The case method, as we know it and support it at The Case Centre, is a broad church encompassing and encouraging diversity in case writing and in approaches to case discussion. This range and diversity of approach, setting and location, and protagonist, is at the heart of delivering our mission to advance the case method worldwide, sharing knowledge, wisdom and experience to inspire and transform business education across the globe.
And so we should be careful to avoid using that familiar shorthand “Harvard’s case study method” to refer to the case method in all its rich and diverse entirety.
Harvard’s approach, wonderful though it is, is one of the many varied and diverse approaches found and explored by practitioners of the case method around the world, reflecting their own cultures, attitudes and needs.
The phrase resurfaces in a recent Poets & Quants article Is It Time to Retire The Harvard Case Study? where yet again the case method comes under attack from critics for whom the Harvard template is synonymous with the case method.
The article is useful in drawing attention to some criticisms of the case study method, such as:
- failing to understand the relationship between business and society
- lacking in relevance and outdated
- perpetuating rather than challenging existing managerialist power structures
- excluding the voices of those who are poor, oppressed or discriminated against.
These criticisms must be addressed by all of us for whom the case method remains the most striking and impactful way of bringing meaningful experience of decision making into the classroom. Case authors should bear them in mind when researching and writing their next case.
But I think the picture is more complicated than the article has room to portray.
Some critics are too quick to use “Harvard” and “the case method” generically, while others use each as a stick with which to beat the other.
Just as Harvard cases are only part of the huge diversity of cases available and still being written, so, too, is the case only part of the totality of the case method. The case method is a combination of research, case writing and teaching. It is only fully realised as a living synthesis of the case delivered, examined, explored through class discussion.
Teachers, too, have a responsibility to address these criticisms, and they can do that in how they require students to prepare for class and how the discussion is hosted and facilitated in class.
According to the article, some critics suggest that the case method emphasises teaching students about how one thinks rather than what one thinks, or that case scenarios or protagonists exclude a range of voices.
Why not challenge that when questioning the class and stimulating the case discussion?
Most of all, be vocal in talking about your own approaches to case writing and case teaching, as part of a broad and multifarious spectrum of academic opinion, identification and purpose that goes way beyond a genericised ‘Harvard case study method’.