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Other ethics & policy tools

Case Study Analysis

This "Case Study Approach" is a "tool" in our ethics & policy toolkit. It is based upon our approach to ethics & policy study, as are all of the tools in this toolkit. The next tool is an ethics & policy decision making tool. The logical third tool is an ethics/compliance program assessment tool.


An Approach to Case Study Analysis

Introduction. Whether one is pathfinding, problem-solving, or implementing a course of action, the first tool needed is one to analyze the case or matter before one. Here we offer an approach based upon a solid foundation of human action (praxeology) and critical thinking.

Assumptions. There are a number of assumptions underlying this approach:

First, it should promote "reflection and decision making under circumstances of complexity" (Beauchamp 5).

Second, it should foster the skills of higher-order thinking, that is, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, as well as foster the skills of communicating orally and in writing.

Third, it should emphasize "knowing how" to reach a reasoned conclusion through dialogue and discussion rather than "knowing that" any particular set of facts or body of thought exists (Charles I. Gregg and Gilbert Ryle qtd. in Beauchamp 5).

Fourth, there is no necessarily-right answer to a case study, but effective thinking and effective communicating are necessary conditions for an effective case study (Beauchamp 5-7).

Fifth, effective thinking in ethics and policy is thinking that is critical, creative, and systemic, but most importantly, it is evaluative (Donaldson and Werhane x-xi).

Sixth, for a case study to be truly effective, its reasoning, conclusions, and projections must be reducible to a form that can be communicated to others who are involved, affected, or interested.

Seventh, the best use of case study analysis "is not as a source of generalizations, but rather as a test of generalizations" (Beauchamp 9).

Elements of an approach to the case study. Richard Paul has made perhaps the clearest description of just how complex the process of reasoning is. The challenge for the writer of a case study analysis is to be able to capture this process of reasoning and convey that process to another.

Paul lays out the complexity of the reasoning process in his most fundamental writing, Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive In a Rapidly Changing World:

Becoming adept at drawing justifiable conclusions on the basis of good reasons is more complex than it appears. This is true because drawing a conclusion is always the tip of an intellectual iceberg. . . .

Thus, when we draw a conclusion, we do so in some circumstances, making inferences (that have implications and consequences) based on some reasons or information (and assumptions), using some concepts, in trying to settle some question (or solve some problem) for some purpose within some point of view. (20)

Therefore, the elements of this approach to pursuing a case study mirror the elements of comprehensive thinking described by Paul with the addition of an additional element, the Valuation Dimension:"

  1. Purpose, Goal, or End in View
  2. Question at issue, or Problem to be Solved
  3. Point of view, or Frame of Reference
  4. The Empirical Dimension of Reasoning
  5. The Conceptual Dimension of Reasoning
  6. [The Valuational Dimension of Reasoning] (Donaldson and Werhane xi; Mises 13-14)
  7. Assumptions
  8. Implications and Consequences
  9. Inferences (Paul 98-100)

Purpose, Goal, or End in View. "Whenever we reason [or communicate], we do so to some end, to achieve some objective, to satisfy some desire or fulfill some need" (Paul 98).

The burden is on the writer to make clear his or her purpose in pursuing a case study.

Question at issue, or Problem to be Solved. "Whenever we reason [or communicate], there is at least one question at issue, at least one problem to be solved" (Paul 98).

Writers need to be adept at formulating a dilemma or problem in a clear and relevant way, to choose from among alternative formulations, to discuss the merits of different versions of the question at issue, to recognize common key elements in statements of different problems, to structure the articulation of dilemmas and problems so as to make possible lines of solution more apparent.

Point of view, or Frame of Reference. "Whenever we reason [or communicate], we must reason [or communicate] within some point of view or frame of reference" (Paul 98).

Writers must be able to describe the points of view contained in a case study, "to adjudicate between different statements of [each] point of view, to recognize bias, narrowness, and contradictions when they occur in [a] point of view, to recognize relations between [a] frame of reference being used and its implications, assumptions, and main concepts" (Paul 98-99).

The Empirical Dimension of Reasoning. "Whenever we reason [or communicate], there is some 'stuff', some phenomena about which we are reasoning" (Paul 99).

Writers must be able to "distinguish evidence from conclusions based on that evidence, to give evidence, [to recognize data that would support a position taken], data that would oppose it, data that would be neutral, to notice the presence or lack of relevant evidence, to recognize-[and] be intellectually courageous in recognizing (and labeling as such)-mere speculation that goes beyond the evidence" (Paul 99).

The Conceptual Dimension of Reasoning. "All reasoning [and communication] uses some concepts, and not others. These concepts can include the theories, principles, axioms and rules implicit [or explicit] in our reasoning" (Paul 99).

