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  • What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods

What Is a Case Study? | Definition, Examples & Methods

Published on May 8, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on November 20, 2023.

A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.

A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods , but quantitative methods are sometimes also used. Case studies are good for describing , comparing, evaluating and understanding different aspects of a research problem .

Table of contents

When to do a case study, step 1: select a case, step 2: build a theoretical framework, step 3: collect your data, step 4: describe and analyze the case, other interesting articles.

A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject. It allows you to explore the key characteristics, meanings, and implications of the case.

Case studies are often a good choice in a thesis or dissertation . They keep your project focused and manageable when you don’t have the time or resources to do large-scale research.

You might use just one complex case study where you explore a single subject in depth, or conduct multiple case studies to compare and illuminate different aspects of your research problem.

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Once you have developed your problem statement and research questions , you should be ready to choose the specific case that you want to focus on. A good case study should have the potential to:

  • Provide new or unexpected insights into the subject
  • Challenge or complicate existing assumptions and theories
  • Propose practical courses of action to resolve a problem
  • Open up new directions for future research

TipIf your research is more practical in nature and aims to simultaneously investigate an issue as you solve it, consider conducting action research instead.

Unlike quantitative or experimental research , a strong case study does not require a random or representative sample. In fact, case studies often deliberately focus on unusual, neglected, or outlying cases which may shed new light on the research problem.

Example of an outlying case studyIn the 1960s the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania was discovered to have extremely low rates of heart disease compared to the US average. It became an important case study for understanding previously neglected causes of heart disease.

However, you can also choose a more common or representative case to exemplify a particular category, experience or phenomenon.

Example of a representative case studyIn the 1920s, two sociologists used Muncie, Indiana as a case study of a typical American city that supposedly exemplified the changing culture of the US at the time.

While case studies focus more on concrete details than general theories, they should usually have some connection with theory in the field. This way the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge about the topic. It might aim to:

  • Exemplify a theory by showing how it explains the case under investigation
  • Expand on a theory by uncovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
  • Challenge a theory by exploring an outlier case that doesn’t fit with established assumptions

To ensure that your analysis of the case has a solid academic grounding, you should conduct a literature review of sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework . This means identifying key concepts and theories to guide your analysis and interpretation.

There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews , observations , and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g., newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data.

Example of a mixed methods case studyFor a case study of a wind farm development in a rural area, you could collect quantitative data on employment rates and business revenue, collect qualitative data on local people’s perceptions and experiences, and analyze local and national media coverage of the development.

The aim is to gain as thorough an understanding as possible of the case and its context.

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when is case study research design used

In writing up the case study, you need to bring together all the relevant aspects to give as complete a picture as possible of the subject.

How you report your findings depends on the type of research you are doing. Some case studies are structured like a standard scientific paper or thesis , with separate sections or chapters for the methods , results and discussion .

Others are written in a more narrative style, aiming to explore the case from various angles and analyze its meanings and implications (for example, by using textual analysis or discourse analysis ).

In all cases, though, make sure to give contextual details about the case, connect it back to the literature and theory, and discuss how it fits into wider patterns or debates.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Normal distribution
  • Degrees of freedom
  • Null hypothesis
  • Discourse analysis
  • Control groups
  • Mixed methods research
  • Non-probability sampling
  • Quantitative research
  • Ecological validity

Research bias

  • Rosenthal effect
  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Selection bias
  • Negativity bias
  • Status quo bias

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Writing a Case Study

Hands holding a world globe

What is a case study?

A Map of the world with hands holding a pen.

A Case study is: 

  • An in-depth research design that primarily uses a qualitative methodology but sometimes​​ includes quantitative methodology.
  • Used to examine an identifiable problem confirmed through research.
  • Used to investigate an individual, group of people, organization, or event.
  • Used to mostly answer "how" and "why" questions.

What are the different types of case studies?

Man and woman looking at a laptop

Note: These are the primary case studies. As you continue to research and learn

about case studies you will begin to find a robust list of different types. 

Who are your case study participants?

Boys looking through a camera

What is triangulation ? 

Validity and credibility are an essential part of the case study. Therefore, the researcher should include triangulation to ensure trustworthiness while accurately reflecting what the researcher seeks to investigate.

Triangulation image with examples

How to write a Case Study?

When developing a case study, there are different ways you could present the information, but remember to include the five parts for your case study.

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What is case study research?

Last updated

8 February 2023

Reviewed by

Cathy Heath

Suppose a company receives a spike in the number of customer complaints, or medical experts discover an outbreak of illness affecting children but are not quite sure of the reason. In both cases, carrying out a case study could be the best way to get answers.


Case studies can be carried out across different disciplines, including education, medicine, sociology, and business.

Most case studies employ qualitative methods, but quantitative methods can also be used. Researchers can then describe, compare, evaluate, and identify patterns or cause-and-effect relationships between the various variables under study. They can then use this knowledge to decide what action to take. 

Another thing to note is that case studies are generally singular in their focus. This means they narrow focus to a particular area, making them highly subjective. You cannot always generalize the results of a case study and apply them to a larger population. However, they are valuable tools to illustrate a principle or develop a thesis.

Analyze case study research

Dovetail streamlines case study research to help you uncover and share actionable insights

  • What are the different types of case study designs?

Researchers can choose from a variety of case study designs. The design they choose is dependent on what questions they need to answer, the context of the research environment, how much data they already have, and what resources are available.

Here are the common types of case study design:


An explanatory case study is an initial explanation of the how or why that is behind something. This design is commonly used when studying a real-life phenomenon or event. Once the organization understands the reasons behind a phenomenon, it can then make changes to enhance or eliminate the variables causing it. 

Here is an example: How is co-teaching implemented in elementary schools? The title for a case study of this subject could be “Case Study of the Implementation of Co-Teaching in Elementary Schools.”


An illustrative or descriptive case study helps researchers shed light on an unfamiliar object or subject after a period of time. The case study provides an in-depth review of the issue at hand and adds real-world examples in the area the researcher wants the audience to understand. 

The researcher makes no inferences or causal statements about the object or subject under review. This type of design is often used to understand cultural shifts.

Here is an example: How did people cope with the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami? This case study could be titled "A Case Study of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and its Effect on the Indonesian Population."


Exploratory research is also called a pilot case study. It is usually the first step within a larger research project, often relying on questionnaires and surveys . Researchers use exploratory research to help narrow down their focus, define parameters, draft a specific research question , and/or identify variables in a larger study. This research design usually covers a wider area than others, and focuses on the ‘what’ and ‘who’ of a topic.

Here is an example: How do nutrition and socialization in early childhood affect learning in children? The title of the exploratory study may be “Case Study of the Effects of Nutrition and Socialization on Learning in Early Childhood.”

An intrinsic case study is specifically designed to look at a unique and special phenomenon. At the start of the study, the researcher defines the phenomenon and the uniqueness that differentiates it from others. 

In this case, researchers do not attempt to generalize, compare, or challenge the existing assumptions. Instead, they explore the unique variables to enhance understanding. Here is an example: “Case Study of Volcanic Lightning.”

This design can also be identified as a cumulative case study. It uses information from past studies or observations of groups of people in certain settings as the foundation of the new study. Given that it takes multiple areas into account, it allows for greater generalization than a single case study. 

The researchers also get an in-depth look at a particular subject from different viewpoints.  Here is an example: “Case Study of how PTSD affected Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Differently Due to Advances in Military Technology.”

Critical instance

A critical case study incorporates both explanatory and intrinsic study designs. It does not have predetermined purposes beyond an investigation of the said subject. It can be used for a deeper explanation of the cause-and-effect relationship. It can also be used to question a common assumption or myth. 

The findings can then be used further to generalize whether they would also apply in a different environment.  Here is an example: “What Effect Does Prolonged Use of Social Media Have on the Mind of American Youth?”


Instrumental research attempts to achieve goals beyond understanding the object at hand. Researchers explore a larger subject through different, separate studies and use the findings to understand its relationship to another subject. This type of design also provides insight into an issue or helps refine a theory. 

For example, you may want to determine if violent behavior in children predisposes them to crime later in life. The focus is on the relationship between children and violent behavior, and why certain children do become violent. Here is an example: “Violence Breeds Violence: Childhood Exposure and Participation in Adult Crime.”

Evaluation case study design is employed to research the effects of a program, policy, or intervention, and assess its effectiveness and impact on future decision-making. 

For example, you might want to see whether children learn times tables quicker through an educational game on their iPad versus a more teacher-led intervention. Here is an example: “An Investigation of the Impact of an iPad Multiplication Game for Primary School Children.” 

  • When do you use case studies?

Case studies are ideal when you want to gain a contextual, concrete, or in-depth understanding of a particular subject. It helps you understand the characteristics, implications, and meanings of the subject.

They are also an excellent choice for those writing a thesis or dissertation, as they help keep the project focused on a particular area when resources or time may be too limited to cover a wider one. You may have to conduct several case studies to explore different aspects of the subject in question and understand the problem.

  • What are the steps to follow when conducting a case study?

1. Select a case

Once you identify the problem at hand and come up with questions, identify the case you will focus on. The study can provide insights into the subject at hand, challenge existing assumptions, propose a course of action, and/or open up new areas for further research.

2. Create a theoretical framework

While you will be focusing on a specific detail, the case study design you choose should be linked to existing knowledge on the topic. This prevents it from becoming an isolated description and allows for enhancing the existing information. 

It may expand the current theory by bringing up new ideas or concepts, challenge established assumptions, or exemplify a theory by exploring how it answers the problem at hand. A theoretical framework starts with a literature review of the sources relevant to the topic in focus. This helps in identifying key concepts to guide analysis and interpretation.

3. Collect the data

Case studies are frequently supplemented with qualitative data such as observations, interviews, and a review of both primary and secondary sources such as official records, news articles, and photographs. There may also be quantitative data —this data assists in understanding the case thoroughly.

4. Analyze your case

The results of the research depend on the research design. Most case studies are structured with chapters or topic headings for easy explanation and presentation. Others may be written as narratives to allow researchers to explore various angles of the topic and analyze its meanings and implications.

In all areas, always give a detailed contextual understanding of the case and connect it to the existing theory and literature before discussing how it fits into your problem area.

  • What are some case study examples?

What are the best approaches for introducing our product into the Kenyan market?

How does the change in marketing strategy aid in increasing the sales volumes of product Y?

How can teachers enhance student participation in classrooms?

How does poverty affect literacy levels in children?

Case study topics

Case study of product marketing strategies in the Kenyan market

Case study of the effects of a marketing strategy change on product Y sales volumes

Case study of X school teachers that encourage active student participation in the classroom

Case study of the effects of poverty on literacy levels in children

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From David E. Gray \(2014\). Doing Research in the Real World \(3rd ed.\) London, UK: Sage.

Sage Research Methods Community

Designing research with case study methods

by Janet Salmons, PhD, Research Community Manager for Sage Research Methods Community

Research design is the focus for the first quarter of 2023. Find the unfolding series of posts here .

when is case study research design used

What is  case study methodology ?

Case study methodology is both unique, and uniquely confusing. It is unique given one characteristic: case studies draw from more than one data source. Case studies are inherently multimodal or mixed methods because this they use either more than one form of data within a research paradigm, or more than one form of data from different paradigms.

A case study inquiry could include:

multiple forms of quantitative data sources, such as Big Data + a survey

multiple forms of qualitative data sources, such as interviews + observations

multiple forms of quantitative and qualitative data sources, such as Big Data + interviews

The term case study is confusing because the same term is used multiple ways.

It can refer to the methodology, that is, a system of frameworks used to design a study, or the methods used to conduct it. Or, case study can refer to a type of academic writing that typically delves into a problem, process, or situation.

Case study methodology can entail the study of one or more "cases," that could be described as instances, examples, or settings where the problem or phenomenon can be examined. The researcher is tasked with defining the parameters of the case, that is, what is included and excluded. This process is called bounding the case , or setting boundaries.

Case study can be combined with other methodologies, such as ethnography, grounded theory, or phenomenology. In such studies the research on the case uses another framework to further define the study and refine the approach.

Case study is also described as a method, given particular approaches used to collect and analyze data. Case study research is conducted by almost every social science discipline: business, education, sociology, psychology. Case study research, with its reliance on multiple sources, is also a natural choice for researchers interested in trans-, inter-, or cross-disciplinary studies.

The Encyclopedia of case study research provides an overview:

The purpose of case study research is twofold: (1) to provide descriptive information and (2) to suggest theoretical relevance. Rich description enables an in-depth or sharpened understanding of the case.

Robert Yin , methodologist most associated with case study research, differentiates between descriptive , exploratory and explanatory case studies:

Descriptive : A case study whose purpose is to describe a phenomenon. Explanatory : A case study whose purpose is to explain how or why some condition came to be, or why some sequence of events occurred or did not occur. Exploratory: A case study whose purpose is to identify the research questions or procedures to be used in a subsequent study.

You can read the preface and Chapter 1 of Yin's book here . See the open-access articles below for some published examples of qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods case study research.

Mills, A. J., Durepos, G., & Wiebe, E. (2010).  Encyclopedia of case study research (Vols. 1-0). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781412957397

Yin, R. K. (2018). Case study research and applications (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

SAGE Books about Case Study Research Want to learn more about designing a case study? These books are useful, whether you are a student or an experienced researcher ready to try a new research approach. The open-access preview or instructional site materials give explanations that will help you determine whether case methods will fit your proposed study. Use the code MSPACEQ123 for a 20% discount when you order them from SAGE Publishing .


Case Study Research for Business by Jillian Dawes Farquhar This 2012 text, while focused on the business context, provides a general overview useful to new researchers. See Chapter 1: What Is Case Study Research? Using Case Study in Education Research by Lorna Hamilton and Connie Corbett-Whittier This 2012 book will help you design case studies in the field of education. Preview materials include Chapter 1 and learning activities and templates.

Conducting Case Study Research for Business and Management Students by Bill Lee and Mark N. K. Saunders This 2017 book will help you design case studies in business and management disciplines. Read Chapter 2 - Understanding Case Studies .

Case Study Research in Counselling and Psychotherapy by John McLeod

This 2010 book is relevant for researchers who plan to conduct studies in counselling or therapy. See Chapter 1: The role of case studies in the development of theory and practice in counselling and psychotherapy.

Single-Case Research Methods for the Behavioral and Health Sciences by David L. Morgan and Robin K. Morgan

This 2008 book will help you design case studies in health-related fields. Preview materials include Chapters 2, 4, and 6.

Case Study Research: What, Why and How? by Peter Swanborn

This 2010 book provides an overview of the basics for case methods. Find Chapter 1 here .

How to Do Your Case Study by Gary Thomas The third edition was published in 2021. Find open-access resources related to case study designs here .

Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods by Robert Yin The sixth edition was published in 2017. You can read the preface and Chapter 1 by following the link. Also see Yin’s 2011 Applications of Case Study Research . Yin’s work is comprehensive, and offers detailed guidance from proposal to analysis stages.

More Sage Research Methods Community Posts about Research Design

Teach and Learn with a Research Case: Understanding Online Discussions of Key Public Health Issues Using a Mixed-Methods Approach

Let’s use this open-access research case to think through the possibilities and potential problems involved with studying blog posts and online discussions.

Collect Data on Social Media

From the moment social media platforms began to welcome user-generated content, researchers have looked for ways to study it. Learn more with open-access articles about social media platforms.

Research questions: Insider/Outsider perspectives

Do you think about research questions as an insider, outsider, or somewhere in between? Why is positionality important in online research?

Design and Data Collection with Julianne Cheek and Elise Øby

Julianne Cheek and Elise Øby, co-authors of the book Research Design: Why Thinking About Design Matters, discuss how to make decisions about what qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods data to collect and how to do so. This post is the third of a three-part series of posts that feature ten author interviews.

Slow Ontology 2.0 as Inspiration for Methodological Approaches

What if we didn’t have to go fast to do our academic work and research? What if we could embrace the spaces and places around us to slow down? What could that mean for us personally, professionally, and in how we relate to social justice and ecological issues?

Conducting my Research From an Island

Doctoral student Sandra Flores discusses her research in Puerto Rico, and what she learned from the experience.

Design and Methodology with Julianne Cheek and Elise Øby

Julianne Cheek and Elise Øby, co-authors of the book Research Design: Why Thinking About Design Matters, discuss how to make decisions about methodology in this collection of video interviews. This post is the second of a three-part series of posts that feature ten author interviews.

What is “Critical Participatory Inquiry”?

Learn about action and participatory research methods, and ways to design and carry out research with, not on, communities.

