• What is the case study approach, and what types of case studies are applicable in information settings?
• What are reliability and validity, and how can these be achieved in a qualitative research project?
The case study approach
In the introduction it was stated that this book uses the terms ‘qualitative research’, ‘case study’ and ‘fieldwork’ in specific ways, each bearing a working relationship to the other terms rather than being synonymous with them. Up to this point we have been discussing qualitative research as a type of investigation in information work, seeking to describe its unique characteristics and distinctive features. We now need to talk about the particular type of qualitative research known as the case study. In this book we define a case study as follows:
an in-depth investigation of a discrete entity (which may be a single setting, subject, collection or event) on the assumption that it is possible to derive knowledge of the wider phenomenon from intensive investigation of a specific instance or case.
The ‘case study approach’ thus refers to application of specific qualitative research methods in a specific setting. The process of application, or fieldwork, is discussed in the following chapter. Because the case study approach is, for the most part, limited to a single setting, subject or event, it projects an aura of containment in space and time that appeals to those faced with the daunting task of first-time investigation. However, it must be recognized that concentrating on a single site or event is in no way inferior to (and certainly no easier than) more complex techniques, for it requires a depth of investigation that is both rigorous and thorough – a single site case study is not synonymous with superficiality.
In the actual practice of qualitative research, ‘case study’ is a blanket category that applies to a number of research types, each of which has particular benefits and procedures. These are described in some detail by Werner and Schoepfle. In the context of information work there are several types most likely to be employed by researchers: observational case studies, interview case studies, organizational case studies, life history case studies, and multi-site and comparative case studies.