Research Method: A Place-based Case Study Approach

4th June 2021

Funded Project:
Methods for Change

This ‘how to’ guide outlines A Place-based Case Study Approach research method used by Jessica Paddock, from the University of Bristol. The image was created in collaboration with Chris Murray, More Than Minutes.

Social scientists from the Methods for Change project came together to discuss the research methods they use and how methods create change in society. Drawing from the expertise in the Aspect network, they collaborated on a series of ‘how to’ guides which are step-by-step instructions and top-tips for adopting these methods in a range of sectors. Visual and multisensory pieces, including comics, illustrations, posters, booklets, short films and animations were then developed in collaboration with creatives to capture the key value of these research methods with a view to being able to convey them to a variety of audiences.

It is hoped that these resources will be useful for people in higher education, commercial, public sector, third sector and community organisations who are interested in experimenting with, and expanding professional skills in, the adoption of social science research methods.

Research Method: A Place-based Case Study Approach

In Place-based Case Study Approaches, research is framed around a particular place, which can take various forms: a ward, an island, a region or the geographical reach of an organisation.

One aspect of Place-based Case Study research that is different from many traditional approaches is that research questions are not determined at the beginning of a project, but are developed in the process of carrying out research in a place. Researchers start with a broad view of a problem or topic and generate the important questions over time, as they become more informed. A Place-based Case Study Approach borrows largely from ethnographic research methods, studying ‘doings’ and ‘sayings’ of people within a defined geographical boundary. It thereby draws from a rich toolbox of methods, including informal, in-situ conversations, participant observation, archival research, and formal interviewing which can take different shapes – from structured interviews with local government representatives in their offices, to spending an afternoon partaking in conversations with a family in their living room. This approach often involves the collection of stories which complement systematically gathered data by illuminating the socio-economic and political complexities behind social and environmental challenges.

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You can find all the research outputs from the Methods for Change series here

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This blog by the Methods for Change team, illustrated by Jack Brougham, asks if we should spend more time talking about the methods we use as researchers. Drawing on a recent paper, we suggest that researchers need to articulate why methods matter in creating change to global challenges. We share three creative techniques that we have experimented with across the Methods for Change project that can encourage playful, reflective conversation about methods and their role in galvanising change.

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