New Thinking about Mixed and Multi- Methods

Is it too hard to address problems in our complex world with one type of data? Mixed methods might be the answer. Find explanations and open-access resources in this post.

Research in Education and Psychology: Focusing on Root Causes and Increased Justice

Chart research directions that take you to the roots of the problem. Learn more in this guest post from Dr. Donna Mertens.

Thinking About Research Design with Julianne Cheek and Elise Øby</a>

We need to think about research before we design and conduct it.

Julianne Cheek and Elise Øby, co-authors of the book Research Design: Why Thinking About Design Matters, discuss the first three chapters in these video interviews: Chapter 1 – Research Design: What You Need to Think About and Why

Chapter 2 – Ethical Issues in Research Design

Chapter 3 – Developing Your Research Questions

Methods Literature as Part of a Review

The process for researching literature on research methods is somewhat different from the process used for researching literature about the topic, problem, or questions. What should we keep in mind when selecting methods literature?

Partial Least Squares Structural Equation Modeling: An Emerging Tool in Research

Partial least squares structural equation modeling (PLS-SEM) enables researchers to model and estimate complex cause-effects relationship models

Topics, problems, and methodologies

How do researchers make design decisions about the methodology and methods?

What are the principal preoccupations of researchers employing qualitative methodologies?

In-depth comprehension and interpretation of social events, human experiences, and behaviours are often the main goals of qualitative researchers. Learn about the primary concerns of qualitative researchers in this guest post by Pinaki Burman.

Units of Analysis and Methodologies for Qualitative Studies

Learn about connecting the unit of analysis with the qualitative methodology.

Research Road Mapping

Research can often feel like an overwhelming process. If you are a novice researcher, there can be a lot of new terminology to learn too. This is where research road mapping can help!

Studying Difficult Topics with Netnography

These difficult times present challenges for researchers. Find five original posts by Robert Kozinets about using Netnography to study sensitive topics.

Research Stages: A 2023 Recap

Looking back at 2023, find all posts here! We explored stages of a research project, from concept to publication. In each quarter we focused on one part of the process. In this recap for the year you will find original guest posts, interviews, curated collections of open-access resources, recordings from webinars or roundtable discussions, and instructional resources.

Epistemological Questions in Indigenous Research

Read this collection of multidisciplinary articles to explore epistemological questions in Indigenous research.

Methods Film Fest: Researchers Share Insights

Methods Film Fest! We can read what they write, but what do researchers say? What are they thinking about, what are they exploring, what insights do they share about methodologies, methods, and approaches? In 2023 Methodspace produced 32 videos, and you can find them all in this post!

Finding Researchable Problems

Find suggestions for navigating the problem formulation stage that precedes research design in social science research.

Who identifies research problems?

Let’s begin this quarter’s exploration of research design by thinking about the research problem or topic. Who decides what to study?

Research Proposals: Writing Strategies and Ethical Considerations

This post includes tips about writing qualitative proposals excerpted from Research Design by Creswell and Creswell.

Philosophy of science and doctoral research design: The case of the Idea Puzzle software.

Learn how to design and defend your PhD research with the Idea Puzzle software from Ricardo Morais.

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Dr. Stephen Gorard defines and explains randomness in a research context.

Creative ways to teach from Dr. Gorard

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Perspectives from Researchers on Case Study Design

Banned thinking, banned books: implications for researchers and academic writers.

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  • Action Research
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a research strategy whose characteristics include

  • a focus on the interrelationships that constitute the context of a specific entity (such as an organization, event, phenomenon, or person),
  • analysis of the relationship between the contextual factors and the entity being studied, and
  • the explicit purpose of using those insights (of the interactions between contextual relationships and the entity in question) to generate theory and/or contribute to extant theory. 

SAGE Research Methods Videos

What is the value of working with case studies.

Professor Todd Landman explains how case studies can be used in research. He discusses the importance of choosing a case study correctly and warns about limitations of case study research.

This is just one segment in a series about case studies. You can find the rest of the series in our SAGE database, Research Methods:


Videos covering research methods and statistics

To login from SAGE, click Institution, then Access via Your Institution, then find and select City University of Seattle

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Single Case Research Design

  • First Online: 04 January 2024

Cite this chapter

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This chapter addresses single-case research designs’ peculiarities, characteristics, and significant fallacies. A single case research design is a collective term for an in-depth analysis of a small non-random sample. The focus of this design is in-depth. This characteristic distinguishes the case study research from other research designs that understand the individual case as a relatively insignificant and interchangeable aspect of a population or sample. Also, researchers find relevant information on writing a single case research design paper and learn about typical methods used for this research design. The chapter closes by referring to overlapping and adjacent research designs.

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Continuing to enhance the quality of case study methodology in health services research

Shannon l. sibbald.

1 Faculty of Health Sciences, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.

2 Department of Family Medicine, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.

3 The Schulich Interfaculty Program in Public Health, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.

Stefan Paciocco

Meghan fournie, rachelle van asseldonk, tiffany scurr.

Case study methodology has grown in popularity within Health Services Research (HSR). However, its use and merit as a methodology are frequently criticized due to its flexible approach and inconsistent application. Nevertheless, case study methodology is well suited to HSR because it can track and examine complex relationships, contexts, and systems as they evolve. Applied appropriately, it can help generate information on how multiple forms of knowledge come together to inform decision-making within healthcare contexts. In this article, we aim to demystify case study methodology by outlining its philosophical underpinnings and three foundational approaches. We provide literature-based guidance to decision-makers, policy-makers, and health leaders on how to engage in and critically appraise case study design. We advocate that researchers work in collaboration with health leaders to detail their research process with an aim of strengthening the validity and integrity of case study for its continued and advanced use in HSR.


The popularity of case study research methodology in Health Services Research (HSR) has grown over the past 40 years. 1 This may be attributed to a shift towards the use of implementation research and a newfound appreciation of contextual factors affecting the uptake of evidence-based interventions within diverse settings. 2 Incorporating context-specific information on the delivery and implementation of programs can increase the likelihood of success. 3 , 4 Case study methodology is particularly well suited for implementation research in health services because it can provide insight into the nuances of diverse contexts. 5 , 6 In 1999, Yin 7 published a paper on how to enhance the quality of case study in HSR, which was foundational for the emergence of case study in this field. Yin 7 maintains case study is an appropriate methodology in HSR because health systems are constantly evolving, and the multiple affiliations and diverse motivations are difficult to track and understand with traditional linear methodologies.

Despite its increased popularity, there is debate whether a case study is a methodology (ie, a principle or process that guides research) or a method (ie, a tool to answer research questions). Some criticize case study for its high level of flexibility, perceiving it as less rigorous, and maintain that it generates inadequate results. 8 Others have noted issues with quality and consistency in how case studies are conducted and reported. 9 Reporting is often varied and inconsistent, using a mix of approaches such as case reports, case findings, and/or case study. Authors sometimes use incongruent methods of data collection and analysis or use the case study as a default when other methodologies do not fit. 9 , 10 Despite these criticisms, case study methodology is becoming more common as a viable approach for HSR. 11 An abundance of articles and textbooks are available to guide researchers through case study research, including field-specific resources for business, 12 , 13 nursing, 14 and family medicine. 15 However, there remains confusion and a lack of clarity on the key tenets of case study methodology.

Several common philosophical underpinnings have contributed to the development of case study research 1 which has led to different approaches to planning, data collection, and analysis. This presents challenges in assessing quality and rigour for researchers conducting case studies and stakeholders reading results.

This article discusses the various approaches and philosophical underpinnings to case study methodology. Our goal is to explain it in a way that provides guidance for decision-makers, policy-makers, and health leaders on how to understand, critically appraise, and engage in case study research and design, as such guidance is largely absent in the literature. This article is by no means exhaustive or authoritative. Instead, we aim to provide guidance and encourage dialogue around case study methodology, facilitating critical thinking around the variety of approaches and ways quality and rigour can be bolstered for its use within HSR.

Purpose of case study methodology

Case study methodology is often used to develop an in-depth, holistic understanding of a specific phenomenon within a specified context. 11 It focuses on studying one or multiple cases over time and uses an in-depth analysis of multiple information sources. 16 , 17 It is ideal for situations including, but not limited to, exploring under-researched and real-life phenomena, 18 especially when the contexts are complex and the researcher has little control over the phenomena. 19 , 20 Case studies can be useful when researchers want to understand how interventions are implemented in different contexts, and how context shapes the phenomenon of interest.

In addition to demonstrating coherency with the type of questions case study is suited to answer, there are four key tenets to case study methodologies: (1) be transparent in the paradigmatic and theoretical perspectives influencing study design; (2) clearly define the case and phenomenon of interest; (3) clearly define and justify the type of case study design; and (4) use multiple data collection sources and analysis methods to present the findings in ways that are consistent with the methodology and the study’s paradigmatic base. 9 , 16 The goal is to appropriately match the methods to empirical questions and issues and not to universally advocate any single approach for all problems. 21

Approaches to case study methodology

Three authors propose distinct foundational approaches to case study methodology positioned within different paradigms: Yin, 19 , 22 Stake, 5 , 23 and Merriam 24 , 25 ( Table 1 ). Yin is strongly post-positivist whereas Stake and Merriam are grounded in a constructivist paradigm. Researchers should locate their research within a paradigm that explains the philosophies guiding their research 26 and adhere to the underlying paradigmatic assumptions and key tenets of the appropriate author’s methodology. This will enhance the consistency and coherency of the methods and findings. However, researchers often do not report their paradigmatic position, nor do they adhere to one approach. 9 Although deliberately blending methodologies may be defensible and methodologically appropriate, more often it is done in an ad hoc and haphazard way, without consideration for limitations.

Cross-analysis of three case study approaches, adapted from Yazan 2015

The post-positive paradigm postulates there is one reality that can be objectively described and understood by “bracketing” oneself from the research to remove prejudice or bias. 27 Yin focuses on general explanation and prediction, emphasizing the formulation of propositions, akin to hypothesis testing. This approach is best suited for structured and objective data collection 9 , 11 and is often used for mixed-method studies.

Constructivism assumes that the phenomenon of interest is constructed and influenced by local contexts, including the interaction between researchers, individuals, and their environment. 27 It acknowledges multiple interpretations of reality 24 constructed within the context by the researcher and participants which are unlikely to be replicated, should either change. 5 , 20 Stake and Merriam’s constructivist approaches emphasize a story-like rendering of a problem and an iterative process of constructing the case study. 7 This stance values researcher reflexivity and transparency, 28 acknowledging how researchers’ experiences and disciplinary lenses influence their assumptions and beliefs about the nature of the phenomenon and development of the findings.

Defining a case

A key tenet of case study methodology often underemphasized in literature is the importance of defining the case and phenomenon. Researches should clearly describe the case with sufficient detail to allow readers to fully understand the setting and context and determine applicability. Trying to answer a question that is too broad often leads to an unclear definition of the case and phenomenon. 20 Cases should therefore be bound by time and place to ensure rigor and feasibility. 6

Yin 22 defines a case as “a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context,” (p13) which may contain a single unit of analysis, including individuals, programs, corporations, or clinics 29 (holistic), or be broken into sub-units of analysis, such as projects, meetings, roles, or locations within the case (embedded). 30 Merriam 24 and Stake 5 similarly define a case as a single unit studied within a bounded system. Stake 5 , 23 suggests bounding cases by contexts and experiences where the phenomenon of interest can be a program, process, or experience. However, the line between the case and phenomenon can become muddy. For guidance, Stake 5 , 23 describes the case as the noun or entity and the phenomenon of interest as the verb, functioning, or activity of the case.

Designing the case study approach

Yin’s approach to a case study is rooted in a formal proposition or theory which guides the case and is used to test the outcome. 1 Stake 5 advocates for a flexible design and explicitly states that data collection and analysis may commence at any point. Merriam’s 24 approach blends both Yin and Stake’s, allowing the necessary flexibility in data collection and analysis to meet the needs.

Yin 30 proposed three types of case study approaches—descriptive, explanatory, and exploratory. Each can be designed around single or multiple cases, creating six basic case study methodologies. Descriptive studies provide a rich description of the phenomenon within its context, which can be helpful in developing theories. To test a theory or determine cause and effect relationships, researchers can use an explanatory design. An exploratory model is typically used in the pilot-test phase to develop propositions (eg, Sibbald et al. 31 used this approach to explore interprofessional network complexity). Despite having distinct characteristics, the boundaries between case study types are flexible with significant overlap. 30 Each has five key components: (1) research question; (2) proposition; (3) unit of analysis; (4) logical linking that connects the theory with proposition; and (5) criteria for analyzing findings.

Contrary to Yin, Stake 5 believes the research process cannot be planned in its entirety because research evolves as it is performed. Consequently, researchers can adjust the design of their methods even after data collection has begun. Stake 5 classifies case studies into three categories: intrinsic, instrumental, and collective/multiple. Intrinsic case studies focus on gaining a better understanding of the case. These are often undertaken when the researcher has an interest in a specific case. Instrumental case study is used when the case itself is not of the utmost importance, and the issue or phenomenon (ie, the research question) being explored becomes the focus instead (eg, Paciocco 32 used an instrumental case study to evaluate the implementation of a chronic disease management program). 5 Collective designs are rooted in an instrumental case study and include multiple cases to gain an in-depth understanding of the complexity and particularity of a phenomenon across diverse contexts. 5 , 23 In collective designs, studying similarities and differences between the cases allows the phenomenon to be understood more intimately (for examples of this in the field, see van Zelm et al. 33 and Burrows et al. 34 In addition, Sibbald et al. 35 present an example where a cross-case analysis method is used to compare instrumental cases).

Merriam’s approach is flexible (similar to Stake) as well as stepwise and linear (similar to Yin). She advocates for conducting a literature review before designing the study to better understand the theoretical underpinnings. 24 , 25 Unlike Stake or Yin, Merriam proposes a step-by-step guide for researchers to design a case study. These steps include performing a literature review, creating a theoretical framework, identifying the problem, creating and refining the research question(s), and selecting a study sample that fits the question(s). 24 , 25 , 36

Data collection and analysis

Using multiple data collection methods is a key characteristic of all case study methodology; it enhances the credibility of the findings by allowing different facets and views of the phenomenon to be explored. 23 Common methods include interviews, focus groups, observation, and document analysis. 5 , 37 By seeking patterns within and across data sources, a thick description of the case can be generated to support a greater understanding and interpretation of the whole phenomenon. 5 , 17 , 20 , 23 This technique is called triangulation and is used to explore cases with greater accuracy. 5 Although Stake 5 maintains case study is most often used in qualitative research, Yin 17 supports a mix of both quantitative and qualitative methods to triangulate data. This deliberate convergence of data sources (or mixed methods) allows researchers to find greater depth in their analysis and develop converging lines of inquiry. For example, case studies evaluating interventions commonly use qualitative interviews to describe the implementation process, barriers, and facilitators paired with a quantitative survey of comparative outcomes and effectiveness. 33 , 38 , 39

Yin 30 describes analysis as dependent on the chosen approach, whether it be (1) deductive and rely on theoretical propositions; (2) inductive and analyze data from the “ground up”; (3) organized to create a case description; or (4) used to examine plausible rival explanations. According to Yin’s 40 approach to descriptive case studies, carefully considering theory development is an important part of study design. “Theory” refers to field-relevant propositions, commonly agreed upon assumptions, or fully developed theories. 40 Stake 5 advocates for using the researcher’s intuition and impression to guide analysis through a categorical aggregation and direct interpretation. Merriam 24 uses six different methods to guide the “process of making meaning” (p178) : (1) ethnographic analysis; (2) narrative analysis; (3) phenomenological analysis; (4) constant comparative method; (5) content analysis; and (6) analytic induction.

Drawing upon a theoretical or conceptual framework to inform analysis improves the quality of case study and avoids the risk of description without meaning. 18 Using Stake’s 5 approach, researchers rely on protocols and previous knowledge to help make sense of new ideas; theory can guide the research and assist researchers in understanding how new information fits into existing knowledge.

Practical applications of case study research

Columbia University has recently demonstrated how case studies can help train future health leaders. 41 Case studies encompass components of systems thinking—considering connections and interactions between components of a system, alongside the implications and consequences of those relationships—to equip health leaders with tools to tackle global health issues. 41 Greenwood 42 evaluated Indigenous peoples’ relationship with the healthcare system in British Columbia and used a case study to challenge and educate health leaders across the country to enhance culturally sensitive health service environments.

