Case Study Methodology

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My starting point has been to draw a rich picture of the thoughts and actions of individuals within a certain organisation at a certain time and use these observations to make some conclusions that may be applicable to organisations that are interested in taking a similar approach. A case study approach is best suited to this. Cohen et al (2007) explain that case studies “strive to portray ‘what it is like’ to be in a particular situation, to catch the close up reality” (2007:254). They also draw on Hitchcock and Hughes (1995) to identify several defining features of a case study in particular that “it focuses on individual actors or groups of actors, and seeks to understand their perceptions of events (2007:253). The data for this case study has all been collected through interviews with employees of Netskills and infoNet with the aim of building up a picture of the attitudes within the organisation towards storytelling and digital storytelling.

Yin (2003) talks about the theory development as an essential part of the design process, essentially saying that a case study’s purpose is either to test existing theory or to develop a new one. Yin refers to Sutton and Staw’s (1995) definition of a theory as “a [hypothetical] story about why acts, events, structure, and thought occur” (1995: 378). Regarding developing new theories, the scope of this research is too limited to be able to generalise its findings into theory that could be tested with confidence in other contexts. The sample is too small, it studies only one organisation and the work in digital storytelling is itself at a nascent stage so the timeframe is too narrow. From the point of view of testing existing theory there is no established theory relating to the specific use of digital storytelling within organisations. There are theoretical underpinnings to the understanding of narrative and sense-making as set out in the literature review so what this case study aims to do is to establish whether there are any parallels that can be drawn from the wider literature to the specific work that Netskills is engaged in.

Yin (2003) says that one of the measures of quality of a case study is its “external validity”, or the level to which the findings are generalisable beyond the case study. I have not attempted to use this research as the basis for a theory-based template that could be used with other organisations although there may be some lessons that others could draw from it that might inform practice in other contexts. The principle aim was to look closely at an aspect of Netskills’ work, partly as a record of where the organisation was at a moment in time, but also to form the basis for further work in the area. If anyone were to try to replicate what has been written about here, then any recommendations would have to be specifically tailored for that new situation.

What type of case study is this?

Depending on the outcomes of a case study Yin (2003) identifies three different types;

  • Exploratory – a preliminary study to set the ground work for other studies or research questions
  • Descriptive – a narrative account of a particular situation
  • Explanatory – a study that test a particular theory

This case study falls somewhere between descriptive and explanatory. It seeks to go beyond just reporting on the situation but, as stated above, doesn’t have a strong link to a particular theory, either to test or develop one.

Merriam’s alternative description of case study types (1988, cited in Cohen et al (2007)) are closer to this particular research:

  • Descriptive – as with Yin, a narrative account
  • Interpretative – “developing conceptual categories inductively in order to examine initial assumptions” (Cohen et al 2007)
  • Evaluative – coming to a judgement that explains a situation.

By these criteria, this research is perhaps closest to an interpretative case study. I describe later in the methods section of this chapter how the data from the interviews was classified into themes to break down the issues around digital storytelling in organisations into conceptual categories. The data in these themes is then related back to the original research questions. I stop short of drawing theoretical conclusions which would have made this a truly evaluative case study.

The Role of Participant Observer

To gather data I have had to fulfil the role of a participant observer, rather than collecting data indirectly and I need to be up front about my position as researcher as it may have an impact on the reliability of the data that has been collected as well as its analysis.

I have been an employee of Netskills for 3 years at the time of writing and so I’m connected to the participants professionally and socially. There are particular benefits to this as it has meant that gaining access to participants has been relatively easy (of the people approached to take part, none declined) and the good relations I have with my colleagues means that there wasn’t a need to spend time building rapport before the interviews. It has also meant that during the interviews I was able to understand some of the frames of reference in participants’ responses without the need for additional explanation and I was able to prompt interviewees by asking to consider events and conversations that had happened previously.

There are, however, aspects of my role that may have influenced what participants disclosed to me during interviews or how I subsequently chose to analyse the data. This should be taken into account when reading the data analysis, discussion and conclusion sections of this dissertation. Although there is widespread interest in storytelling within Netskills and infoNet I was responsible for introducing many of my colleagues to digital storytelling when I first joined the company through an introductory presentation and the subsequent development of a workshop that became part of Netskills’ portfolio. I have blogged about many aspects of storytelling and held numerous conversations. I am not solely responsible for my colleagues’ understanding of the topic and its related issues but there remains the possibility that elements of what was said during the interviews were influenced to a degree by my activities over the last few years. To mitigate this I have tried to include in my survey sample people I have worked closely with on storytelling activities as well as people I have not.

Also, it could be argued that my role as an employee of Netskills means that I have an interest in portraying the organisation in as positive a light as possible. Aside from the time to conduct interviews within work hours and support in some technical aspects of the production of this dissertation I have not received funding from Netskills  and there has been no editorial control over what I have written. I could have chosen to keep the organisation of study anonymous but I felt that in order to build up the richest picture I needed to be able to place my research in the real world for the reader. This was done with permission from the director. In any event it wouldn’t take too much detective work to identify the organisation from my social media history.

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