CASE STUDY METHODODLOGY – towards a new pedogogy


The use of storytelling in teaching is a most effective teaching methodology, specifically in the field of training community leaders, NGO practitioners and public sector managers.  Before I elaborate I would like to point out that an entire curriculum based on storytelling is not what I am suggesting – rather I am suggesting that a hybrid of classical chalk-and-talk methodology supplemented with case-studies, video documentary and hyper-media computer-based curriculum, provides course participants with the ideal learning environment and one that is textured and interesting.

Storytelling in teaching takes on a rather different meaning to organisational storytelling.  In this case it is a matter of importing stories from the sector into the workshop scenario via Case Studies.  The Wits Graduate School of Public and Development Manangement adopted a teaching methodology based on the ethos of storytelling through the use of Case Studies which has proved to create a successful, participative and experiential teaching and learning environment.

Before I continue I will define a Case Study as used by Wits P&DM.

A  teaching case is essentially a story which presents a conflict which must be resolved by a decision or action, or an ethical dillema which requires deliberation.  The story usually reflects tension between alternative courses of action.  The problem offers complexity, having no single correct answer, but nevertheless, requires definition, analysis and response.  The story centres around an individual or a group facing constraints in management, policy or organisational decision-making situations.  Other actors appear in the plot bringing different viewpoints, interests and values into contention.  The personification of the conflict brings the complexity of the real problems facing public managers, NGO practitioners and community activists into the classroom and raises the stakes for discussion participants.  They become the person or group facing the problem and therefore, actively engage in the problem analysis, decision making and reflection.  The story is typically written up to the decision-point and the outcome is withheld, leaving participants with the immediate dilemma:  how should the manager act in the situation?

A teaching case is usually a narrative but can also be a newspaper article, photograph or video-clip.  The essential ingredients are that it should feature plot and character, contextualise a particular situation, provide individual and group perspective, and typically, incomplete action.  A teaching case does not include analysis of the situation, it simply tells the story: what happened, who was involved, what they contended with, and sometimes, what the outcome was.It is up to the participants to analyse the story, work out the decision, draw conclusions from the case and relate it to theory and it is up to the facilitator to guide them through the process.  The three key elements of an effective case are: a complex problem, an inside perspective, and detailed realism

(The above quote was taken from the P&DM notes: CASE DEVELOPMENT: GUIDLINES FOR CASE WRITERS.)


Case studies provide a forum for participative learning and teaching.  Real stories are told, via text or video, by the real players in the field.  Students/participants are afforded the opportunity to share the stories of people in positions which they themselves may one day find themselves in.  The open-ended factor allows students to come up with their own solutions, thereby gaining hands-on training for problem solving in the work environment.  The floor is then opened up for debate and students are able to air their solutions and enter into constructive (sometimes passionate) debate and argument.  Not only does this provide a stimulating scenario for the participants, it also ensures that intellectual processes are stimulated in a manner that will prove most helpful when the student is out in the field, grappling with real issues.

In addition this method exposes civil society to the policies and views of government and raises their stake in public participation as an understanding of policy issues is gained.  In the case of government training, the voices and concerns of the community are also articulated, which potentially affects policy making.


Video provides a welcome change of pace to course participants.  It is a vibrant and immediate medium which relies on a more spontaneous cognitive response from participants – unlike the deliberative approach of reading and analysing text.  In terms of training managers who are participating is short Executive Programmes,  the video medium provides an immediately intellectually and visually engaging experience which can be absorbed quickly and facilitate spontaneous discussion, debate and problem solving.  The video medium also proves to be a much more ‘democratic’ teaching tool, particularly in the South African context.  I argue this because English is often a secondary language to many course participants.  As pointed out by Professor Dutch Leonard of the Harvard KSG, “In my experience, discussion of a written case will often be dominated by a few people in class – mainly those who are comfortable with developing a spoken position from a written document.  Others in the group, less confident of their skills at mastering a situation from a written description of it, will be more reticent, allowing the rest to dominate.  Furthermore, people who have had the advantage of a formal education that emphasised critical analysis of written documents or literature are often unaware of how their facility with this kind of discussion can intimidate others who have not had the privilege of a similar educational background”.

Video also proves a well suited partner to the storytelling ethos as the case unfolds around the real players who are telling their story in person, most often in venacular,  Students are able to engage with the characters and empathise or criticise, as they would with characters in a movie. Furthermore, the video medium can bring alive current debates and socio political issues in a way that text is not able to.  Via the video medium – the real players/stakeholders are transported into the classroom – they tell their stories & share their perspectives on film – and this gives the course participants a feeling of having interviewed the different players.

Public Participation

In the video case study on the groundbreaking Grootboom Case a range of interviews were conducted – one hears what the Minister of housing has to say, as well as officials from local & provincial government.  This enables students to grapple with real policy issues. In addition the story of the community is told in a manner that highlihgts their voices and shows the gritty reality of the lives of those living in desperate conditions. The focus is on gender, children and health, development, service delivery and socio economic rights.

The electricity case study called Power To The People -Sparks fly the Sowetan electricity crisis is examined within the context of restructuring & privatisation.  The case study not only brings alive the current debates from labour and government around macro economic policies but it also examines areas such as FDI and environmental problems as well as the socio economic rights of those living below the breadline is also highlighted.


CD Rom and on-line case-studies provides a broad spectrum of knowledge in both text and video footage.  Hyperlinks interconnect a rich body of related material in the form of newspaper articles, papers and other relevant on-line sites, allowing the student to browse through a selection of background information.  These cases are designed to allow the student/end user to navigate easily through the various sections with no expected or implicit path to follow and without imposing any rational or linear structure onto the information.  The video footage allows students to’enter’ interviews with key players in the case.  Video footage also provides the background documentary – providing the storyboard from which the student will begin a far reaching exploration of the topic via links to a broad base of information.  An assignment is typically set on the home page and from there the student is guided into an experiential learning process in order to reach a solution or policy decision.  This medium is a most effective teaching tool, both in the fact that it provides hands-on management training and also allows the student to gain technical confidence with the use of a computer and the internet.


Browse our website for current hypermedia teaching tools or if you would like teaching videos, hypermedia case study development or written case studies made for your teaching and learning purposes, please contact Gillian Schutte at