An important but often omitted step in case study research is an assessment of quality and rigour. We recommend using a framework or set of criteria to assess the rigour of the qualitative research. Suitable resources include Caelli et al., 43 Houghten et al., 44 Ravenek and Rudman, 45 and Tracy. 46

New directions in case study

Although “pragmatic” case studies (ie, utilizing practical and applicable methods) have existed within psychotherapy for some time, 47 , 48 only recently has the applicability of pragmatism as an underlying paradigmatic perspective been considered in HSR. 49 This is marked by uptake of pragmatism in Randomized Control Trials, recognizing that “gold standard” testing conditions do not reflect the reality of clinical settings 50 , 51 nor do a handful of epistemologically guided methodologies suit every research inquiry.

Pragmatism positions the research question as the basis for methodological choices, rather than a theory or epistemology, allowing researchers to pursue the most practical approach to understanding a problem or discovering an actionable solution. 52 Mixed methods are commonly used to create a deeper understanding of the case through converging qualitative and quantitative data. 52 Pragmatic case study is suited to HSR because its flexibility throughout the research process accommodates complexity, ever-changing systems, and disruptions to research plans. 49 , 50 Much like case study, pragmatism has been criticized for its flexibility and use when other approaches are seemingly ill-fit. 53 , 54 Similarly, authors argue that this results from a lack of investigation and proper application rather than a reflection of validity, legitimizing the need for more exploration and conversation among researchers and practitioners. 55

Although occasionally misunderstood as a less rigourous research methodology, 8 case study research is highly flexible and allows for contextual nuances. 5 , 6 Its use is valuable when the researcher desires a thorough understanding of a phenomenon or case bound by context. 11 If needed, multiple similar cases can be studied simultaneously, or one case within another. 16 , 17 There are currently three main approaches to case study, 5 , 17 , 24 each with their own definitions of a case, ontological and epistemological paradigms, methodologies, and data collection and analysis procedures. 37

Individuals’ experiences within health systems are influenced heavily by contextual factors, participant experience, and intricate relationships between different organizations and actors. 55 Case study research is well suited for HSR because it can track and examine these complex relationships and systems as they evolve over time. 6 , 7 It is important that researchers and health leaders using this methodology understand its key tenets and how to conduct a proper case study. Although there are many examples of case study in action, they are often under-reported and, when reported, not rigorously conducted. 9 Thus, decision-makers and health leaders should use these examples with caution. The proper reporting of case studies is necessary to bolster their credibility in HSR literature and provide readers sufficient information to critically assess the methodology. We also call on health leaders who frequently use case studies 56 – 58 to report them in the primary research literature.

The purpose of this article is to advocate for the continued and advanced use of case study in HSR and to provide literature-based guidance for decision-makers, policy-makers, and health leaders on how to engage in, read, and interpret findings from case study research. As health systems progress and evolve, the application of case study research will continue to increase as researchers and health leaders aim to capture the inherent complexities, nuances, and contextual factors. 7

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Case Study | Definition, Examples & Methods

Published on 5 May 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 30 January 2023.

A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject, such as a person, group, place, event, organisation, or phenomenon. Case studies are commonly used in social, educational, clinical, and business research.

A case study research design usually involves qualitative methods , but quantitative methods are sometimes also used. Case studies are good for describing , comparing, evaluating, and understanding different aspects of a research problem .

Table of contents

When to do a case study, step 1: select a case, step 2: build a theoretical framework, step 3: collect your data, step 4: describe and analyse the case.

A case study is an appropriate research design when you want to gain concrete, contextual, in-depth knowledge about a specific real-world subject. It allows you to explore the key characteristics, meanings, and implications of the case.

Case studies are often a good choice in a thesis or dissertation . They keep your project focused and manageable when you don’t have the time or resources to do large-scale research.

You might use just one complex case study where you explore a single subject in depth, or conduct multiple case studies to compare and illuminate different aspects of your research problem.

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Once you have developed your problem statement and research questions , you should be ready to choose the specific case that you want to focus on. A good case study should have the potential to:

  • Provide new or unexpected insights into the subject
  • Challenge or complicate existing assumptions and theories
  • Propose practical courses of action to resolve a problem
  • Open up new directions for future research

Unlike quantitative or experimental research, a strong case study does not require a random or representative sample. In fact, case studies often deliberately focus on unusual, neglected, or outlying cases which may shed new light on the research problem.

If you find yourself aiming to simultaneously investigate and solve an issue, consider conducting action research . As its name suggests, action research conducts research and takes action at the same time, and is highly iterative and flexible. 

However, you can also choose a more common or representative case to exemplify a particular category, experience, or phenomenon.

While case studies focus more on concrete details than general theories, they should usually have some connection with theory in the field. This way the case study is not just an isolated description, but is integrated into existing knowledge about the topic. It might aim to:

  • Exemplify a theory by showing how it explains the case under investigation
  • Expand on a theory by uncovering new concepts and ideas that need to be incorporated
  • Challenge a theory by exploring an outlier case that doesn’t fit with established assumptions

To ensure that your analysis of the case has a solid academic grounding, you should conduct a literature review of sources related to the topic and develop a theoretical framework . This means identifying key concepts and theories to guide your analysis and interpretation.

There are many different research methods you can use to collect data on your subject. Case studies tend to focus on qualitative data using methods such as interviews, observations, and analysis of primary and secondary sources (e.g., newspaper articles, photographs, official records). Sometimes a case study will also collect quantitative data .

The aim is to gain as thorough an understanding as possible of the case and its context.

In writing up the case study, you need to bring together all the relevant aspects to give as complete a picture as possible of the subject.

How you report your findings depends on the type of research you are doing. Some case studies are structured like a standard scientific paper or thesis, with separate sections or chapters for the methods , results , and discussion .

Others are written in a more narrative style, aiming to explore the case from various angles and analyse its meanings and implications (for example, by using textual analysis or discourse analysis ).

In all cases, though, make sure to give contextual details about the case, connect it back to the literature and theory, and discuss how it fits into wider patterns or debates.

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when is case study research design used

Case Study Research Design

The case study research design have evolved over the past few years as a useful tool for investigating trends and specific situations in many scientific disciplines.

This article is a part of the guide:

  • Research Designs
  • Quantitative and Qualitative Research
  • Literature Review
  • Quantitative Research Design
  • Descriptive Research

Browse Full Outline

  • 1 Research Designs
  • 2.1 Pilot Study
  • 2.2 Quantitative Research Design
  • 2.3 Qualitative Research Design
  • 2.4 Quantitative and Qualitative Research
  • 3.1 Case Study
  • 3.2 Naturalistic Observation
  • 3.3 Survey Research Design
  • 3.4 Observational Study
  • 4.1 Case-Control Study
  • 4.2 Cohort Study
  • 4.3 Longitudinal Study
  • 4.4 Cross Sectional Study
  • 4.5 Correlational Study
  • 5.1 Field Experiments
  • 5.2 Quasi-Experimental Design
  • 5.3 Identical Twins Study
  • 6.1 Experimental Design
  • 6.2 True Experimental Design
  • 6.3 Double Blind Experiment
  • 6.4 Factorial Design
  • 7.1 Literature Review
  • 7.2 Systematic Reviews
  • 7.3 Meta Analysis

The case study has been especially used in social science, psychology, anthropology and ecology.

This method of study is especially useful for trying to test theoretical models by using them in real world situations. For example, if an anthropologist were to live amongst a remote tribe, whilst their observations might produce no quantitative data, they are still useful to science.

when is case study research design used

What is a Case Study?

Basically, a case study is an in depth study of a particular situation rather than a sweeping statistical survey . It is a method used to narrow down a very broad field of research into one easily researchable topic.

Whilst it will not answer a question completely, it will give some indications and allow further elaboration and hypothesis creation on a subject.

The case study research design is also useful for testing whether scientific theories and models actually work in the real world. You may come out with a great computer model for describing how the ecosystem of a rock pool works but it is only by trying it out on a real life pool that you can see if it is a realistic simulation.

For psychologists, anthropologists and social scientists they have been regarded as a valid method of research for many years. Scientists are sometimes guilty of becoming bogged down in the general picture and it is sometimes important to understand specific cases and ensure a more holistic approach to research .

H.M.: An example of a study using the case study research design.

Case Study

The Argument for and Against the Case Study Research Design

Some argue that because a case study is such a narrow field that its results cannot be extrapolated to fit an entire question and that they show only one narrow example. On the other hand, it is argued that a case study provides more realistic responses than a purely statistical survey.

The truth probably lies between the two and it is probably best to try and synergize the two approaches. It is valid to conduct case studies but they should be tied in with more general statistical processes.

For example, a statistical survey might show how much time people spend talking on mobile phones, but it is case studies of a narrow group that will determine why this is so.

The other main thing to remember during case studies is their flexibility. Whilst a pure scientist is trying to prove or disprove a hypothesis , a case study might introduce new and unexpected results during its course, and lead to research taking new directions.

The argument between case study and statistical method also appears to be one of scale. Whilst many 'physical' scientists avoid case studies, for psychology, anthropology and ecology they are an essential tool. It is important to ensure that you realize that a case study cannot be generalized to fit a whole population or ecosystem.

Finally, one peripheral point is that, when informing others of your results, case studies make more interesting topics than purely statistical surveys, something that has been realized by teachers and magazine editors for many years. The general public has little interest in pages of statistical calculations but some well placed case studies can have a strong impact.

How to Design and Conduct a Case Study

The advantage of the case study research design is that you can focus on specific and interesting cases. This may be an attempt to test a theory with a typical case or it can be a specific topic that is of interest. Research should be thorough and note taking should be meticulous and systematic.

The first foundation of the case study is the subject and relevance. In a case study, you are deliberately trying to isolate a small study group, one individual case or one particular population.

For example, statistical analysis may have shown that birthrates in African countries are increasing. A case study on one or two specific countries becomes a powerful and focused tool for determining the social and economic pressures driving this.

In the design of a case study, it is important to plan and design how you are going to address the study and make sure that all collected data is relevant. Unlike a scientific report, there is no strict set of rules so the most important part is making sure that the study is focused and concise; otherwise you will end up having to wade through a lot of irrelevant information.

It is best if you make yourself a short list of 4 or 5 bullet points that you are going to try and address during the study. If you make sure that all research refers back to these then you will not be far wrong.

With a case study, even more than a questionnaire or survey , it is important to be passive in your research. You are much more of an observer than an experimenter and you must remember that, even in a multi-subject case, each case must be treated individually and then cross case conclusions can be drawn .

How to Analyze the Results

Analyzing results for a case study tends to be more opinion based than statistical methods. The usual idea is to try and collate your data into a manageable form and construct a narrative around it.

Use examples in your narrative whilst keeping things concise and interesting. It is useful to show some numerical data but remember that you are only trying to judge trends and not analyze every last piece of data. Constantly refer back to your bullet points so that you do not lose focus.

It is always a good idea to assume that a person reading your research may not possess a lot of knowledge of the subject so try to write accordingly.

In addition, unlike a scientific study which deals with facts, a case study is based on opinion and is very much designed to provoke reasoned debate. There really is no right or wrong answer in a case study.

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  • Published: 27 June 2011

The case study approach

  • Sarah Crowe 1 ,
  • Kathrin Cresswell 2 ,
  • Ann Robertson 2 ,
  • Guro Huby 3 ,
  • Anthony Avery 1 &
  • Aziz Sheikh 2  

BMC Medical Research Methodology volume  11 , Article number:  100 ( 2011 ) Cite this article

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The case study approach allows in-depth, multi-faceted explorations of complex issues in their real-life settings. The value of the case study approach is well recognised in the fields of business, law and policy, but somewhat less so in health services research. Based on our experiences of conducting several health-related case studies, we reflect on the different types of case study design, the specific research questions this approach can help answer, the data sources that tend to be used, and the particular advantages and disadvantages of employing this methodological approach. The paper concludes with key pointers to aid those designing and appraising proposals for conducting case study research, and a checklist to help readers assess the quality of case study reports.

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The case study approach is particularly useful to employ when there is a need to obtain an in-depth appreciation of an issue, event or phenomenon of interest, in its natural real-life context. Our aim in writing this piece is to provide insights into when to consider employing this approach and an overview of key methodological considerations in relation to the design, planning, analysis, interpretation and reporting of case studies.

The illustrative 'grand round', 'case report' and 'case series' have a long tradition in clinical practice and research. Presenting detailed critiques, typically of one or more patients, aims to provide insights into aspects of the clinical case and, in doing so, illustrate broader lessons that may be learnt. In research, the conceptually-related case study approach can be used, for example, to describe in detail a patient's episode of care, explore professional attitudes to and experiences of a new policy initiative or service development or more generally to 'investigate contemporary phenomena within its real-life context' [ 1 ]. Based on our experiences of conducting a range of case studies, we reflect on when to consider using this approach, discuss the key steps involved and illustrate, with examples, some of the practical challenges of attaining an in-depth understanding of a 'case' as an integrated whole. In keeping with previously published work, we acknowledge the importance of theory to underpin the design, selection, conduct and interpretation of case studies[ 2 ]. In so doing, we make passing reference to the different epistemological approaches used in case study research by key theoreticians and methodologists in this field of enquiry.

This paper is structured around the following main questions: What is a case study? What are case studies used for? How are case studies conducted? What are the potential pitfalls and how can these be avoided? We draw in particular on four of our own recently published examples of case studies (see Tables 1 , 2 , 3 and 4 ) and those of others to illustrate our discussion[ 3 – 7 ].

What is a case study?

A case study is a research approach that is used to generate an in-depth, multi-faceted understanding of a complex issue in its real-life context. It is an established research design that is used extensively in a wide variety of disciplines, particularly in the social sciences. A case study can be defined in a variety of ways (Table 5 ), the central tenet being the need to explore an event or phenomenon in depth and in its natural context. It is for this reason sometimes referred to as a "naturalistic" design; this is in contrast to an "experimental" design (such as a randomised controlled trial) in which the investigator seeks to exert control over and manipulate the variable(s) of interest.

Stake's work has been particularly influential in defining the case study approach to scientific enquiry. He has helpfully characterised three main types of case study: intrinsic , instrumental and collective [ 8 ]. An intrinsic case study is typically undertaken to learn about a unique phenomenon. The researcher should define the uniqueness of the phenomenon, which distinguishes it from all others. In contrast, the instrumental case study uses a particular case (some of which may be better than others) to gain a broader appreciation of an issue or phenomenon. The collective case study involves studying multiple cases simultaneously or sequentially in an attempt to generate a still broader appreciation of a particular issue.

These are however not necessarily mutually exclusive categories. In the first of our examples (Table 1 ), we undertook an intrinsic case study to investigate the issue of recruitment of minority ethnic people into the specific context of asthma research studies, but it developed into a instrumental case study through seeking to understand the issue of recruitment of these marginalised populations more generally, generating a number of the findings that are potentially transferable to other disease contexts[ 3 ]. In contrast, the other three examples (see Tables 2 , 3 and 4 ) employed collective case study designs to study the introduction of workforce reconfiguration in primary care, the implementation of electronic health records into hospitals, and to understand the ways in which healthcare students learn about patient safety considerations[ 4 – 6 ]. Although our study focusing on the introduction of General Practitioners with Specialist Interests (Table 2 ) was explicitly collective in design (four contrasting primary care organisations were studied), is was also instrumental in that this particular professional group was studied as an exemplar of the more general phenomenon of workforce redesign[ 4 ].

What are case studies used for?

According to Yin, case studies can be used to explain, describe or explore events or phenomena in the everyday contexts in which they occur[ 1 ]. These can, for example, help to understand and explain causal links and pathways resulting from a new policy initiative or service development (see Tables 2 and 3 , for example)[ 1 ]. In contrast to experimental designs, which seek to test a specific hypothesis through deliberately manipulating the environment (like, for example, in a randomised controlled trial giving a new drug to randomly selected individuals and then comparing outcomes with controls),[ 9 ] the case study approach lends itself well to capturing information on more explanatory ' how ', 'what' and ' why ' questions, such as ' how is the intervention being implemented and received on the ground?'. The case study approach can offer additional insights into what gaps exist in its delivery or why one implementation strategy might be chosen over another. This in turn can help develop or refine theory, as shown in our study of the teaching of patient safety in undergraduate curricula (Table 4 )[ 6 , 10 ]. Key questions to consider when selecting the most appropriate study design are whether it is desirable or indeed possible to undertake a formal experimental investigation in which individuals and/or organisations are allocated to an intervention or control arm? Or whether the wish is to obtain a more naturalistic understanding of an issue? The former is ideally studied using a controlled experimental design, whereas the latter is more appropriately studied using a case study design.

