Case Research in Public Management

Case Research in Public Management

Case Research in Public Management

Case Research in Public Management


Highly readable and non-technical, this handbook is designed to help students and non-profit managers gain a working knowledge of the principles and practices of conducting qualitative case study research in public organizations. This book is a motherload of practical and comprehensive guidance to planning, conducting, analyzing, and reporting case research project findings. McNabb begins with a detailed rationale for the use of the case research approach in public administration, non-profit organizations, and political science. Then it provides step-by-step instructions on how to conduct single-case, multi-case, and meta-analysis research, with guidelines on organizing and writing the case report. Case Research in Public Management also includes many examples of case studies in a wide range of important topics in public administration, including performance management, sustainable government, technology management, security issues, emergency and disaster management, social and health services, infrastructure, public transportation, and transforming the work of government.


The essence of a case study is that its aim is to illuminate a decision
or set of decisions and to understand why they were taken, and how
they were implemented and with what result

—Sally A. Kydd, 1999

The once strong belief in the relevance of public administration and its ability to make a significant contribution toward the resolution of increasingly complex, often global in scope, problems of governance has come into question among scholars and practitioners. One of the reasons for this is that public administration has historically focused on domestic governance issues. This meant it dealt with problems of management in organizations from the smallest special noxious-weed or mosquito-abatement district to very large national agencies like the Department of Defense and global organizations such as NATO or the United Nations.

A fundamental goal for research in public administration has been to make local government more effective and national government more efficient, regardless of the nation within which the government is located. The literature of the discipline clearly supports this view. However, the very nature of the globalization of governance has made it necessary for the discipline to expand its focus to include greater attention upon challenges and issues that extend across national borders and which require cross-border cooperation and collaboration (Brinkerhoff 2002). The case research method may be ideally suited to the study and analysis of these situations.

The case study has a long history of use in research in applied public organization and management. However, for some researchers in the social and administrative sciences (including public administration and political science), the case research method long remained somewhat a subject of derision. The method was discounted as inappropriate for serious research or simply ignored, or often shrugged off as “not real science.” This may be because not everyone understands what case research is, what it is good for—and what it is not. Despite the belief that case research survives in what Gerring (2004, 341) described as . . .

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