Choosing a GOOD Case
- Decide what you want to learn. Before you can choose a case, you need to know what you are trying to learn. What are the elements of practice that interest you? What elements do you want to learn more about? (See “Focusing Your Interests”)
- Choose a good interviewee. Remember, it is not the “case” itself that is of primary importance; it is your interviewee’s experience, judgments, responses, and often, untalked about aspects of practice that you want to learn about through a case.
Characteristics of a “good” interviewee include:
- someone whose work you admire
- someone who is thoughtful, reflective, experienced and enthusiastic about his/her work
- someone who is willing to talk candidly and who can – and will – tell you a story about both the challenges and opportunities they face
- someone who is a “player,” not a spectator
- someone who has recently done the kind of work that interests you
The best profiles do not necessarily come from those who have “important” positions. For example, an agency director or program supervisor won’t necessarily make the best interviewee unless you are interested in specifically learning about the work of managing an agency or program. If, on the other hand, you want to know about other aspects of community planning or community education or the like, then choose someone who has recently done that work directly.
Further, beware of interviewees who can only speak in “professional” languages and jargon, as well those who either just want to complain about their jobs (without telling you about the opportunities) or promote their work or agency (without telling you about the challenges). In all these cases, you are unlikely to get a satisfactory story.
- Help your interviewee choose a good case. Ask your potential interviewee to choose a case that represents both the challenges and opportunities in their work.
Characteristics of a good case include:
- Work they are proud of or from which they learned a great deal
- Work that shows the kinds of challenges they have to handle
- Work in which they were deeply engaged and central. You want a case in which they were an actor, not a spectator.
- Work that has taken place in the last 3 years or so. People tend to remember much more detail about things that have taken place more recently, and the stories tend to be fresher.
- Work that has an end. If you choose a case that is not yet completed, you will find your interviewee often saying “I don’t know yet” in response to your questions. They will also be less likely to be able to reflect as deeply on it.
- Work that illuminates the interviewee, that will show you their judgments, responses, etc.
- Use the pre-interview process to assess the case. Spend a few minutes learning a bit about the case so that you can assess whether there is “a story” there. Find out how (and how much) the interviewee was directly involved. Who are the other main players in the case? How did it end? Is this a story that your interviewee seems excited to tell you?