Case studies may be approached in different ways depending on the epistemological standpoint of the researcher, that is, whether they take a critical (questioning one's own and others' assumptions), interpretivist (trying to understand individual and shared social meanings) or positivist approach (orientating towards the criteria of natural sciences, such as focusing on generalisability considerations) (Table 6 ). Whilst such a schema can be conceptually helpful, it may be appropriate to draw on more than one approach in any case study, particularly in the context of conducting health services research. Doolin has, for example, noted that in the context of undertaking interpretative case studies, researchers can usefully draw on a critical, reflective perspective which seeks to take into account the wider social and political environment that has shaped the case[ 11 ].

How are case studies conducted?

Here, we focus on the main stages of research activity when planning and undertaking a case study; the crucial stages are: defining the case; selecting the case(s); collecting and analysing the data; interpreting data; and reporting the findings.

Defining the case

Carefully formulated research question(s), informed by the existing literature and a prior appreciation of the theoretical issues and setting(s), are all important in appropriately and succinctly defining the case[ 8 , 12 ]. Crucially, each case should have a pre-defined boundary which clarifies the nature and time period covered by the case study (i.e. its scope, beginning and end), the relevant social group, organisation or geographical area of interest to the investigator, the types of evidence to be collected, and the priorities for data collection and analysis (see Table 7 )[ 1 ]. A theory driven approach to defining the case may help generate knowledge that is potentially transferable to a range of clinical contexts and behaviours; using theory is also likely to result in a more informed appreciation of, for example, how and why interventions have succeeded or failed[ 13 ].

For example, in our evaluation of the introduction of electronic health records in English hospitals (Table 3 ), we defined our cases as the NHS Trusts that were receiving the new technology[ 5 ]. Our focus was on how the technology was being implemented. However, if the primary research interest had been on the social and organisational dimensions of implementation, we might have defined our case differently as a grouping of healthcare professionals (e.g. doctors and/or nurses). The precise beginning and end of the case may however prove difficult to define. Pursuing this same example, when does the process of implementation and adoption of an electronic health record system really begin or end? Such judgements will inevitably be influenced by a range of factors, including the research question, theory of interest, the scope and richness of the gathered data and the resources available to the research team.

Selecting the case(s)

The decision on how to select the case(s) to study is a very important one that merits some reflection. In an intrinsic case study, the case is selected on its own merits[ 8 ]. The case is selected not because it is representative of other cases, but because of its uniqueness, which is of genuine interest to the researchers. This was, for example, the case in our study of the recruitment of minority ethnic participants into asthma research (Table 1 ) as our earlier work had demonstrated the marginalisation of minority ethnic people with asthma, despite evidence of disproportionate asthma morbidity[ 14 , 15 ]. In another example of an intrinsic case study, Hellstrom et al.[ 16 ] studied an elderly married couple living with dementia to explore how dementia had impacted on their understanding of home, their everyday life and their relationships.

For an instrumental case study, selecting a "typical" case can work well[ 8 ]. In contrast to the intrinsic case study, the particular case which is chosen is of less importance than selecting a case that allows the researcher to investigate an issue or phenomenon. For example, in order to gain an understanding of doctors' responses to health policy initiatives, Som undertook an instrumental case study interviewing clinicians who had a range of responsibilities for clinical governance in one NHS acute hospital trust[ 17 ]. Sampling a "deviant" or "atypical" case may however prove even more informative, potentially enabling the researcher to identify causal processes, generate hypotheses and develop theory.

In collective or multiple case studies, a number of cases are carefully selected. This offers the advantage of allowing comparisons to be made across several cases and/or replication. Choosing a "typical" case may enable the findings to be generalised to theory (i.e. analytical generalisation) or to test theory by replicating the findings in a second or even a third case (i.e. replication logic)[ 1 ]. Yin suggests two or three literal replications (i.e. predicting similar results) if the theory is straightforward and five or more if the theory is more subtle. However, critics might argue that selecting 'cases' in this way is insufficiently reflexive and ill-suited to the complexities of contemporary healthcare organisations.

The selected case study site(s) should allow the research team access to the group of individuals, the organisation, the processes or whatever else constitutes the chosen unit of analysis for the study. Access is therefore a central consideration; the researcher needs to come to know the case study site(s) well and to work cooperatively with them. Selected cases need to be not only interesting but also hospitable to the inquiry [ 8 ] if they are to be informative and answer the research question(s). Case study sites may also be pre-selected for the researcher, with decisions being influenced by key stakeholders. For example, our selection of case study sites in the evaluation of the implementation and adoption of electronic health record systems (see Table 3 ) was heavily influenced by NHS Connecting for Health, the government agency that was responsible for overseeing the National Programme for Information Technology (NPfIT)[ 5 ]. This prominent stakeholder had already selected the NHS sites (through a competitive bidding process) to be early adopters of the electronic health record systems and had negotiated contracts that detailed the deployment timelines.

It is also important to consider in advance the likely burden and risks associated with participation for those who (or the site(s) which) comprise the case study. Of particular importance is the obligation for the researcher to think through the ethical implications of the study (e.g. the risk of inadvertently breaching anonymity or confidentiality) and to ensure that potential participants/participating sites are provided with sufficient information to make an informed choice about joining the study. The outcome of providing this information might be that the emotive burden associated with participation, or the organisational disruption associated with supporting the fieldwork, is considered so high that the individuals or sites decide against participation.

In our example of evaluating implementations of electronic health record systems, given the restricted number of early adopter sites available to us, we sought purposively to select a diverse range of implementation cases among those that were available[ 5 ]. We chose a mixture of teaching, non-teaching and Foundation Trust hospitals, and examples of each of the three electronic health record systems procured centrally by the NPfIT. At one recruited site, it quickly became apparent that access was problematic because of competing demands on that organisation. Recognising the importance of full access and co-operative working for generating rich data, the research team decided not to pursue work at that site and instead to focus on other recruited sites.

Collecting the data

In order to develop a thorough understanding of the case, the case study approach usually involves the collection of multiple sources of evidence, using a range of quantitative (e.g. questionnaires, audits and analysis of routinely collected healthcare data) and more commonly qualitative techniques (e.g. interviews, focus groups and observations). The use of multiple sources of data (data triangulation) has been advocated as a way of increasing the internal validity of a study (i.e. the extent to which the method is appropriate to answer the research question)[ 8 , 18 – 21 ]. An underlying assumption is that data collected in different ways should lead to similar conclusions, and approaching the same issue from different angles can help develop a holistic picture of the phenomenon (Table 2 )[ 4 ].

Brazier and colleagues used a mixed-methods case study approach to investigate the impact of a cancer care programme[ 22 ]. Here, quantitative measures were collected with questionnaires before, and five months after, the start of the intervention which did not yield any statistically significant results. Qualitative interviews with patients however helped provide an insight into potentially beneficial process-related aspects of the programme, such as greater, perceived patient involvement in care. The authors reported how this case study approach provided a number of contextual factors likely to influence the effectiveness of the intervention and which were not likely to have been obtained from quantitative methods alone.

In collective or multiple case studies, data collection needs to be flexible enough to allow a detailed description of each individual case to be developed (e.g. the nature of different cancer care programmes), before considering the emerging similarities and differences in cross-case comparisons (e.g. to explore why one programme is more effective than another). It is important that data sources from different cases are, where possible, broadly comparable for this purpose even though they may vary in nature and depth.

Analysing, interpreting and reporting case studies

Making sense and offering a coherent interpretation of the typically disparate sources of data (whether qualitative alone or together with quantitative) is far from straightforward. Repeated reviewing and sorting of the voluminous and detail-rich data are integral to the process of analysis. In collective case studies, it is helpful to analyse data relating to the individual component cases first, before making comparisons across cases. Attention needs to be paid to variations within each case and, where relevant, the relationship between different causes, effects and outcomes[ 23 ]. Data will need to be organised and coded to allow the key issues, both derived from the literature and emerging from the dataset, to be easily retrieved at a later stage. An initial coding frame can help capture these issues and can be applied systematically to the whole dataset with the aid of a qualitative data analysis software package.

The Framework approach is a practical approach, comprising of five stages (familiarisation; identifying a thematic framework; indexing; charting; mapping and interpretation) , to managing and analysing large datasets particularly if time is limited, as was the case in our study of recruitment of South Asians into asthma research (Table 1 )[ 3 , 24 ]. Theoretical frameworks may also play an important role in integrating different sources of data and examining emerging themes. For example, we drew on a socio-technical framework to help explain the connections between different elements - technology; people; and the organisational settings within which they worked - in our study of the introduction of electronic health record systems (Table 3 )[ 5 ]. Our study of patient safety in undergraduate curricula drew on an evaluation-based approach to design and analysis, which emphasised the importance of the academic, organisational and practice contexts through which students learn (Table 4 )[ 6 ].

Case study findings can have implications both for theory development and theory testing. They may establish, strengthen or weaken historical explanations of a case and, in certain circumstances, allow theoretical (as opposed to statistical) generalisation beyond the particular cases studied[ 12 ]. These theoretical lenses should not, however, constitute a strait-jacket and the cases should not be "forced to fit" the particular theoretical framework that is being employed.

When reporting findings, it is important to provide the reader with enough contextual information to understand the processes that were followed and how the conclusions were reached. In a collective case study, researchers may choose to present the findings from individual cases separately before amalgamating across cases. Care must be taken to ensure the anonymity of both case sites and individual participants (if agreed in advance) by allocating appropriate codes or withholding descriptors. In the example given in Table 3 , we decided against providing detailed information on the NHS sites and individual participants in order to avoid the risk of inadvertent disclosure of identities[ 5 , 25 ].

What are the potential pitfalls and how can these be avoided?

The case study approach is, as with all research, not without its limitations. When investigating the formal and informal ways undergraduate students learn about patient safety (Table 4 ), for example, we rapidly accumulated a large quantity of data. The volume of data, together with the time restrictions in place, impacted on the depth of analysis that was possible within the available resources. This highlights a more general point of the importance of avoiding the temptation to collect as much data as possible; adequate time also needs to be set aside for data analysis and interpretation of what are often highly complex datasets.

Case study research has sometimes been criticised for lacking scientific rigour and providing little basis for generalisation (i.e. producing findings that may be transferable to other settings)[ 1 ]. There are several ways to address these concerns, including: the use of theoretical sampling (i.e. drawing on a particular conceptual framework); respondent validation (i.e. participants checking emerging findings and the researcher's interpretation, and providing an opinion as to whether they feel these are accurate); and transparency throughout the research process (see Table 8 )[ 8 , 18 – 21 , 23 , 26 ]. Transparency can be achieved by describing in detail the steps involved in case selection, data collection, the reasons for the particular methods chosen, and the researcher's background and level of involvement (i.e. being explicit about how the researcher has influenced data collection and interpretation). Seeking potential, alternative explanations, and being explicit about how interpretations and conclusions were reached, help readers to judge the trustworthiness of the case study report. Stake provides a critique checklist for a case study report (Table 9 )[ 8 ].


The case study approach allows, amongst other things, critical events, interventions, policy developments and programme-based service reforms to be studied in detail in a real-life context. It should therefore be considered when an experimental design is either inappropriate to answer the research questions posed or impossible to undertake. Considering the frequency with which implementations of innovations are now taking place in healthcare settings and how well the case study approach lends itself to in-depth, complex health service research, we believe this approach should be more widely considered by researchers. Though inherently challenging, the research case study can, if carefully conceptualised and thoughtfully undertaken and reported, yield powerful insights into many important aspects of health and healthcare delivery.

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We are grateful to the participants and colleagues who contributed to the individual case studies that we have drawn on. This work received no direct funding, but it has been informed by projects funded by Asthma UK, the NHS Service Delivery Organisation, NHS Connecting for Health Evaluation Programme, and Patient Safety Research Portfolio. We would also like to thank the expert reviewers for their insightful and constructive feedback. Our thanks are also due to Dr. Allison Worth who commented on an earlier draft of this manuscript.

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Sarah Crowe & Anthony Avery

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AS conceived this article. SC, KC and AR wrote this paper with GH, AA and AS all commenting on various drafts. SC and AS are guarantors.

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when is case study research design used

when is case study research design used

Case Study Research: Methods and Designs

Case study research is a type of qualitative research design. It’s often used in the social sciences because it involves…

Case Study Method

Case study research is a type of qualitative research design. It’s often used in the social sciences because it involves observing subjects, or cases, in their natural setting, with minimal interference from the researcher.

In the case study method , researchers pose a specific question about an individual or group to test their theories or hypothesis. This can be done by gathering data from interviews with key informants.

Here’s what you need to know about case study research design .

What Is The Case Study Method?

Main approaches to data collection, case study research methods, how case studies are used, case study model.

Case study research is a great way to understand the nuances of a matter that can get lost in quantitative research methods. A case study is distinct from other qualitative studies in the following ways:

  • It’s interested in the effect of a set of circumstances on an individual or group.
  • It begins with a specific question about one or more cases.
  • It focuses on individual accounts and experiences.

Here are the primary features of case study research:

  • Case study research methods typically involve the researcher asking a few questions of one person or a small number of people—known as respondents—to test one hypothesis.
  • Case study in research methodology may apply triangulation to collect data, in which the researcher uses several sources, including documents and field data. This is then analyzed and interpreted to form a hypothesis that can be tested through further research or validated by other researchers.
  • The case study method requires clear concepts and theories to guide its methods. A well-defined research question is crucial when conducting a case study because the results of the study depend on it. The best approach to answering a research question is to challenge the existing theories, hypotheses or assumptions.
  • Concepts are defined using objective language with no reference to preconceived notions that individuals might have about them. The researcher sets out to discover by asking specific questions on how people think or perceive things in their given situation.

They commonly use the case study method in business, management, psychology, sociology, political science and other related fields.

A fundamental requirement of qualitative research is recording observations that provide an understanding of reality. When it comes to the case study method, there are two major approaches that can be used to collect data: document review and fieldwork.

A case study in research methodology also includes literature review, the process by which the researcher collects all data available through historical documents. These might include books, newspapers, journals, videos, photographs and other written material. The researcher may also record information using video cameras to capture events as they occur. The researcher can also go through materials produced by people involved in the case study to gain an insight into their lives and experiences.

Field research involves participating in interviews and observations directly. Observation can be done during telephone interviews, events or public meetings, visits to homes or workplaces, or by shadowing someone for a period of time. The researcher can conduct one-on-one interviews with individuals or group interviews where several people are interviewed at once.

Let’s look now at case study methodology.

The case study method can be divided into three stages: formulation of objectives; collection of data; and analysis and interpretation. The researcher first makes a judgment about what should be studied based on their knowledge. Next, they gather data through observations and interviews. Here are some of the common case study research methods:

One of the most basic methods is the survey. Respondents are asked to complete a questionnaire with open-ended and predetermined questions. It usually takes place through face-to-face interviews, mailed questionnaires or telephone interviews. It can even be done by an online survey.

2. Semi-structured Interview

For case study research a more complex method is the semi-structured interview. This involves the researcher learning about the topic by listening to what others have to say. This usually occurs through one-on-one interviews with the sample. Semi-structured interviews allow for greater flexibility and can obtain information that structured questionnaires can’t.

3. Focus Group Interview

Another method is the focus group interview, where the researcher asks a few people to take part in an open-ended discussion on certain themes or topics. The typical group size is 5–15 people. This method allows researchers to delve deeper into people’s opinions, views and experiences.

4. Participant Observation

Participant observation is another method that involves the researcher gaining insight into an experience by joining in and taking part in normal events. The people involved don’t always know they’re being studied, but the researcher observes and records what happens through field notes.

Case study research design can use one or several of these methods depending on the context.

Case studies are widely used in the social sciences. To understand the impact of socio-economic forces, interpersonal dynamics and other human conditions, sometimes there’s no other way than to study one case at a time and look for patterns and data afterward.

It’s for the same reasons that case studies are used in business. Here are a few uses:

  • Case studies can be used as tools to educate and give examples of situations and problems that might occur and how they were resolved. They can also be used for strategy development and implementation.
  • Case studies can evaluate the success of a program or project. They can help teams improve their collaboration by identifying areas that need improvements, such as team dynamics, communication, roles and responsibilities and leadership styles.
  • Case studies can explore how people’s experiences affect the working environment. Because the study involves observing and analyzing concrete details of life, they can inform theories on how an individual or group interacts with their environment.
  • Case studies can evaluate the sustainability of businesses. They’re useful for social, environmental and economic impact studies because they look at all aspects of a business or organization. This gives researchers a holistic view of the dynamics within an organization.
  • We can use case studies to identify problems in organizations or businesses. They can help spot problems that are invisible to customers, investors, managers and employees.
  • Case studies are used in education to show students how real-world issues or events can be sorted out. This enables students to identify and deal with similar situations in their lives.

