Where to get Good Cases

Initial Publication Date: November 13, 2009

How Cases are used

Cases can be a great way to motivate students to learn new material by helping students appreciate the need for the theoretical framework or empirical tools you plan for them to learn. These cases give students motivation by asking them to develop good answers to the questions posed by the case. Cases that are designed to teach theory, probably the most challenging application of the case method, should be focused on solving a well-defined problem, and provide enough theory to give students the chance to arrive at a solution if they apply the new theory during the classroom discussion. Cases used as applications work best when they require students to choose which theoretical concepts or empirical tools are most appropriate, and create a framework in which students cannot solve the problem unless they think deeply about the analytical tools they have learned and the types of questions they can address.

Characteristics of good Cases

Good teaching cases:

  • Are as short as possible. Although many long cases are available, shorter cases enable students to work closely with the material and master the facts of the case. Cases longer than 15 pages of text are often more than undergraduate students can handle.
  • Encourage students to work with evidence. The ideal case allows students to hone their ability to use evidence by including both quantitative and qualitative data of varying degrees of relevance (including potentially irrelevant data) presented in a range of forms (narrative, quotes, tables, charts, graphs).
  • Ask students to make a decision or evaluation. Decision-forcing cases, in which the student takes the point of view of an actor who must make a choice, tend to engage students most easily, but equally effective cases can be constructed around evaluations of existing policies whose outcomes are known.
  • Are vital and contain realistic detail, and are set in rich political and social contexts.

Sources of published Cases

Some good sources of published cases are:

  • Harvard Business School -- although they are intended for business students, many of them address economic and political issues as well, and can be used in sociology and psychology courses.
  • Kennedy School of Government -- a wide range of well-written cases on public affairs, usable in courses in economics, sociology, political science, environmental studies and international affairs.
  • Pew Case Studies in International Affairs -- longer and very detailed cases good for higher level audiences in international affairs.
  • European Case Clearing House -- mostly cases in management, but with a strong international focus and policy orientation.
  • The Electronic Hallway -- cases in public administration, public policy, and related subjects including economic development, education, environment and land use, human services, international affairs, nonprofit, state and local government issues, utility and transit issues, and urban and regional issues.

Creating your own Cases

The examples page contains a number of cases developed by instructors. The advantages of creating your own case are that you can customize it to the level of your students (many published cases are intended for graduate students), you can update the information to keep it current, you can tailor it to a particular pedagogical purpose and you get to control the length and complexity of the text. The inspiration for a case can come from a variety of sources (one of the examples is based on a coupon the instructor received while on a Maine vacation), though they often begin with stories from the news. It is not necessary to write the whole narrative -- it can be quite effective to bring together published news stories (including audio and video material students can access on line) with some background material or some framing narrative constructed by the author.

The important thing to keep in mind is that the materials you use to make a case should contain the background and information students need, but not contain analysis. This may mean removing some analytical material from the published sources, or adding some factual or definitional information to the published story. The questions you add to guide student preparation will help focus their attention on the parts of the story you wish to highlight.