CASE STUDIES AS A SOURCE TO LEARN TO RESEARCH FOR ONESELF AND FOR OTHERS
A case study makes the researcher a living instrument within the framework of the case study. It both enables and requires the researcher to use his/her interest and opens the door to his/her learning. The researcher as a living resource provides access to management and organizational phenomena and their connections. This accessibility exists both inside and outside the organization, for science as well as for other managers and consultants. Through this reflected interest, hidden phenomena and critical points of interventions into organizations become accessible for research.
The researcher uses interviews to obtain multiple perspectives on critical points, thus generating material which is reflected on through the application of course theory. He/she perceives and comprehends different interests and contexts, achieving a necessary distance from the existing patterns of perception, learning, and change. The respective phenomena in management and consulting are explored and translated into a language comprehensible to all involved stakeholders and other interested parties. In doing so the researcher contributes to the well-being of different stakeholders in relation to their organization. The researcher gains new options for action for him/herself and the organization.
The advisor's experience on master's theses has shown that a case study can become a comprehensive approach which makes the unexamined visible:
• The researcher who is emotionally entangled gets support from a group of researchers and instructors. This assistance helps the researcher to disentangle and step back in order to gain the necessary distance for his or her own perception and action.
• A research diary is used to absorb emotional pressure so that it can be processed or worked through.
• Practitioners experience theory as a useful exploratory and descriptive tool. In this way a case study can be seen as an emancipating approach which generates knowledge and opportunities for development:
- For researchers and their own practice as managers o For companies and their staff
- For other organizations and for academic research.
Practice has shown that a case study where emotional aspects are included and consciously used becomes a rich and highly reflective technique. In such a case, organizations as well as the people living and working in them gain new access to the phenomena of organizations and management. Against the background of the interplay of different interpretations and interests, the culture of learning receives the central focus it deserves.
Figure 5.4. The researcher as a living source (Spindler & Schmerold, 2010, p. 2).
CONCLUSIONS: THE LEARNING POTENTIAL OF CASE STUDIES
Precise observation of the two programs shows that learning for future action is not a coincidence. The learning potential of case studies can be supported in various ways and requires a conscious decision of the concept of learning.
Research Case Study—MBA Communication and Leadership: The focal point is organizational learning from the past in order to use it for oneself and the organization as a new set of perceptions for future challenges. The company's organizational learning from the past is clearly systematized. Past organizational action is observed from a stricter learning orientation, which shifts the focus to the organization's learning potential for the future.
Action Research Case Study—MSc Organization Development: Through the linking of various levels of action along the problem-solving cycle of action research: observation—interpretation—planning—implementation—observation, the practitioner's involvement and scientific reflection is interwoven in the change process. Thus he or she is forced to separate the frameworks for action and reflection more clearly in order to be able to use them better as drivers for his or her own learning.
Valid points for both types of case studies include: The focus changes from an emotionally involved position to a research perspective; this role change is based on the students' obligation to find and use sources through which emotions and actions are scientifically justified. The shift of the focus is:
• From daily business and emotional behavior to well-grounded, reasonable interpretations;
• From self-focused observation to observing from a "third perspective" which includes stakeholder's views and improves the systemic perspective;
• From practitioner to expert for analysis within the organization while it is changing.
As a vehicle for creating distance and new perspectives into the past the case study results in new opportunities for action in the future. The MBA and MSc programs ensure the managers and consultants a helping environment to distance themselves from their own working contexts. The other students with business backgrounds, the instructors and the program's theoretical background all enable the practitioners to step back from their own mindsets and emotional involvements and develop a critical perspective towards their own situations and interventions. Hence a case study is a living contribution enabling consultants, managers, and organizations to move more effectively within a constantly changing environment and to expand their repertoire of sustainable observations and actions for the future.
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