And that’s not all. Case studies are incredibly versatile, which is why they’re used so widely.

Human beings are complex and they interact with each other in their everyday life in various ways. The researcher observes a case and tries to find out how the patterns of behavior are created, including their causal relations. Case studies help understand one or more specific events that have been observed. Here are some common methods:

1. Illustrative case study

This is where the researcher observes a group of people doing something. Studying an event or phenomenon this way can show cause-and-effect relationships between various variables.

2. Cumulative case study

A cumulative case study is one that involves observing the same set of phenomena over a period. Cumulative case studies can be very helpful in understanding processes, which are things that happen over time. For example, if there are behavioral changes in people who move from one place to another, the researcher might want to know why these changes occurred.

3. Exploratory case study

An exploratory case study collects information that will answer a question. It can help researchers better understand social, economic, political or other social phenomena.

There are several other ways to categorize case studies. They may be chronological case studies, where a researcher observes events over time. In the comparative case study, the researcher compares one or more groups of people, places, or things to draw conclusions about them. In an intervention case study, the researcher intervenes to change the behavior of the subjects. The study method depends on the needs of the research team.

Deciding how to analyze the information at our disposal is an important part of effective management. An understanding of the case study model can help. With Harappa’s Thinking Critically course, managers and young professionals receive input and training on how to level up their analytic skills. Knowledge of frameworks, reading real-life examples and lived wisdom of faculty come together to create a dynamic and exciting course that helps teams leap to the next level.

Explore Harappa Diaries to learn more about topics such as Objectives Of Research , What are Qualitative Research Methods , How To Make A Problem Statement and How To Improve your Cognitive Skills to upgrade your knowledge and skills.


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Research Design – Types, Methods and Examples

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Research Design

Research Design


Research design refers to the overall strategy or plan for conducting a research study. It outlines the methods and procedures that will be used to collect and analyze data, as well as the goals and objectives of the study. Research design is important because it guides the entire research process and ensures that the study is conducted in a systematic and rigorous manner.

Types of Research Design

Types of Research Design are as follows:

Descriptive Research Design

This type of research design is used to describe a phenomenon or situation. It involves collecting data through surveys, questionnaires, interviews, and observations. The aim of descriptive research is to provide an accurate and detailed portrayal of a particular group, event, or situation. It can be useful in identifying patterns, trends, and relationships in the data.

Correlational Research Design

Correlational research design is used to determine if there is a relationship between two or more variables. This type of research design involves collecting data from participants and analyzing the relationship between the variables using statistical methods. The aim of correlational research is to identify the strength and direction of the relationship between the variables.

Experimental Research Design

Experimental research design is used to investigate cause-and-effect relationships between variables. This type of research design involves manipulating one variable and measuring the effect on another variable. It usually involves randomly assigning participants to groups and manipulating an independent variable to determine its effect on a dependent variable. The aim of experimental research is to establish causality.

Quasi-experimental Research Design

Quasi-experimental research design is similar to experimental research design, but it lacks one or more of the features of a true experiment. For example, there may not be random assignment to groups or a control group. This type of research design is used when it is not feasible or ethical to conduct a true experiment.

Case Study Research Design

Case study research design is used to investigate a single case or a small number of cases in depth. It involves collecting data through various methods, such as interviews, observations, and document analysis. The aim of case study research is to provide an in-depth understanding of a particular case or situation.

Longitudinal Research Design

Longitudinal research design is used to study changes in a particular phenomenon over time. It involves collecting data at multiple time points and analyzing the changes that occur. The aim of longitudinal research is to provide insights into the development, growth, or decline of a particular phenomenon over time.

Structure of Research Design

The format of a research design typically includes the following sections:

  • Introduction : This section provides an overview of the research problem, the research questions, and the importance of the study. It also includes a brief literature review that summarizes previous research on the topic and identifies gaps in the existing knowledge.
  • Research Questions or Hypotheses: This section identifies the specific research questions or hypotheses that the study will address. These questions should be clear, specific, and testable.
  • Research Methods : This section describes the methods that will be used to collect and analyze data. It includes details about the study design, the sampling strategy, the data collection instruments, and the data analysis techniques.
  • Data Collection: This section describes how the data will be collected, including the sample size, data collection procedures, and any ethical considerations.
  • Data Analysis: This section describes how the data will be analyzed, including the statistical techniques that will be used to test the research questions or hypotheses.
  • Results : This section presents the findings of the study, including descriptive statistics and statistical tests.
  • Discussion and Conclusion : This section summarizes the key findings of the study, interprets the results, and discusses the implications of the findings. It also includes recommendations for future research.
  • References : This section lists the sources cited in the research design.

Example of Research Design

An Example of Research Design could be:

Research question: Does the use of social media affect the academic performance of high school students?

Research design:

  • Research approach : The research approach will be quantitative as it involves collecting numerical data to test the hypothesis.
  • Research design : The research design will be a quasi-experimental design, with a pretest-posttest control group design.
  • Sample : The sample will be 200 high school students from two schools, with 100 students in the experimental group and 100 students in the control group.
  • Data collection : The data will be collected through surveys administered to the students at the beginning and end of the academic year. The surveys will include questions about their social media usage and academic performance.
  • Data analysis : The data collected will be analyzed using statistical software. The mean scores of the experimental and control groups will be compared to determine whether there is a significant difference in academic performance between the two groups.
  • Limitations : The limitations of the study will be acknowledged, including the fact that social media usage can vary greatly among individuals, and the study only focuses on two schools, which may not be representative of the entire population.
  • Ethical considerations: Ethical considerations will be taken into account, such as obtaining informed consent from the participants and ensuring their anonymity and confidentiality.

How to Write Research Design

Writing a research design involves planning and outlining the methodology and approach that will be used to answer a research question or hypothesis. Here are some steps to help you write a research design:

  • Define the research question or hypothesis : Before beginning your research design, you should clearly define your research question or hypothesis. This will guide your research design and help you select appropriate methods.
  • Select a research design: There are many different research designs to choose from, including experimental, survey, case study, and qualitative designs. Choose a design that best fits your research question and objectives.
  • Develop a sampling plan : If your research involves collecting data from a sample, you will need to develop a sampling plan. This should outline how you will select participants and how many participants you will include.
  • Define variables: Clearly define the variables you will be measuring or manipulating in your study. This will help ensure that your results are meaningful and relevant to your research question.
  • Choose data collection methods : Decide on the data collection methods you will use to gather information. This may include surveys, interviews, observations, experiments, or secondary data sources.
  • Create a data analysis plan: Develop a plan for analyzing your data, including the statistical or qualitative techniques you will use.
  • Consider ethical concerns : Finally, be sure to consider any ethical concerns related to your research, such as participant confidentiality or potential harm.

When to Write Research Design

Research design should be written before conducting any research study. It is an important planning phase that outlines the research methodology, data collection methods, and data analysis techniques that will be used to investigate a research question or problem. The research design helps to ensure that the research is conducted in a systematic and logical manner, and that the data collected is relevant and reliable.

Ideally, the research design should be developed as early as possible in the research process, before any data is collected. This allows the researcher to carefully consider the research question, identify the most appropriate research methodology, and plan the data collection and analysis procedures in advance. By doing so, the research can be conducted in a more efficient and effective manner, and the results are more likely to be valid and reliable.

Purpose of Research Design

The purpose of research design is to plan and structure a research study in a way that enables the researcher to achieve the desired research goals with accuracy, validity, and reliability. Research design is the blueprint or the framework for conducting a study that outlines the methods, procedures, techniques, and tools for data collection and analysis.

Some of the key purposes of research design include:

  • Providing a clear and concise plan of action for the research study.
  • Ensuring that the research is conducted ethically and with rigor.
  • Maximizing the accuracy and reliability of the research findings.
  • Minimizing the possibility of errors, biases, or confounding variables.
  • Ensuring that the research is feasible, practical, and cost-effective.
  • Determining the appropriate research methodology to answer the research question(s).
  • Identifying the sample size, sampling method, and data collection techniques.
  • Determining the data analysis method and statistical tests to be used.
  • Facilitating the replication of the study by other researchers.
  • Enhancing the validity and generalizability of the research findings.

Applications of Research Design

There are numerous applications of research design in various fields, some of which are:

  • Social sciences: In fields such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology, research design is used to investigate human behavior and social phenomena. Researchers use various research designs, such as experimental, quasi-experimental, and correlational designs, to study different aspects of social behavior.
  • Education : Research design is essential in the field of education to investigate the effectiveness of different teaching methods and learning strategies. Researchers use various designs such as experimental, quasi-experimental, and case study designs to understand how students learn and how to improve teaching practices.
  • Health sciences : In the health sciences, research design is used to investigate the causes, prevention, and treatment of diseases. Researchers use various designs, such as randomized controlled trials, cohort studies, and case-control studies, to study different aspects of health and healthcare.
  • Business : Research design is used in the field of business to investigate consumer behavior, marketing strategies, and the impact of different business practices. Researchers use various designs, such as survey research, experimental research, and case studies, to study different aspects of the business world.
  • Engineering : In the field of engineering, research design is used to investigate the development and implementation of new technologies. Researchers use various designs, such as experimental research and case studies, to study the effectiveness of new technologies and to identify areas for improvement.

Advantages of Research Design

Here are some advantages of research design:

  • Systematic and organized approach : A well-designed research plan ensures that the research is conducted in a systematic and organized manner, which makes it easier to manage and analyze the data.
  • Clear objectives: The research design helps to clarify the objectives of the study, which makes it easier to identify the variables that need to be measured, and the methods that need to be used to collect and analyze data.
  • Minimizes bias: A well-designed research plan minimizes the chances of bias, by ensuring that the data is collected and analyzed objectively, and that the results are not influenced by the researcher’s personal biases or preferences.
  • Efficient use of resources: A well-designed research plan helps to ensure that the resources (time, money, and personnel) are used efficiently and effectively, by focusing on the most important variables and methods.
  • Replicability: A well-designed research plan makes it easier for other researchers to replicate the study, which enhances the credibility and reliability of the findings.
  • Validity: A well-designed research plan helps to ensure that the findings are valid, by ensuring that the methods used to collect and analyze data are appropriate for the research question.
  • Generalizability : A well-designed research plan helps to ensure that the findings can be generalized to other populations, settings, or situations, which increases the external validity of the study.

Research Design Vs Research Methodology

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  • Published: 05 April 2024

Single-case experimental designs: the importance of randomization and replication

  • René Tanious   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-5466-1002 1 ,
  • Rumen Manolov   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-9387-1926 2 ,
  • Patrick Onghena 3 &
  • Johan W. S. Vlaeyen   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-0437-6665 1  

Nature Reviews Methods Primers volume  4 , Article number:  27 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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Single-case experimental designs are rapidly growing in popularity. This popularity needs to be accompanied by transparent and well-justified methodological and statistical decisions. Appropriate experimental design including randomization, proper data handling and adequate reporting are needed to ensure reproducibility and internal validity. The degree of generalizability can be assessed through replication.

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Kazdin, A. E. Single-case experimental designs: characteristics, changes, and challenges. J. Exp. Anal. Behav. 115 , 56–85 (2021).

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R.T. and J.W.S.V. disclose support for the research of this work from the Dutch Research Council and the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (NWO gravitation grant number 024.004.016) within the research project ‘New Science of Mental Disorders’ ( www.nsmd.eu ). R.M. discloses support from the Generalitat de Catalunya’s Agència de Gestió d’Ajusts Universitaris i de Recerca (grant number 2021SGR00366).

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Tanious, R., Manolov, R., Onghena, P. et al. Single-case experimental designs: the importance of randomization and replication. Nat Rev Methods Primers 4 , 27 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43586-024-00312-8

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when is case study research design used

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Creating culturally-informed protocols for a stunting intervention using a situated values-based approach ( WeValue InSitu ): a double case study in Indonesia and Senegal

  • Annabel J. Chapman 1 ,
  • Chike C. Ebido 2 , 3 ,
  • Rahel Neh Tening 2 ,
  • Yanyan Huang 2 ,
  • Ndèye Marème Sougou 4 ,
  • Risatianti Kolopaking 5 , 6 ,
  • Amadou H. Diallo 7 ,
  • Rita Anggorowati 6 , 8 ,
  • Fatou B. Dial 9 ,
  • Jessica Massonnié 10 , 11 ,
  • Mahsa Firoozmand 1 ,
  • Cheikh El Hadji Abdoulaye Niang 9 &
  • Marie K. Harder 1 , 2  

BMC Public Health volume  24 , Article number:  987 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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International development work involves external partners bringing expertise, resources, and management for local interventions in LMICs, but there is often a gap in understandings of relevant local shared values. There is a widespread need to better design interventions which accommodate relevant elements of local culture, as emphasised by recent discussions in global health research regarding neo-colonialism. One recent innovation is the concept of producing ‘cultural protocols’ to precede and guide community engagement or intervention design, but without suggestions for generating them. This study explores and demonstrates the potential of an approach taken from another field, named WeValue InSitu , to generate local culturally-informed protocols. WeValue InSitu engages stakeholder groups in meaning-making processes which ‘crystallize’ their envelope of local shared values, making them communicable to outsiders.

Our research context is understanding and reducing child stunting, including developing interventions, carried out at the Senegal and Indonesia sites of the UKRI GCRF Action Against Stunting Hub. Each national research team involves eight health disciplines from micro-nutrition to epigenetics, and extensive collection of samples and questionnaires. Local culturally-informed protocols would be generally valuable to pre-inform engagement and intervention designs. Here we explore generating them by immediately following the group WeValue InSitu crystallization process with specialised focus group discussions exploring: what local life practices potentially have significant influence on the environments affecting child stunting, and which cultural elements do they highlight as relevant. The discussions will be framed by the shared values, and reveal linkages to them. In this study, stakeholder groups like fathers, mothers, teachers, market traders, administrators, farmers and health workers were recruited, totalling 83 participants across 20 groups. Themes found relevant for a culturally-informed protocol for locally-acceptable food interventions included: specific gender roles; social hierarchies; health service access challenges; traditional beliefs around malnutrition; and attitudes to accepting outside help. The concept of a grounded culturally-informed protocol, and the use of WeValue InSitu to generate it, has thus been demonstrated here. Future work to scope out the advantages and limitations compared to deductive culture studies, and to using other formative research methods would now be useful.

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Although progress has been made towards the SDG of ‘Zero Hunger by 2025’, the global rates of malnutrition and stunting are still high [ 1 ]. Over the past 20 years, researchers have implemented interventions to reduce undernutrition, specifically focussing on the first 1000 days of life, from conception to 24 months [ 2 ]. However, due to both differing determinants between countries [ 3 , 4 ] as well as varying contextual factors, it is clear that no single fixed approach or combination of approaches can be relied on when implementing stunting interventions [ 5 , 6 , 7 ]. Furthermore, when external researchers design interventions for local areas in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) they can often overlook relevant local cultural factors that consequently act as barriers to intervention uptake and reduce their effectiveness, such as geographical factors and the levels of migration in certain populations [ 8 , 9 ], or social norms or perceptions relating to accepting outside help, and power dynamics related to gender [ 10 , 11 , 12 ]. The inclusion of cultural level factors in behaviour change interventions has been proposed as a requirement for effective interventions [ 13 ]. However, despite the breadth of literature highlighting the negative impacts from failing to do this, the lack of integration or even regard of local culture remains a persistent problem in Global Health Research [ 14 ], possibly hindering progress towards the SDGs. Thus, there is a need for approaches to integrate local cultural elements into intervention design.

This lack of understanding of relevant local culture, social norms and shared values also has ethical implications. The field of Global Health Ethics was predominantly developed in the Global North, in High Income Countries (HICs), embedding values common in those countries such as the prominence of individual autonomy [ 15 , 16 ]. Researchers from HICs carrying out research in LMICs may wrongly assume that values held in the Global North are universal [ 14 ] and disregard some local values, such as those related to family and collective decision making, which are core to many communities in LMICs. It is therefore important for outside researchers to have an understanding of relevant local values, culture and social norms before conducting research in LMICs so as not to impose values that do not align with local culture and inadvertently cause harm or offence [ 16 , 17 ]. The importance of this is compounded by the colonial history that is often present in relationships between research communities in HICs and LMICs, and the fact that the majority of the funding and leading institutions are still located in the Global North [ 18 , 19 ]. Thus, conscious steps must be taken to avoid neo-colonialism in Global Health Research [ 20 ]. From a health-equity perspective, it is essential to ensure that those in vulnerable communities are not hindered from involvement in interventions to improve nutrition. Encouraging uptake by such communities could be provided if salient local shared values, norms and culture were taken into account [ 21 ].

