you different ways of approaching decision making.

Introduction to Business, Winter 2006, An Approach to Case Analysis, Winter 2006


Examples and/or Illustrations

For case studies that deal with the field of refugee and forced migration studies see the following examples:

The Underachiever;
Meeting Weekly Production Targets.

James C. Simeon, Case Studies in Public Management and Administration. Concord, Ontario: Captus Press Inc., 2009., pp. 139-143; 175-180. (See www.captus.com)


Other Useful Sources

Refugees Council Online, Policy & research, Refugee Council research 2008, Case Studies.

Alexandra Deprez, “Climate Refugees, ‘Hotspot’ Case Study: Mexico,” 27 February 2010, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, countercurrents.org, www.countercurrents.org/deprez270210.htm



Michael J. O’Toole, Phillip Nieburg, Ronald J. Waldman, “The Association with Inadequate Rations, Undernutrition Prevalence, and Mortality in Refugee Camps: Case Studies of Refugee Populations in Eastern Thailand, 1979-1980, and Eastern Sudan, 1985-1986,” Journal of Tropical Pediatrics. (1988) 34(5): 218-224.

Richard Black, “Fifty Years of Refugee Studies: From Theory to Policy,” International Migration Review. (March 2001) 35(1): 57-78.

B. S. Chimni, “The Birth of a Discipline: From Refugees to Forced Migration Studies,” Journal of Refugee Studies. (2009) 22(1): 11-29.

Kathleen Valtonen, “The societal participation of Vietnamese refugees: Case Studies in Finland and Canada,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. (1999) 25(3): 469-491.