What exactly is a case study?
In the simplest terms, a case study is a short story that provides a snapshot and gives an insight into what you do and how you do it. It is a method that an organisation can use to illustrate the way you work and the impact that your service has had on an individual, company or client.
A good case study will tell the reader three main things:
- WHAT: the specific problem you needed to address
- HOW: your approach to solving this problem
- WHY: the end result
Why should you bother?
Case studies can be powerful and persuasive tools and, here at Active Outcomes, we feel they are one of the best ways to tell the world what you can offer. When they are done right they tell a story, giving real-life examples that fully explain to people exactly how you solved the problems of your customers, clients, or service users.
They can highlight your success and generate some great publicity. As an added bonus, they are far more interesting than statistics, facts and figures, though, of course, these can be integral to the case study too.
What really sets a good case study apart is the fact that it is personal. It tells the story of an individual set of circumstances, detailing the journey you take with your clients to achieve better outcomes for them and for your own organisation.
When Active Outcomes write a case study our starting point is always to establish your exact reason for wanting one. By understanding what you hope the study will achieve we can decide how to structure it and will consider:
- Target audience;
- What kind of language and tone of voice to use;
- Where will it be published;
- What situation to cover – a typical interaction, a specific story with individual circumstances, your ideal client, your greatest achievement;
- Who to interview; and
- The kind of questions we’ll need to ask to gain the information needed.
We use this information to create a framework that will inform us as to what you want the case study to say. We can then ask far more strategic open-ended questions when we interview people, this helps us keep the conversation flowing and ensures that the information we gather will meet the needs you’ve identified for the case study to fill.
When we interview the Case Study subject, we endeavour to capture the essence of their story and to tell it using their own words as much as possible.
As firm believers in the “less is more” mantra – we like to keep Case Studies brief and prefer to work within the constraints of a single page of A4 as a rule, this is around 500 words of text.
Example Case Studies
We have worked with a local Home-Start charity to draft two Case Studies to highlight the fantastic support they provide to families with young children. Home-Start offer home-visiting volunteer support to help the parents of young children who are struggling overcome various issues.
Home-Start Hull asked us to write two studies, one to tell the story of their service users, the family; and the other to tell the story of the volunteer who worked with that family to deliver their service. This gave a great insight into the way that both family and volunteer viewed the service and what they felt they had achieved as a result of their interaction with Home-Start.
We interviewed the volunteer and family over the phone and told their stories in the two case studies we’ve included below. These were submitted to a funding body as evidence supporting a funding Evaluation Report that Active Outcomes produced.
Check out the PDF versions of the family and volunteer case studies by clicking on the links below:
As you can see from the two examples, the case studies included:
- Direct quotes that helped tell the story;
- A summary of the issues faced by the volunteer/family;
- Details of how Home-Start worked with them to overcome the problem;
- Pictures to help illustrate the work they did;
- The end result and outcomes achieved; and
- Guaranteed anonymity for the family as they asked that their name be changed.
Our Top Tips
- Keep it simple: don’t use complicated jargon;
- Have a strong opening: hook the reader right from the start (think about the beginning of a newspaper article, how the journalist will cover the “who, what, where, why and when” in a few sentences, straight away, and then go on to give more detail);
- Less is more: people are busy, respect their time and your own, and keep your story brief to leave them wanting to know more;
- Consider your audience: it is so important to think carefully about who will read the Case Study and what you want them to take away from it, if it is a funding body you may want to stress the added value you gave and the eventual outcomes for the service user that their money funded the interaction with, if it is for a potential new client, on the other hand, you need to show how your approach to solving a similar problem can tie in well with their company culture;
- Use direct quotes: wherever possible, let people tell their story in their own words;
- Permission: as best practice, you should aim to get the person or organisation who is the focus of the case study to sign off on the draft before it goes public, that way you know they are happy with the way you have chosen to interpret and present their story. This becomes more vital when the participant asks that you respect their privacy by using a pseudonym to maintain their anonymity.
For more information about gaining consent for consultations check out our Cheat Sheet to help you gain consent – available here.