In a recent paper, Memon et al., (2021) highlight the usefulness of first creating a cultural protocol that can precede and guide subsequent stages of community engagement or intervention design to ensure that salient local values are known to external researchers coming into the community [ 16 ]. We adopt the use of the concept of a cultural protocol, referring to locally-generated guidance about key values, norms, behaviours and customs relevant to working with the local community. However, we prefer the term, ‘culturally-informed protocol’ since this relates to only cultural elements deemed salient by the researchers, and locally, rather than any comprehensive notion of culture, nor extending beyond the research context.

Memon et al. (2021), point out links between the creation of such a protocol and existing codes of practice that have already been created for some cultures such as the Te Ara Tika, a Guideline for Māori Research Ethics [ 22 ]. Currently, research and interventions in Global Health can be informed by a stage of formative research involving one-to-one interviews, focus groups or direct observations, which can sometimes be ethnographic in nature such as within Focussed Ethnographic Studies or Rapid Assessment Procedures [ 23 , 24 , 25 ]. Although these methods can be effective to inform intervention designs, they have disadvantages like: can take long periods to complete [ 26 ], can be resource intensive [ 26 ] and can lack cultural acceptability [ 27 ]. These limitations may account for the frequent neglect of their use generally, highlighted by Aubel and Chibanda (2022) [ 14 ]. Additionally, none of these methods work towards making explicit local values, or towards the creation of a culturally-informed protocol. In brief, the literature suggests a need to develop alternative methods of Formative Research for understanding locally relevant cultural elements, that are less time-consuming and can generate data that is more easily translatable to intervention design. In addition, these approaches must be applicable in different cultures. Additionally, the protocols produced must be actionable and practical not only for guiding interactions between research teams but also for guiding the initial stages of intervention design.

The work presented here aims to address several of these needs. It includes an exploration of the usefulness of the WeValue InSitu ( WVIS ) approach because that has previously been shown, in environmental management domains, to offer a way to gather in-depth values-based perspectives from a target population [ 28 , 29 ] It was first created through action research, and co-designed to enable civil society organisations to better understand and measure the values-based aspects of their work [ 30 ]. The core WeValue InSitu process (detailed in Table 1 ) involves the crystallization of shared values, with a facilitator guiding a group of participants with shared experiences, through cycles of tacit meaning-making (using a stage of photo-elicitation and triggering) [ 31 ], until they can articulate more explicitly their shared values, in concise and precise statements. These statements are then linked together in a framework by the participants. In an example case in Nigeria, the results of the WVIS approach hinted at the creation of a culturally-informed protocol through an analysis of the shared values frameworks to find cultural themes for the creation of an indicator tool that was used to evaluate several development scenarios based on their social acceptability [ 29 ].

Furthermore, it has been found that if a group of WVIS participants take part in a specialised focus group discussion (FGD), named Perspectives EXploration (PEX:FGD) immediately afterward the main workshop, then they easily and articulately express their perspectives on the topics raised for discussion - and with allusions to the shared values they had crystallised just prior. In an example from Shanghai, the PEX:FGDs focussed on eliciting perspectives on climate change, which were shown to be closely linked with the cultural themes existing within the shared values frameworks produced immediately prior [ 32 ]. In that case, the PEX:FGDs allowed the cultural themes generated during the main WVIS workshop to be linked more closely to the research question. Those results suggested that the WVIS plus PEX:FGD approach could be used to create a specialised culturally-informed protocol for improved intervention design.

In the study presented here, the WVIS approach was explored for the purpose of creating culturally-informed protocols to inform the planning of interventions within two localities of the UKRI GCRF Action Against Stunting Hub [ 33 ]. The work was carried out in two parts. Firstly, the WVIS main workshop was used to elicit cultural themes within the target communities, indicating key elements to consider to ensure ethical engagement. Secondly, the PEX focus group discussions focussed on life practices related to stunting which we explored for the purpose of tailoring the culturally-informed protocols to the specific purpose of improving the design of an example intervention. The Action Against Stunting Hub works across three sites where stunting is highly prevalent but via different determinants: East Lombok in Indonesia (estimated 36% of under-fives stunted), Kaffrine in Senegal (estimated 16% of under-fives stunted) and Hyderabad in India (estimated 48% of under-fives stunted) [ 34 ]. We propose that, the information about local shared values in a given site could be used to inform the design of several interventions, but for our specific exploration the focus here is a proposed ‘egg intervention’, in which pregnant women would be provided with an egg three times per week as supplement to their diet. This study proposes that identifying shared values within a community, alongside information about local life practices, provides critical cultural information on the potential acceptability and uptake of this intervention which can be used to generate culturally-informed protocols consisting of recommendations for improved intervention design.

In this paper we aim to explore the use of the WVIS approach to create culturally-informed protocols to guide engagement and inform the design of localised egg interventions to alleviate stunting in East Lombok, Indonesia and Kaffrine, Senegal. We do this by analysing data about local shared values that are crystallized using the WeValue InSitu ( WVIS ) process to provide clear articulation of local values, followed by an analysis of life practices discussed during PEX:FGD to tailor the culturally-informed protocols for the specific intervention design.

Study setting

This research was exploratory rather than explanatory in nature. The emphasis was on demonstrating the usefulness of the WeValue InSitu ( WVIS ) approach to develop culturally-informed protocols of practical use in intervention design, in different cultural sites. This study was set within a broader shared-values workstream within the UKRI GCRF Action Against Stunting Hub project [ 33 ]. The Hub project, which was co-designed and co-researched by researchers from UK, Indonesia, Senegal and India, involves cohorts of 500 women and their babies in each site through pregnancy to 24 months old, using cross-disciplinary studies across gut health, nutrition, food systems, micro-nutrition, home environment, WASH, epigenetics and child development to develop a typology of stunting. Alongside these health studies are studies of the shared values of the communities, obtained via the WVIS approach described here, to understand the cultural contexts of that diverse health data. In this study the data from East Lombok, Indonesia and Kaffrine, Senegal were used: India’s data were not yet ready, and these two countries were deemed sufficient for this exploratory investigation.

The WVIS approach

The WVIS approach is a grounded scaffolding process which facilitates groups of people to make explicit their shared values in their own vocabulary and within their own frames (details in Fig. 1 and activities in Table 1 ). The first stage of the WVIS is Contextualisation, whereby the group identifies themselves and set the context of their shared experiences, for example, as ‘mothers in East Lombok, Indonesia’. Subsequently, there is a stage of Photo Elicitation, in which the group are first asked to consider what is important, meaningful or worthwhile to them about their context (e.g., ‘being mothers in East Lombok, Indonesia’) and then asked to choose photos from a localised set that they can use as props to help describe their answer to the group [ 29 ]. After this, a localised Trigger List is used. This Trigger List consists of 109 values statements that act as prompts for the group. Examples of these values statements are included below but all the statements begin with “it is important to me/us that…”. The group are asked to choose which statements within the trigger list resonate with them, and those are taken forward for group intersubjective discussion. After a topic of their shared values has been explored, the group begin to articulate and write down their own unique statements of them. These also all begin with “It is important to me/us that…”. After discussing all pressing topics, the group links the written statements on the table into a unique Framework, and one member provides a narrative to communicate it to ‘outsiders’. The WVIS provides a lens of each group’s local shared values, and it is through this lens that they view the topics in the focus group discussions which immediately follow, termed Perspectives EXplorations (PEX:FGDs).

figure 1

Schematic of the macro-level activities carried out during the WeValue InSitu ( WVIS ) main workshop session

This results in very grounded perspectives being offered, of a different nature to those obtained in questionnaires or using external frameworks [ 31 ]. The specific PEX:FGD topics are chosen as pertinent to stunting contextual issues, including eating habits, food systems and environments, early educational environments, and perceptions of stunting. The local researchers ensured that all topics were handled sensitively, with none that could cause distress to the participants. The data for this study were collected over 2 weeks within December 2019–January 2020 in workshops in East Lombok, Indonesia, and 2 weeks within December 2020 in Kaffrine, Senegal.

The PEX:FGDs were kept open-ended so that participants could dictate the direction of the discussion, which allowed for topics that may not have been pre-considered by the facilitators to arise. Sessions were facilitated by local indigenous researchers, guided in process by researchers more experienced in the approach, and were carried out in the local languages, Bahasa in East Lombok, Indonesia and French or Wolof in Kaffrine, Senegal.

Development of localised WVIS materials

Important to the WVIS approach is the development of localised materials (Table 1 ). The main trigger list has been found applicable in globalised places where English is the first language, but otherwise the trigger lists are locally generated in the local language, incorporating local vocabulary and ways of thinking. To generate these, 5–8 specific interviews are taken with local community members, by indigenous university researchers, eliciting local phrases and ways of thinking. This is a necessary step because shared tacit values cannot be easily accessed without using local language. Examples of localised Trigger Statements produced this way are given below: (they all start with: “It is important to me/us that…”):

…there is solidarity and mutual aid between the people

…I can still be in communication with my children, even if far away

…husbands are responsible for the care of their wives and family

…the town council fulfils its responsibility to meet our needs

…people are not afraid of hard, and even manual work

Study participants

The group participants targeted for recruitment, were selected by local country Hub co-researchers to meet two sets of requirements. For suitability for the WVIS approach they should be between 3 and 12 in number; belong to naturally existing groups that have some history of shared experiences; are over 18 years old; do not include members holding significantly more power than others; and speak the same native language. For suitability in the PEX:FGD to offer life practices with relevance to the research topic of stunting, the groups were chosen to represent stakeholders with connections to the food or learning environment of children (which the Action Against Stunting Hub refer to as the Whole Child approach) [ 33 ]. The university researchers specialising in shared values from the UK, and Senegal and Indonesia respectively, discussed together which stakeholder groups might be appropriate to recruit. The local researchers made the final decisions. Each group was taken through both a WVIS workshop and the immediately-subsequent PEX:FGD.

Data collection and analysis

Standard data output from the WeValue session includes i) the jointly-negotiated bespoke Statements of shared values, linked together in their unique Framework, and ii) an oral recording of a descriptive Narrative of it, given by the group. These were digitized to produce a single presentation for each group as in Fig. 2 . It represents the synthesised culmination of the crystallisation process: a portrait of what was ‘important’ to each stakeholder group. Separately, statements from the group about the authenticity/ownership of the statements are collected.

figure 2

An illustrative example of one digitized Shared Values Framework and accompanying Narrative from a teacher’s group in East Lombok, Indonesia. The “…” refers to each statement being preceded by “It is important to us that…”

When these Frameworks of ‘Statements of Shared Values’ are viewed across all the groups from one locality (Locality Shared Values Statements), they provide portraits of ‘what is important’ to people living there, often in intimate detail and language. They can be used to communicate to ‘outsiders’ what the general cultural shared values are. In this work the researchers thematically coded them using Charmaz constructionist grounded theory coding [ 35 ] to find broad Major Cultural Themes within each separate locality.

The second area of data collection was in the post- WVIS event: the PEX:FGD for each group. A translator/interpreter provided a running commentary during these discussions, which was audio recorded and then transcribed. The specific topics raised for each group to discuss varied depending on their local expertise. This required completely separate workstreams of coding of the dataset with respect to each topic. This was carried out independently by two researchers: one from UK (using NVivo software (Release 1.3.1)) and one from the local country, who resolved any small differences. All the transcripts were then collated and inductively, interpretively analysed to draw out insights that should be relayed back to the Action Against Stunting Hub teams as contextual material.

The extracts of discussion which were identified as relevant within a particular Hub theme (e.g. hygiene) were then meta-ethnographically synthesised [ 36 ] into ‘Hub Theme Statements’ on each topic, which became the core data for later communication and interrogation by other researchers within the Action Against Stunting Hub. These statements are interpretations of participants’ intended meanings, and links from each of them to data quotes were maintained, enabling future interpretations to refer to them for consistency checks between received and intended meaning.

In this investigation, those Hub Theme Statements (derived from PEX:FGD transcripts) were then deductively coded with respect to any topics with potential implications of the egg intervention. Literature regarding barriers and facilitators to nutrition interventions indicated the following topics could be relevant: attitudes to accepting help; community interactions; cooking and eating habits; traditional beliefs about malnutrition; sharing; social hierarchies [ 12 , 37 , 38 ] to which we added anything related to pregnancy or eggs. This analysis produced our Egg Intervention Themes from the data.

The Major Cultural Themes and Egg Intervention Themes were then used to create a set of culture-based recommendations and intervention specific recommendations respectively for each locality. These recommendations were then combined to form specialized culturally-informed protocols for the egg intervention in each locality: East Lombok, Indonesia and Kaffrine, Senegal. The process is displayed schematically in Fig.  3 .

figure 3

Schematic representation of the method of production of the culturally-informed protocol for each locality

The preparation of the localised WVIS materials at each site took 6 hours of interview field work, and 40 person hours for analysis. The 10 workshops and data summaries were concluded within 10 workdays by two people (80 person hours). The analysis of the PEX:FGD data took a further 80 person hours. Thus, the total research time was approximately 200 person hours.

The stakeholder group types are summarised in Table 2 . The data is presented in three parts. Firstly, the Major Cultural Themes found in East Lombok, Indonesia and in Kaffrine, Senegal are described – the ones most heavily emphasised by participants. Then, the Egg Intervention Themes and finally, the combined set of Recommendations to comprise a culturally-informed protocol for intervention design for each location. Quotations are labelled INDO or SEN for East Lombok, Indonesia and Kaffrine, Senegal, respectively.

Major cultural themes from frameworks and narratives

These were derived from the Locality Shared Values Statements produced in the WVIS .

East Lombok, Indonesia

Religious values.

Islamic values were crucially important for participants from East Lombok, Indonesia and to their way of life. Through living by the Quran, participating in Islamic community practices, and teaching Islamic values to their children, participants felt they develop their spirituality and guarantee a better afterlife for themselves and their children. Participants stated the Quran tells them to breastfeed their children for 2 years, so they do. Despite no explicit religious official curriculum in Kindergarten, the teachers stated that it was important to incorporate religious teaching.

“East Lombok people always uphold the religious values of all aspects of social life.”

“It is important for me to still teach religious values even though they are not clearly stated in the curriculum.” – Workshop 1 INDO (teachers).

“In Quran for instance, we are told to breastfeed our kids for 2 years. We can even learn about that ” – Workshop 3 INDO (mothers).

Related to this was the importance of teaching manners to children and preventing them from saying harsh words. Teachers stated that it was important to create a happy environment for the children and to ensure that they are polite and well-behaved. Similarly, mothers emphasised the need to teach their children good religious values to ensure they will be polite and helpful to their elders.

“Children don’t speak harsh words.”

“My children can help me like what I did to my parents”.

– Workshop 8 INDO (mothers).

Togetherness within families and the community

The Locality Shared Values Frameworks stressed the importance of togetherness, both within family and community. Comments mentioned it being important that people rely heavily on their family and come together in times of need to support each other and provide motivation. This was also important more broadly, in that people in society should support each other, and that children grow up to contribute to society. This was also reflected in comments around roles within the family. Despite women being primary care givers, and men working to finance the family, participants stated that they follow a process of consultation to make decisions, and when facing hardships.

“that we have the sense of kinship throughout our society”.

“We have togetherness as mothers”.

“For the family side, whatever happens we need to be able to be united as a whole family. We need to have the [sense of] forgiveness for the sake of the children” – Workshop 2 INDO (mothers).

Attitudes about extra-marital pregnancy

In East Lombok, Indonesia, it was essential to both mothers and fathers that pregnancy happened within a marriage, this was to ensure that the honour of the family was upheld and that the lineage of the child was clear. The potential danger to health that early pregnancies can cause was also acknowledged.

“If they don’t listen to parents’ advice, there will be the possibility of pre-marital pregnancy happening, which will affect the family [so much].

The affect is going to be ruining the good name, honour and family dignity. When the children [are] born outside [of] marriage, she or he will have many difficulties like getting a birth certificate [and] having a hard time when registering to school or family” - Workshop 4 INDO (mothers).

“ To make sure that our children avoid getting married at a very young age and moreover [avoid] having free sex so that they will not get pregnant before the marriage” - Workshop 9 INDO (fathers).

