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Methods in Case Study Analysis

by Linda T. Kohn, Ph.D.

The use of case studies as a research methodology has grown in recent years because of the rapid changes in the health system today and the inability of traditional data sources to answer important questions. Many users of case study information value the data, but are uncomfortable with the small number of cases included in any given study and the uncertainty associated with interpreting the data. As more researchers pursue this methodology, it is important to recognize that numerous methodological strategies related to implementing such research can enhance the reliability and validity of the findings.

This report addresses a number of methodological issues related to conducting case study analyses. The first section discusses the design of case studies: why they are done, the importance of theory, defining and selecting cases for study and designing the instrument for gathering data.

The second section considers the analysis and interpretation of qualitative data and describes the "horizontal" logic at the core of case study analysis. The use of data displays are described and an example is included. This section also describes the method of replication for analyzing themes across multiple cases.

The Third Section of the paper considers issues related to validity and reliability, and the final section identifies a series of tensions inherent in the case study methodology for researchers to consider as they implement their work.

This report is not intended as a "how-to" for con-ducting case studies, but rather is a recognition of important points to be taken into account by people conducting this kind of research and for people who read the results.

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