WDI Perspective: Localizing the Case Study Method

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The case study – an in-depth examination of a concrete business scenario for instructional purposes – is the gold standard of management training pedagogy, and for good reason.

Prof. John Branch leads a STRIDE Case Writing & Publishing Workshop in the Philippines.

“Case studies put the students in the driver’s seat,” said John Branch, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, who leads WDI workshops on case study pedagogy. “It is really the next best thing to learning on the job.”

With cases so directly impacting students’ overall training, case specifics matter considerably. And where a case is located especially matters.

A recent study by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) found that 87 percent of written case studies are based in “developed” countries. Even more tellingly, a miniscule 0.4 percent of case studies taught in business schools globally are set in “least developed countries.”

This is perhaps unsurprising within a certain paradigm of development, in which economic change begins by emulating success at the top rather than identifying local assets. Yet it has consequences. For one, schools in emerging markets end up teaching management, science, engineering – disciplines that traditionally drive economic growth – from a playbook that does not include local players. Disproportionately building a curriculum around the experiences of foreign corporations does not cultivate a localized entrepreneurial mentality in students, and can ill-prepare them for transitioning into the local workforce.

The STRIDE (Science, Technology, Research and Innovation for Development) project is a five-year, multi-million dollar effort funded by USAID in partnership with RTI International. The project’s goal is to strengthen applied research activity at Philippine universities and in industry. The cases are the result of workshops led by WDI case writing professionals and are among the first to be written by Filipino academics about domestic organizations. Topics include science, entrepreneurship, healthcare, engineering and more.

The STRIDE program’s Case Writing & Publishing Workshop attempts to support a new paradigm in the Philippines by equipping Philippines-based professors from diverse schools to produce and teach local cases. Starting with a three-day case workshop, the educators receive hands-on guidance on how to write cases as well as teach using the case method.

In the months following the workshop, many of these professors publish their own cases under the guidance of WDI case experts. As the database of cases grows on, professors are able to source students’ industry exposure with examples based in the Philippines, instilling a mindset that Filipino companies and organizations will be the work contexts of the future for new graduates – and exciting ones at that. Beyond the immediate effects this has on the classroom experience, where the workforce of the future is prepared, the project is designed to create real linkages between industry and academe spanning a variety of research-focused fields.

I recently met with seven members of the project’s inaugural cohort of 35 (who represented 18 institutions) to learn about their experiences and successes following from the project, how they are paying forward their knowledge, and their recommendations for strengthening the project’s impact. Each of the seven, representing five institutions and several fields and classroom contexts, successfully published an original case study.

For a relatively small group, I learned that they are using their cases in a variety of educational contexts. These include a farmers’ cooperative, a three-campus consortium program, an open-enrollment online class, introductory undergraduate, upper-level graduate and post-graduate courses, and in disiciplines ranging from healthcare to social entrepreneurship to engineering. A year after their training, all seven express greater confidence teaching cases and commitment to further improving their technique. And, tellingly, all seven are interested in writing additional cases.

Raquel Laquiores of the Technological Institute of the Philippines (TIP) exemplifies this experience.

“I realized how it would be beneficial not just for my students but for all the other learners around the world,” she said. “I also gained confidence in my capacity as a teacher.”

Like others, she is interested in developing her case writing. “It is essential that we continuously write cases for us to enhance this skill,” she said.

Most of the professors report plans to share their new expertise with colleagues. Several aim to convene “echo seminars” on case writing among their own faculties, like Glenn Baticados of the Department of Agribusiness Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños.

“We came to the realization, ‘Hey, the department needs to come up with a standard way of teaching cases at the university,’” he said. “We have been able to echo what we heard from the program, and right now we are in a stage of coming up with our own seminar on how to teach cases at the university.”

Such peer-to-peer dissemination is an intended goal of the five-year STRIDE case project, now entering its third year.

Following the success of the first workshop, WDI convened a second workshop in April 2015 for a cohort of 34, which collectively produced 22 new cases. These case have recently been released by WDI Publishing as part of The Philippines Case Collection. A third workshop is planned for March 2016.

This article was written by Nathan Rauh-Bieri, a program coordinator for WDI’s Education Initiative.

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