Case studies form an integral part of management school curriculum. Pioneered in the 1920s by Harvard Business School, case studies encourage students to focus on the problems facing an organization at a particular moment in time and to use various analytic tools to propose solutions.
Until recently, most business case studies have followed the format pioneered by Harvard. Cases tend to be written narratives of 5,000 to 10,000 words describing the problem as experienced by a manager along with a number of exhibits of generally numerical data appended to the narrative. There are tens of thousands of published cases on a diverse set of topics and organizations, including a core group of “bestsellers” that have been found to be particularly good for instruction.
In 2006 the Yale School of Management (SOM) began producing its own series of case studies, based on the idea that existing case studies were tailored to fit a particular discipline. The school had already decided to reformulate its curriculum to break down the traditional “silos” of management education. The new curriculum encouraged a more holistic approach: rather than viewing finance or marketing in isolation, the new approach encouraged students to consider how multiple perspectives are required to solve real-world problems. To support the new curriculum, SOM had to produce its own case studies that would afford a greater range of analysis.
The Case Research and Development Team at SOM found that one way to create more holistic cases was to change the medium and migrate online. From this platform, SOM developed what the team described as “raw” case studies. Unlike traditional “cooked” business cases — which present a business problem in a neatly packaged narrative — SOM’s online cases are more open-ended, and allow multiple points of view. Raw cases contain some written narrative, but rely on raw documents (such as internal reports, balance sheets, news articles, interviews and videos) to describe a set of problems facing an organization. “Students don’t expect a linear exposition from a web site,” says Jaan Elias, director of case study research at SOM. The various tabs on the site organize materials, but allow instructors to touch on a range of issues and introduce a variety of dilemmas. “Students also get in to the habit of examining the type of documents they will be asked to use once they leave school,” Elias adds, “because there is no one to boil down problems into a tidy case study in the real world.”
Design & Social Enterprise Case Series
Numerous case studies focus on social innovation and social enterprise management and others on the role of design in business. But up to now not many have considered the role of design in social innovation or social enterprise management. The SELCO case study is the first of a series focusing on Design and Social Enterprise, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation through a grant to William Drenttel and Winterhouse Institute (publisher of Change Observer, part of the Design Observer Group) and in collaboration with SOM. (A second case study was published in December 2010: Mayo Clinic - Design Thinking in Health Care.) Using the raw case study model, these cases will focus on social enterprises where design plays a major role.
Offered online without charge (through a Creative Commons license), the authors hope to broadly disseminate the studies, allowing for use in schools of public policy, business and design. While each instructor will be free to determine how the case will be used, those focusing on a particular perspective will have ample material to examine several issues of importance. For example, MBA professors will be able to look at the financial, marketing and legal issues of a design-oriented enterprise; design school instructors will be able to look at the role of design, but will also be able to discuss balance sheets and the role played by investors; and a school of public policy might look at micro-financing for product innovations that facilitate social change. William Drenttel notes that placing design within the larger context of real world projects and enterprises “is critical for design thinking and solutions to evolve as a methodology and a means for social impact.”
In the SELCO case, students will be able to learn about a business model that is looking at sustainability from all angles — environmental, social and financial, according to Harish Hande, SELCO’s founder. “This holistic view will give students a better understanding of the problems of the poor, thus making them more sensitive in their careers when it comes to creating more inclusive business models,” he says. SELCO provides an alternative solution to “skewed business models” that are biased towards only looking at financial returns, Hande adds. Anthony Sheldon, director of the Program on Social Enterprise at SOM, concludes, “I have long thought of SELCO as an important teaching opportunity because of how it has handled the array of interrelated, complex issues of a for-profit company operating in the social enterprise zone. This case study gives us the opportunity to incorporate multiple views on SELCO’s history and challenges — including their unique application of design thinking to their business.”
Case Series Development
The SELCO case study, the first case in the Design & Social Enterprise series, is now available at a special Yale School of Management website. A second case study — Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation: Design Thinking in Health Care — was published in December 2010. Upcoming case studies include Project Masiluleke, to be published in early 2011.
SELCO: Innovative Solar Solutions for the Poor
An Indian company recognized as an innovative social enterprise, SELCO provides customized solar electricity products for lighting and power to the country’s poor population. This case examines their business model and looks at sustainability from all angles — environmental,
social and financial — all within the context of design innovation.
Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation: Design Thinking in Health Care
This case study examines the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation, a dedicated research institute that studies the processes of health care provision, from the initial phone call to the clinic visit, to the diagnosis and treatment of the problem, to follow-up and preventive care. Launched in 2007 with the collaboration of design firm IDEO, the Center for Innovation builds on Mayo’s history of innovation in care delivery.
Project Masiluleke is an effort to harness the power of a coalition of disparate organizations to help fight South Africa’s crippling HIV/AIDS and TB epidemics. With partners including iTeach, frog design, and the Praekelt Foundation, this case study focuses on how Project M aims to mobilize hundreds of thousands of South Africans to get tested. The Project uses innovative digital technology as well as product design to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS in a region where there is a considerable stigma surrounding discussion of the disease. Project Masiluleke is a signature program of the PopTech Accelerator, a social innovation incubator designed to foster breakthrough solutions to pressing global issues.
Additional cases will be published in 2011.