Sunday, August 29, 2010

Case Studies

Kevin raised the issue of case studies in psychology as a research tool. Another prominent use of the case study method is in business schools, particularly for MBA classes. These are essentially vignettes, often based on actual events, where students are presented with real-world business dilemmas and asked to come up with solutions in time-pressured environments working either individually or in teams. Some examples of the Harvard case studies are linked here. Case studies are less prominently used in teaching Economics (though examples welcome). There are a lot of potential advantages to integrating them in that they encourage a lot of debate and force people to think about how textbook material applies in less defined settings.


Rob Gillanders said...

I'm coming around to the idea of evidence beyond econometrics. When Michelle D'arcy presented in our Ph.D. seminar series, she used something called a "least likely case" to back up her theory and regressions. Was very nice supporting evidence and I'm told it is common enough in PS. Defo seems like something that could be useful as an additional tool in development econ. anyway.

Kevin Denny said...

I think the issue is what do you use the case studies for (i) an illustration of a principle which has been established by other means or (ii) to actually draw conclusions or (iii) maybe something else. So economists think it might be okay to do (i) but certainly not (ii). That is a difference with psychology: case studies there have been very informative (as I understand it).
As for whether there is life or even research beyond econometrics, thats a big question. Economics is focused firmly on outcomes and the things that determine them but we have zero interest in the processes by which the outcomes happen. The production function is a good example: what goes on in there is not my department.
This is very different, I think, from say biology where yes they want to know if some substance has an effect on some living matter but understanding the process is important.
Case studies may be a way of getting inside some of the black-boxes that litter economics though there is always the problem of inference from tiny samples.