Writers must be able to "identify main concepts [used in the case study], to choose among different versions of those concepts (some perhaps equally good), to see relations among concepts, to reason about the similarity of points of view on the basis of similarity of fundamental concepts, to distinguish central from peripheral concepts, derived concepts from basic concepts, to see the implication of using one concept rather than another" (Paul 99).

The Valuational Dimension of Reasoning. Whenever we reason or communicate, the ends and means chosen are essential drivers of human action. Understanding of the case requires that the visions, views or reality and expectations that purposeful action will fill the gap between vision and reality of all those involved or affected be recognized and evaluated.

Writers must be able to identify the ends and means sought by those involved and affected by the case, choose among different ends and means to those ends, and reason about the subjective valuations that lead to choosing those ends and means, the personal qualities of the persons who chose those ends and means, and the inheritance and environment that led to those personal qualities (Mises 13-14, 46-47).

Assumptions. "All reasoning must begin somewhere, must take some things for granted" (Paul 99).

Writers must be able "to identify assumptions underlying given inferences, points of view, and goals, to evaluate the accuracy of different formulations of the assumptions, to distinguish between assumptions and inferences, to rank assumptions with respect to their plausibility, to be intellectually fair-minded by choosing the most plausible version of assumptions underlying points of view with which they disagree" (Paul 99).

Implications and Consequences. "No matter where we stop our reasoning, it will always have further implications and consequences. As reasoning develops, statements will logically be entailed by it" (Paul 99).

Writers must be able to identify important implications, . . . to make fine discriminations among necessary, probable, and improbable consequences, to distinguish between implications and assumptions, to recognize the weakness of [any person's] position as shown by the implausibility of its implications, to exercise intellectual fairmindedness in discriminating between the likelihood of dire and mild consequences of an action to which one is opposed" (Paul 99).

Inferences. "Reasoning [and communicating] proceeds by steps in which we reason as follows: 'Because this is so, that also is so (or probably so),' or Since this, therefore that'" (Paul 98-100).

Writers must be able "to recognize faulty and justified inferences in a [case], to rank inferences with respect to both their plausibility and their relevance, to make good inferences in their own reasoning, to discriminate among various formulations of an author's inferences with respect to which is most accurate, to take something they did not believe but to entertain it for the sake of argument and draw reasonable inferences from it" (Paul 100).

Case Study Format. The above elements can be organized into six sections of varying length, as described below. The writer should analyze the case closely, and synthesize the knowledge and understanding drawn from that analysis to create new insights or principles. Then, the writer should objectively evaluate all of these, as far as is reasonably possible, to test the principles, proposals, or procedures treated and reject or refine them as appropriate.

The first section should set forth the purpose of the paper and the question at issue. For a case study, that purpose is generally to "bring a general principle, proposal, or procedure under scrutiny to see how well it applies to one or more particular circumstances" (Beauchamp, 10). The question at issue is the problem or dilemma gleaned from the study of the case.

The second section should give a concise description of the "facts of the case"; insure that all concepts are clearly defined; and identify the significant valuations that drove the parties. Beauchamp sets forth the limitations of facts, which should be taken into account in such cases (11-13). Where differing meanings of concepts held exist, they should be compared and contrasted. Where significant valuations are recognized that lead to ends or means chosen, they should be compared and contrasted.

The third section should set forth all inferences drawn from the case study together with their supporting reasons. This will include any interim conclusions needed to understand the facts, concepts, and values involved as well as any final conclusions reached.

The fourth section should set forth all implications drawn from the case study together with their supporting reasons. This will include any interim conclusions needed to understand the facts, concepts, and values involved as well as any final conclusions reached.

The fifth section should employ comprehensive thinking to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the facts, concepts, and values that together form the case with a view to testing some body or bodies of principles, proposals, or procedures. It should specifically set forth what principles, proposals, or procedures have been verified or nullified together with the reasons why. It should propose amendments or refinements to these principles, proposals or procedures as appropriate together with their justification.

The final section should summarize the findings and conclusions of the case study itself and include specific recommendations for action.

In sum, the case should be analyzed closely for knowledge and understanding. This knowledge and understanding should be synthesized to create new insights or principles. Then, these should all be objectively evaluated, as far as is reasonably possible, to test the principles, proposals, or procedures treated, and reject or refine them as appropriate.

Works Cited

Beauchamp, Tom L. Case Studies in Business, Society, and Ethics. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.

Donaldson, Thomas, and Patricia H. Werhane. eds. Ethical Issues in Business: A Philosophical Approach. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996.

Mises, Ludwig von. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. 3rd rev. ed. Chicago: Contemporary Books, Inc., 1966.

Paul, Richard W. Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive In a Rapidly Changing World. 2nd Rev. ed. Ed. A.J.A. Blinker. Santa Ana, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 1992.

University of Phoenix, PHL 323 Module: University of Phoenix Material, "Preparing Case Study Analyses."




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