Kaffrine, Senegal

The Major Cultural Themes which emerged from the Kaffrine data are described below. As these are grounded themes, they are different than those seen in East Lombok, Indonesia.

Access to healthcare

A recurring theme amongst the groups in Kaffrine were aspirations of affordable and easy-to-access healthcare. Community health workers stated the importance of encouraging women to give birth in hospitals and spoke of the importance of preventing early pregnancy which result from early marriages. Giving birth in hospitals was also a concern for Public Office Administrators who highlighted that this leads to subsequent issues with registering children for school. Mothers and fathers stated the importance of being able to afford health insurance and access healthcare so that they could take care of themselves.

“That the women give birth in the hospital” – Workshop 11 SEN (CHWS).

“To have affordable health insurance ” – Workshop 10 SEN (mothers).

“To have access to health care ” – Workshop 3 SEN (fathers).

“It is important that women give birth in the hospital in order to be able to have a certificate that allows us to establish the civil status” – Workshop 9 SEN (administrators).

Additionally, Community health workers spoke of their aspiration to have enough supplements to provide to their community so as to avoid frustration at the lack of supply, and mothers spoke of their desire to be provided with supplements.

“To have dietary supplements in large quantities to give them to all those who need them, so as not to create frustration” – Workshop 11 SEN (CHWS).

Another aspect of access to healthcare, was mistrust between fathers and community health workers. Community health workers explained that sometimes men can blame them when things go wrong in a pregnancy or consider their ideas to be too progressive. Thus, to these community health workers the quality of endurance was very important.

“Endurance (Sometimes men can accuse us of influencing their wives when they have difficulties in conceiving)” – Workshop 5 SEN (CHWs).

Another recurring theme was the importance of having secure employment and a means to support themselves; that there were also jobs available for young people, and that women had opportunities to make money to help support the family. This included preventing early marriages so girls could stay in school. Having jobs was stated as essential for survival and important to enable being useful to the community and society.

“To have more means of survival (subsistence) to be able to feed our families”.

“To have a regular and permanent job”.

“We assure a good training and education for our children so that they will become useful to us and the community”.

“ Our women should have access to activities that will support us and lessen our burden” – Workshop 3 SEN (fathers).

It was considered very important to have a religious education and respect for religious elders. Moreover, living by, and teaching, religious values such as being hard working, humble and offering mutual aid to others, was significant for people in Kaffrine.

“Have an education in the Islamic Culture (Education that aligns with the culture of Islam)”.

“Respect toward religious leaders” – Workshop 3 SEN (fathers).

“ To organize religious discussions to develop our knowledge about Islam ” - Workshop 10 SEN (mothers).

“ Have belief and be prayerful and give good counselling to people ” - Workshop 4 SEN (grandmothers).

Egg intervention themes from each country from perspectives EXplorations focus group discussion data

Below are results of analyses of comments made during the PEX:FGDs in East Lombok, Indonesia and Kaffrine, Senegal. The following codes were used deductively: attitudes to accepting outside help, traditional gender roles, food sharing, traditional beliefs, social hierarchies and understanding of stunting and Other. These topics were spoken about during open discussion and were not the subject of direct questions. For example, topics relating to traditional gender roles came up in East Lombok, during conversations around the daily routine. Thus, in order to more accurately reflect the intended meaning of the participants, these were labelled food practices, under the “Other” theme. If any of the themes were not present in the discussion, they are not shown below.

Attitudes to accepting outside help

Few mentions were made that focussed on participants attitudes to accepting outside help, but participants were sure that they would not make changes to their menus based on the advice of outside experts. Additionally, teachers mentioned that they are used to accepting help from local organisations that could to help them to identify under-developed children.

“ We don’t believe that [the outsiders are] going to change our eating habits or our various menus ” – Workshop 3 INDO (Mothers).

Traditional gender roles

In East Lombok, mothers spoke about how their husbands go to work and then provide them with daily money to buy the food for the day. However, this was discussed in relation to why food is bought daily and is thus discussed below in the topics Other – Food practices.

Food sharing

In East Lombok, Indonesia, in times when they have extra food, they share it with neighbours, in the hope that when they face times of hardship, their neighbours will share with them. Within the household, they mentioned sharing food from their plate with infants and encouraging children to share. Some mothers mentioned the importance of weekly meetings with other mothers to share food and sharing food during celebrations.

“ Sometimes we share our food with our family. So, when we cook extra food, we will probably send over the food to our neighbour, to our families. So, sometimes, with the hope that when we don’t have anything to eat, our neighbour will pay for it and will [share with] us.” – Workshop 3 INDO (Mothers).

“Even they serve food for the kids who come along to the house. So, they teach the kids to share with their friends. They provide some food. So, whenever they play [at their] house, they will [eat] the same.” – Workshop 2 INDO (Mothers).

Understanding of stunting

The teachers in East Lombok were aware of child stunting through Children’s Development Cards provided by local healthcare organizations. They stated that they recognise children with nutrition problems as having no patience period, no expression, no energy for activities and less desire to socialise and play with other children. The teachers said that stunted children do not develop the same as other children and are not as independent as children who are the proper height and weight for their development. They also stated that they recognise stunted children by their posture, pale faces and bloated stomachs. They explained how they usually use the same teaching methods for stunting children, but will sometimes allow them to do some activities, like singing, later, once the other children are leaving.

“ They have no patience period, don’t have any energy to do any of the activities. No expression, only sitting down and not mingling around with the kids. They are different way to learn. They are much slower than the other kids .” – Workshop 1 INDO (teachers).

“ When they are passive in singing, they will do it later when everyone else is leaving, they just do it [by] themselves ” – Workshop 1 INDO (teachers).

Specific views on eggs

In East Lombok, Indonesia, there were no superstitions or traditional beliefs around the consumption of eggs. When asked specifically on their views of eggs, and if they would like to be provided with eggs, women in East Lombok said that they would be happy to accept eggs. They also mentioned that eggs were a food they commonly eat, feed to children and use for convenience. Eggs were considered healthy and were common in their house.

“ We choose eggs instead. If we don’t have time, we just probably do some omelettes or sunny side up. So, it happens, actually when we get up late, we don’t have much time to be able to escort our kids to the school, then we fry the eggs or cook the instant noodles. And it happens to all mothers. So, if my kids are being cranky, that’s what happens, I’m not going to cook proper meals so, probably just eggs and instant noodles.” – Workshop 3 INDO (Mothers).

Other important topics – food practices

Some detailed themes about food practices were heard in East Lombok, Indonesia. The women were responsible for buying and preparing the food, which they purchased daily mainly due to the cost (their husbands were paid daily and so provided them with a daily allowance) and lack of storage facilities. They also bought from mobile vendors who came to the street, because they could buy very small amounts and get occasional credit. The mother decided the menu for the family and cooked once per day in the morning: the family then took from this dish throughout the day. Mothers always washed their fruits and vegetables and tried to include protein in their meals when funds allowed: either meat, eggs, tofu or tempeh.

“ One meal a day. They [the mothers] cook one time and they [the children] can eat it all day long. Yes, they can take it all day long. They find that they like [to take the food], because they tend to feel hungry.” – Workshop 6 INDO (Mothers).

“ They shop every day because they don’t have any storage in their house and the other factor is because the husband has a daily wage. They don’t have monthly wage. In the morning, the husband gives the ladies the money and the ladies go to the shop for the food. ” – Workshop 4 INDO (Mothers).

In Kaffrine, the following themes emerged relating to an egg intervention: they were different in content and emphasis to Lombok and contained uniquely local cultural emphases.

Mothers were welcoming of eggs as a supplement to improve their health during pregnancy and acknowledged the importance of good nutrition during pregnancy. However, they also mentioned that their husbands can sometimes be resistant to accepting outside help and provided an example of a vaccination programme in which fathers were hesitant to participate. However, participants stated that the Government should be the source of assistance to them (but currently was not perceived to be so).

“But if these eggs are brought by external bodies, we will hesitate to take it. For example, concerning vaccination some fathers hesitate to vaccinate their children even if they are locals who are doing it. So, educating the fathers to accept this is really a challenge” – Workshop 11 SEN (CHWs).

Some traditional gender roles were found to be strong. The participants emphasised that men are considered the head of the household, as expected in Islam, with the mother as primary caregiver for children. This is reflected in the comments from participants regarding the importance of Islam and living their religious values. The men thus made the family decisions and would need to be informed and agree to any family participation in any intervention – regardless of the education level of the mother. The paternal grandmother also played a very important role in the family and may also make decisions for the family in the place of the father. Community Health Workers emphasised that educating paternal grandmothers was essential to improve access to healthcare for women.

“There are people who are not flexible with their wives and need to be informed. Sometimes the mother-in-law can decide the place of the husband. But still, the husband’s [permission] is still necessary.” – Workshop 1 SEN (CHWs).

“[We recommend] communication with mothers-in-law and the community. Raise awareness through information, emphasizing the well-being of women and children.” – Workshop 1 SEN (CHWs).

“The [grand]mothers take care of the children so that the daughters in-law will take care of them in return So it’s very bad for a daughter in law not to take care of her mother in-law. Society does not like people who distance themselves from children.” – Workshop 4 SEN (grandmothers).

Social hierarchies

In addition to hierarchies relating to gender/position in the family such as grandmothers have decision making power, there was some mention of social hierarchies in Kaffrine, Senegal. For example, during times of food stress it was said that political groups distribute food and elected officials who choose the neighbourhoods in which the food will be distributed. Neighbourhood leaders then decide to whom the food is distributed, meaning there is a feeling that some people are being left out.

“ It’s political groups that come to distribute food or for political purposes…organizations that often come to distribute food aid, but in general it is always subject to a selection on the part of elected officials, in particular the neighbourhood leaders, who select the people they like and who leave the others ” – Workshop 11 SEN (CHWs).

Participants explained that during mealtimes, the family will share food from one large plate from which the father will eat first as a sign of respect and courtesy. Sometimes, children would also eat in their neighbour’s house to encourage them to eat.

“ Yes, it happens that we use that strategy so that children can eat. Note that children like to imitate so that’s why we [send them to the neighbour’s house]” – Workshop 11 SEN (CHWs)”.

Traditional beliefs about malnutrition

In Kaffrine, Senegal, some participants spoke of traditional beliefs relating to malnutrition, which are believed by fewer people these days. For example, uncovered food might attract bad spirits, and any person who eats it will become ill. There were a number of food taboos spoken of which were thought to have negative consequences for the baby, for example watermelon and grilled meat which were though to lead to birth complications and bleeding. Furthermore, cold water was thought to negatively impact the baby. Groups spoke of a tradition known as “bathie” in which traditional healers wash stunted children with smoke.

“ There are traditional practices called (Bathie) which are practiced by traditional healers. Parents are flexible about the practice of Bathie ” – Workshop 1 SEN (CHWs).

Causes of malnutrition and stunting were thought to be a lack of a balanced diet, lack of vitamin A, disease, intestinal worms, poor hygiene, socio-cultural issues such as non-compliance with food taboos, non-compliance with exclusive breastfeeding and close pregnancies. Malnutrition was also thought by some to be hereditary. Numerous signs of malnutrition were well known amongst the groups in Kaffrine. For example, signs of malnutrition were thought to be a big bloated belly, diarrhoea, oedema of the feet, anaemia, small limbs and hair loss as well as other symptoms such as red hair and a pale complexion. Despite this, malnutrition was thought to be hard to identify in Kaffrine as not all children will visit health centres, but mothers do try to take their babies heights and weights monthly. The groups were aware of the effect of poverty on the likelihood of stunting as impoverished parents cannot afford food. Furthermore, the groups mentioned that there is some stigma towards stunted children, and they can face mockery from other children although most local people feel pity and compassion towards them. Malnourished children are referred to as Khiibon or Lonpogne in the local language of Wolof.

“ It is poverty that is at the root of malnutrition, because parents do not have enough money [and] will have difficulty feeding their families well, so it is the situation of poverty that is the first explanatory factor of malnutrition here in Kaffrine” – Workshop 9 SEN (administrators).

“It can happen that some children are the victim of jokes for example of mockery from children of their same age, but not from adults and older ” – Workshop 9 SEN (administrators).

Pregnancy beliefs

In Kaffrine, Senegal, there were concerns around close pregnancies, and pregnancies in women who were too young, and for home births. Within the communities there was a stigma around close pregnancies, which prevented them from attending antenatal appointments. Similarly, there were superstitions around revealing early pregnancies, which again delayed attendance at health centres.

Groups acknowledged the role of good nutrition, and mentioned some forbidden foods such as salty foods, watermelon and grilled meat (which sometimes related back to a traditional belief that negative impacts would be felt in the pregnancy such as birth complications and bleeding). Similarly, drinking cold water was thought to negatively affect the baby. Beneficial foods mentioned included vegetables and meat, during pregnancy.

“ Often when a woman has close pregnancies, she can be ashamed, and this particularly delays the time of consultation” – Workshop 5 SEN (CHWs).

“Yes, there are things that are prohibited for pregnant women like salty foods” – Workshop 11 SEN (CHWs).

In Kaffrine, Senegal, some participants spoke of a traditional belief that if a pregnant woman consumes eggs then her baby might be overweight, or have problems learning how to talk. Despite this, mothers in Kaffrine said that they would be happy to accept eggs as a supplement, although if supplements are provided that require preparation (such as powdered supplements), they would be less likely to accept them.

“These restrictions are traditional, and more women no longer believe that eggs will cause a problem to the child. But if these eggs are brought by external bodies, we will hesitate to take it.” – Workshop 11 SEN (CHWs).

“They don’t eat eggs before the child starts speaking (the child only eats eggs when he starts talking). This is because it’s very heavy and can cause bloating and may also lead to intestinal problems.” – Workshop 4 SEN (grandmothers).

Other important topics – access to health services

For the participants in Kaffrine, Senegal, accessing health services was problematic, particularly for pre- and post-natal appointments, which faced frequent delays. Some women had access due to poor roads and chose to give birth at home. Access issues were further compounded by poverty and social factors, as procedures in hospitals can be costly, and women with close pregnancies (soon after an earlier one) can feel shame from society and hide their pregnancy.

“Women really have problems of lack of finances. There are social services in the hospital; but those services rarely attend to women without finances. Even when a child dies at birth they will require money to do the necessary procedure ” – Workshop 11 SEN (CHWs).

Creation of the culturally-informed protocols

Recommendations that comprise a culturally-informed protocol for intervention design in each locality are given in Table 3 .

The Major Cultural Themes, and specific Egg Intervention Themes drawn out from only 9–11 carefully planned group sessions in each country provided a rich set of recommendations towards a culturally-informed protocol for the localised design of a proposed Egg Intervention for both East Lombok, Indonesia and Kaffrine, Senegal. A culturally-informed protocol designed in this way comprises cultural insights which are worthy of consideration in local intervention design and should guide future stages of engagement and provide a platform from which good rapport and trust can be built between researchers and the community [ 16 ]. For example, in Kaffrine, Senegal, the early involvement of husbands and grandmothers is crucial, which reflects values around shared decision making within families that are noted to be more prevalent in LMICs, in contrast to individualistic values in HICs [ 16 , 39 ]. Similarly, due to strong religious values in both East Lombok, Indonesia and Kaffrine, Senegal, partnerships with Islamic leaders is likely to improve engagement. Past studies show the crucial role that religious leaders can play in determining social acceptability of interventions, particularly around taboo topics such as birth spacing [ 40 ].

The WVIS plus PEX:FGD method demonstrated here produced both broad cultural themes from shared values, which were in a concise and easy-to-understand format which could be readily communicated with the wider Action Against Stunting Hub, as well as life practices relevant to stunting in Kaffrine, Senegal and in East Lombok, Indonesia. Discussions of shared values during the WVIS main workshop provided useful cultural background within each community. PEX:FGD discussion uncovered numerous cultural factors within local life practices that could influence on the Egg Intervention engagement and acceptability. Combining themes from the WVIS workshop and PEX:FGDs allowed for specific recommendations to be made towards a culturally-informed protocol for the design of an Egg Intervention that included both broad cultural themes and specific Intervention insights (Table 3 ). For example, in Kaffrine, Senegal, to know that the husband’s authoritative family decision-making for health care (specific) is rooted in Islamic foundations (wider cultural) points to an Intervention Recommendation within the protocol, involving consultations with Islamic Leaders to lead community awareness targeting fathers. Similarly, in East Lombok, Indonesia the (specific) behaviour of breastfeeding for 2 years was underpinned by (wider cultural) shared values of living in Islam. This understanding of local values could prevent the imposition of culturally misaligned values, which Bernal and Adames (2017) caution against [ 17 ].

