Today, in partnership with Locality and Leeds Beckett University we publish our guidance for effective case studies produced by voluntary, community, and social enterprise organisations. Last week, we updated our evidence review on places and spaces to incorporate a synthesis of case study evidence.
What have we learnt about commissioning voluntary, community, and social enterprise organisations to do case studies? In short, that they are keen to tell their stories and that providing some guidance and structure can help them do so more effectively.
Case studies are a powerful evidence tool. They can show the rich and granular detail of how projects or interventions are implemented, what works well, what doesn’t, and what the lessons are for others. They also capture experiences that could otherwise be lost either because learning isn’t captured at all or because it is smothered by poor research methods.
In community practice, case studies are particularly important: no two places are the same and using case studies to show the impact of an intervention or project and how it was achieved in one location can provide valuable learning for how to make similar plans work elsewhere.
The big challenge identified as the catalyst for this project is that despite widespread recognition of the value of case study evidence by policymakers and practitioners and the regularity with which case studies are produced in community practice, there is a lack of consensus on the best method for synthesising evidence across multiple case studies.
This is important in order to systematically capture evidence from community practice and to scale-up case study evidence to make it more than the sum of its parts. Having a consistent process for this opens the ability to draw conclusions and make recommendations about what works from the foundations of a range of case study examples.
“At Locality, the national network of community organisations, there are so many incredible case studies of groups supporting community wellbeing and improving local places and spaces. This project provided an opportunity to strengthen the position of case study material in research and commissioning and give prominence to the importance of case study data within community settings.”
“As researchers, while we often collect lots of case study evidence from community organisations, there is no specific guidance on the best way to use this information. This project allowed us to develop a method to systematically bring this information together in a meaningful way.”
We pitched an expression of interest to Locality’s Health and Wellbeing Network to get involved in the project; we asked them to complete a case study template we had designed to share with us examples of their practice to promote community wellbeing (you can see some examples here). We had specific criteria for the case studies – they needed to be related to community wellbeing and infrastructure (places and spaces) – and they needed to capture existing evidence, rather than requiring new data collection.
This is what we’ve learnt from the process about commissioning case studies:
- There is an appetite among community organisations to share their knowledge. We had a really good initial response rate from Locality members. They recognised the value in academic partnerships such as this, when there is a tangible outcome and an opportunity to strengthen evidence-based approaches that recognise the complexity of community-based work.
- There is a need for tools which support evidence collection and evaluation around community wellbeing. During conversations with Locality members who were interested in being part of the project, there was a real interest in using the tools developed – the case study template – to tell their stories and share with us their learning. There was a real diversity in community practice and the templates provided a structure for organisations to tell us their stories in a way that allowed us to bring this learning together.
- Testing the tools generated useful feedback. Overall, members found the template clear and user friendly. Through our conversations with Locality members we were able to amend the template to be both more user friendly and capture the information needed to make useful comparisons. There were some elements that members particularly valued being able to capture – such as the ability to reflect on wider partnerships and collaborations relevant to their projects.