There are a number of interesting overlaps between values seen in the WVIS Frameworks and Narratives and the categories of Schwartz (1992) and The World Values Survey (2023) [ 41 , 42 ]. For example, in both Kaffrine, Senegal and East Lombok, Indonesia, strong religious values were found, and the groups spoke of the importance of practicing their religion with daily habits. This would align with traditional and conservation values [ 41 , 43 ]. Furthermore, in Kaffrine, Senegal participants often mentioned the importance of mutual aid within the community, and similar values of togetherness and respect in the community were found in East Lombok, Indonesia. These would seem to align with traditional, survival and conservation values [ 41 , 43 ]. However, the values mentioned by the groups in the WVIS workshops are far more specific, and it is possible that through asking what is most worthwhile, valuable and meaningful about their context, the participants are able to prioritise which aspects of their values are most salient to their daily lives. Grounded shared values such as these are generally neglected in Global Health Research, and values predominant in the Global North are often assumed to be universal [ 14 ]. Thus, by excluding the use of a predefined external framework, we minimized the risk of imposing our own ideas of values in the community, and increased the relevance, significance and local validity of the elicited information [ 28 ].

Participatory methods of engagement are an essential step in conducting Global Health Research but there is currently a paucity of specific guidance for implementing participatory methods in vulnerable communities [ 16 , 44 ]. In addition, there is acknowledgement in the literature that it is necessary to come into communities in LMICs without assumptions about their held values, and to use bottom-up participatory approaches to better understand local values [ 14 , 16 ]. The WVIS plus PEX:FGD methodology highlighted here exemplifies a method that is replicable in multiple country contexts [ 28 , 32 ] and can be used to crystallize local In Situ Shared Values which can be easily communicated to external researchers. Coupled with the specialised FGD (PEX:FGD), values-based perceptions of specific topics (in this case stunting) can be elicited leading to the creation of specific Culture-based recommendations. This therefore takes steps to answer the call by Memon and colleagues (2021) for the creation of cultural protocols ahead of conducting research in order to foster ethical research relationships [ 16 ]. We believe that the potential usefulness of the WVIS approach to guide engagement and inform intervention design is effectively demonstrated in this study and WVIS offers a method of making explicit local values in a novel and valuable way.

However, we acknowledge that our approach has several limitations. It has relied heavily on the local university researchers to debate and decide which participant stakeholder groups should be chosen, and although they did this in the context of the Whole Child approach, it would have been advantageous to have involved cultural researchers with a deeper understanding of cultural structures, to ensure sufficient opportunities for key cultural elements to emerge. This would have in particular strengthened the intervention design derived from the PEX:FGD data. For example, we retrospectively realised that our study could have been improved if grandmothers had been engaged in East Lombok. Understanding this limitation leads to suggestion for further work: to specifically investigate the overlap of this approach with disciplinary studies of culture, where social interactions and structures are taken into account via formal frameworks.

There are more minor limitations to note. For example, the WVIS approach can only be led by a trained and experienced facilitator: not all researchers can do this. A training programme is currently under development that could be made more widely available through online videos and a Handbook. Secondly, although the groups recruited do not need to be representative of the local population, the number recruited should be increased until theoretical saturation is achieved of the themes which emerge, which was not carried out in this study as we focussed on demonstrating the feasibility of the tool. Thirdly, there is a limit to the number of topics that can be explored in the PEX:FGDs within the timeframe of one focus group (depending on the stamina of the participants), and so if a wider range of topics need formative research, then more workshops are needed. Lastly, this work took place in a large, highly collaborative project involving expert researchers from local countries as well as international experts in WVIS : other teams may not have these resources. However, local researchers who train in WVIS could lead on their own (and in this Hub project such training was available).

The need for better understanding, acknowledgement and integration of local culture and shared values is increasing as the field of Global Health Research develops. This study demonstrates that the WVIS plus PEX:FGD shared values approach provides an efficient approach to contextualise and localise interventions, through eliciting and making communicable shared values and local life practices which can be used towards the formation of a culturally-informed protocols. Were this method to be used for intervention design in future, it is possible that more focus should be given to existing social structures and support systems and a greater variety of stakeholders should be engaged. This study thus contributes to the literature on methods to culturally adapt interventions. This could have significant implications for improving the uptake of nutrition interventions to reduce malnutrition through improved social acceptability, which could help progression towards the goal of Zero Hunger set within the SDGs. The transferability and generalisability of the WVIS plus PEX:FGD approach should now be investigated further in more diverse cultures and for providing formative research information for a wider range of research themes. Future studies could also focus on establishing its scaling and pragmatic usefulness as a route to conceptualising mechanisms of social acceptability, for example a mechanism may be that in communities with strong traditional religious values, social hierarchies involving religious leaders and fathers exist and their buy-in to the intervention is crucial to its social acceptability. Studies could also focus on the comparison or combination of WVIS plus PEX:FGD with other qualitative methods used for intervention design and implementation.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request [email protected], Orcid number 0000–0002–1811-4597. These include deidentified Frameworks of Shared Values and Accompanying Narrative from each Group; deidentified Hub Insight Statements of relevant themes.

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We thank the Hub PI, Claire Heffernan, for feedback on a late draft of the manuscript.

The Action Against Stunting Hub is funded by the Medical Research Council through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), Grant No.: MR/S01313X/1.

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Annabel J. Chapman, Mahsa Firoozmand & Marie K. Harder

Department of Environmental Science and Engineering, Fudan University, Shanghai, People’s Republic of China

Chike C. Ebido, Rahel Neh Tening, Yanyan Huang & Marie K. Harder

Department of Zoology and Environmental Biology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria

Chike C. Ebido

Preventive Medicine and Public Health, Université Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD), Dakar, Senegal

Ndèye Marème Sougou

Faculty of Psychology, Universitas Islam Negeri Syarif Hidayatullah, Jakarta, Indonesia

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Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Centre for Food and Nutrition (SEAMEO RECFON) Universitas Indonesia, Jakarta, Indonesia

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MKH formulated the initial research question and study design. AJC developed the specific research question. Data collection in Senegal involved CCE, NMS, AHD, FBD, RNT, CEHAN and JM. Data collection in Indonesia involved RA, RK, YH and MKH. Cultural interpretation in Senegal Involved AHD, FBD, NMS, RNT and JM. Analysis involved AJC and MF. AJC and MKH wrote the paper.

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Chapman, A.J., Ebido, C.C., Tening, R.N. et al. Creating culturally-informed protocols for a stunting intervention using a situated values-based approach ( WeValue InSitu ): a double case study in Indonesia and Senegal. BMC Public Health 24 , 987 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-024-18485-y

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In the fall, we focused on supporting and guiding HUIT’s development of the AI Sandbox. The Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching’s annual conference , which focused exclusively on GenAI, had its highest participation in 10 years. Recently, we’ve been working with the research group to inform the development of tools that promise broad, generalizable use for faculty (e.g., tutorbots).

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Shaw: Our group has some incredible strength in researchers who are at the cutting edge of GenAI development and applications, but also includes voices that help us understand the real barriers to faculty and students starting to use these tools in their own research and scholarship. Working with the other teams, we have focused on supporting development and use of the GenAI sandbox, examining IP and security issues, and learning from different groups across campus how they are using these tools to innovate.

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Jelinkova: By using the group to share learnings from across Schools and units, we can better provide technologies to meet the community’s needs while ensuring the most responsible and sustainable use of the University’s financial resources. The connections within this group also inform the guidelines that we provide; by learning how generative AI is being used in different contexts, we can develop best practices and stay alert to emerging risks. There are new tools becoming available almost every day, and many exciting experiments and pilots happening across Harvard, so it’s important to regularly review and update the guidance we provide to our community.

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Jelinkova: Because this technology is rapidly evolving, we are continually tracking the release of new tools and working with our vendors as well as open-source efforts to ensure we are best supporting the University’s needs. We’re developing more guidance and hosting information sessions on helping people to understand the AI landscape and how to choose the right tool for their task. Beyond tools, we’re also working to build connections across Harvard to support collaboration, including a recently launched AI community of practice . We are capturing valuable findings from emerging technology pilot programs in HUIT , the EVP area , and across Schools. And we are now thinking about how those findings can inform guiding principles and best practices to better support staff.

While the GenAI groups are investigating these questions, Harvard faculty and scholars are also on the forefront of research in this space. Can you talk a bit about some of the interesting research happening across the University in AI more broadly ?

Shaw: Harvard has made deep investments in the development and application of AI across our campus, in our Schools, initiatives, and institutes — such as the Kempner Institute and Harvard Data Science Initiative. In addition, there is a critical role for us to play in examining and guiding the ethics of AI applications — and our strengths in the Safra and Berkman Klein centers, as examples, can be leading voices in this area.

What would be your advice for members of our community who are interested in learning more about generative AI tools?

Anand: I’d encourage our community to view the resources available on the new Generative AI @ Harvard website , to better understand how GenAI tools might benefit you.

There’s also no substitute for experimentation with these tools to learn what works, what does not, and how to tailor them for maximal benefit for your particular needs. And of course, please know and respect University policies around copyright and security.

We’re in the early stages of this journey at Harvard, but it’s exciting.

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Prestigious cancer research institute has retracted 7 studies amid controversy over errors

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Seven studies from researchers at the prestigious Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have been retracted over the last two months after a scientist blogger alleged that images used in them had been manipulated or duplicated.

The retractions are the latest development in a monthslong controversy around research at the Boston-based institute, which is a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. 

The issue came to light after Sholto David, a microbiologist and volunteer science sleuth based in Wales, published a scathing post on his blog in January, alleging errors and manipulations of images across dozens of papers produced primarily by Dana-Farber researchers . The institute acknowledged errors and subsequently announced that it had requested six studies to be retracted and asked for corrections in 31 more papers. Dana-Farber also said, however, that a review process for errors had been underway before David’s post. 

Now, at least one more study has been retracted than Dana-Farber initially indicated, and David said he has discovered an additional 30 studies from authors affiliated with the institute that he believes contain errors or image manipulations and therefore deserve scrutiny.

The episode has imperiled the reputation of a major cancer research institute and raised questions about one high-profile researcher there, Kenneth Anderson, who is a senior author on six of the seven retracted studies. 

Anderson is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the director of the Jerome Lipper Multiple Myeloma Center at Dana-Farber. He did not respond to multiple emails or voicemails requesting comment. 

The retractions and new allegations add to a larger, ongoing debate in science about how to protect scientific integrity and reduce the incentives that could lead to misconduct or unintentional mistakes in research. 

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has moved relatively swiftly to seek retractions and corrections. 

“Dana-Farber is deeply committed to a culture of accountability and integrity, and as an academic research and clinical care organization we also prioritize transparency,” Dr. Barrett Rollins, the institute’s integrity research officer, said in a statement. “However, we are bound by federal regulations that apply to all academic medical centers funded by the National Institutes of Health among other federal agencies. Therefore, we cannot share details of internal review processes and will not comment on personnel issues.”

The retracted studies were originally published in two journals: One in the Journal of Immunology and six in Cancer Research. Six of the seven focused on multiple myeloma, a form of cancer that develops in plasma cells. Retraction notices indicate that Anderson agreed to the retractions of the papers he authored.

Elisabeth Bik, a microbiologist and longtime image sleuth, reviewed several of the papers’ retraction statements and scientific images for NBC News and said the errors were serious. 

“The ones I’m looking at all have duplicated elements in the photos, where the photo itself has been manipulated,” she said, adding that these elements were “signs of misconduct.” 

Dr.  John Chute, who directs the division of hematology and cellular therapy at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and has contributed to studies about multiple myeloma, said the papers were produced by pioneers in the field, including Anderson. 

“These are people I admire and respect,” he said. “Those were all high-impact papers, meaning they’re highly read and highly cited. By definition, they have had a broad impact on the field.” 

Chute said he did not know the authors personally but had followed their work for a long time.

“Those investigators are some of the leading people in the field of myeloma research and they have paved the way in terms of understanding our biology of the disease,” he said. “The papers they publish lead to all kinds of additional work in that direction. People follow those leads and industry pays attention to that stuff and drug development follows.”

The retractions offer additional evidence for what some science sleuths have been saying for years: The more you look for errors or image manipulation, the more you might find, even at the top levels of science. 

Scientific images in papers are typically used to present evidence of an experiment’s results. Commonly, they show cells or mice; other types of images show key findings like western blots — a laboratory method that identifies proteins — or bands of separated DNA molecules in gels. 

Science sleuths sometimes examine these images for irregular patterns that could indicate errors, duplications or manipulations. Some artificial intelligence companies are training computers to spot these kinds of problems, as well. 

Duplicated images could be a sign of sloppy lab work or data practices. Manipulated images — in which a researcher has modified an image heavily with photo editing tools — could indicate that images have been exaggerated, enhanced or altered in an unethical way that could change how other scientists interpret a study’s findings or scientific meaning. 

Top scientists at big research institutions often run sprawling laboratories with lots of junior scientists. Critics of science research and publishing systems allege that a lack of opportunities for young scientists, limited oversight and pressure to publish splashy papers that can advance careers could incentivize misconduct. 

These critics, along with many science sleuths, allege that errors or sloppiness are too common , that research organizations and authors often ignore concerns when they’re identified, and that the path from complaint to correction is sluggish. 

“When you look at the amount of retractions and poor peer review in research today, the question is, what has happened to the quality standards we used to think existed in research?” said Nick Steneck, an emeritus professor at the University of Michigan and an expert on science integrity.

David told NBC News that he had shared some, but not all, of his concerns about additional image issues with Dana-Farber. He added that he had not identified any problems in four of the seven studies that have been retracted. 

“It’s good they’ve picked up stuff that wasn’t in the list,” he said. 

NBC News requested an updated tally of retractions and corrections, but Ellen Berlin, a spokeswoman for Dana-Farber, declined to provide a new list. She said that the numbers could shift and that the institute did not have control over the form, format or timing of corrections. 

“Any tally we give you today might be different tomorrow and will likely be different a week from now or a month from now,” Berlin said. “The point of sharing numbers with the public weeks ago was to make clear to the public that Dana-Farber had taken swift and decisive action with regard to the articles for which a Dana-Farber faculty member was primary author.” 

She added that Dana-Farber was encouraging journals to correct the scientific record as promptly as possible. 

Bik said it was unusual to see a highly regarded U.S. institution have multiple papers retracted. 

“I don’t think I’ve seen many of those,” she said. “In this case, there was a lot of public attention to it and it seems like they’re responding very quickly. It’s unusual, but how it should be.”

Evan Bush is a science reporter for NBC News. He can be reached at [email protected].


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Social class origin and job quality in the United Kingdom

24 April 2024, 1:00 pm–2:00 pm

Cheerful young man sitting in office with laptop. Adobe Stock / bnenin.

Join this event to hear Mark Williams explore class origin gaps in five domains of (non-pay) job quality: non-pay rewards, prospective opportunities, work-life balance, job design, and workplace relations in the United Kingdom.

This event is free.

Event Information


In recent years, research has documented that those from working class origins are paid substantially less than those from middle-class origins, even within the same destination class (‘the class pay gap’). At the same time, there has been growing academic and policy interest in the notion of ‘job quality’, an umbrella term denoting the multiple dimensions of what makes jobs ‘good’ and ‘bad’, which includes, but is not limited to, pay.

This seminar explores class origin gaps in five domains of (non-pay) job quality. Across 10 job quality indicators, Mark will discuss how class origin gaps, most of which cannot be completely accounted for by compositional factors such as qualifications and class destinations, imply the ‘class ceiling’ extends to job quality more broadly – concluding that social mobility research and debates must factor in job quality.

This event will be particularly useful for those interested in the labour market, social class, pay gap, and the class ceiling.

Please note this is a hybrid event and can be joined either in-person or online.

Related links

  • QSS and CLS seminar series
  • Quantitative Social Science
  • Centre for Longitudinal Studies
  • Social Research Institute

About the Speaker

Professor mark williams.

Professor of Human Resource Management at the School of Business and Management at Queen Mary University of London

Mark researches socio-economic disparities in the quality of jobs in the United Kingdom. Much of his work has focused on pay disparities across occupations and classes.

Over the years, his work has branched out into working conditions more broadly (e.g., job insecurity, job control) as well as in workers’ attitudes to their jobs (e.g., job satisfaction, job meaningfulness). More recently, his research has explored the relationship between labour market regulation and the quality of jobs.

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