Case Studies

Case Studies - Introduction

Social Capital and Sustainable Development
SSHRC Research Project, April 2001 to March 2004


A comparative case approach is being used (Lawler 1985), focusing on four geographic communities (three in British Columbia, one in Ontario, and one in Australia) and one virtual community, in which networks have formed in response to precipitating factors, and, through forming networks, are engaging in the process of sustainable development. A multidimensional approach will involve mapping each community, with special reference to the mechanisms of social capital mobilization through network formation. The internationally recognized Onyx and Bullen scale (2000) for measuring social capital—as used and adapted by the World Bank—will be used as part of the community mapping process. Community mapping will also involve using soft systems methodologies (Checkland and Scholes); soft stakeholder analysis and in-depth interviews exploring diversity; stakeholders; voice; commitment; leadership; and access to knowledges and resources.


Case Studies - Criteria

Primary Criterion for Case Selection:

Cases should clearly demonstrate explicit (and implicit) links among and between the 3 substantive “pillars” of the research project:

  1. Networks
  2. Social Capital
  3. Sustainable Development

Following methodological precedents in the social sciences, (see e.g. Stake, 1996), each case may be contextually and functionally unique (as opposed to shared across sectors). Indeed, there is a strong methodological argument to be made for the study of each case as a distinct learning opportunity, one that is important precisely because of its uniqueness. Yet all cases will be focused around the organising principle of networks, in differing contexts and for varying purposes/outcomes. That each case be composed of identifiable networks is key: networks are the common underlying characteristic.

Cases should be selected according to key issues or qualities having to do with the formation and organisation of each respective network. For example, how was the network formed? According to which crises or opportunities? Was the network formed proactively, for policy, e.g. or in response to a crisis?

Notwithstanding the unique context and substantive “content” of each case as a learning (through research) opportunity, networks and their concomitant cases should share several other key criteria, or at least be able to be situated (and “mapped”) along an identifiable continuum for each criterion. These criteria should reflect the larger scope of the research project and its links to social capital and SD. These shared criteria and their continua are:

  • Leadership: presence of identifiable leadership (from single to collaborative)
  • Enthusiasm: participant enthusiasm and motivation, degree of engagement (e.g. from apathy to highly driven)
  • Scale: clarity of a single issue or multiple related issues
  • Evolution: traceable organisational evolution, from pre-network to multi-scale network of networks. Evolution in any case should move beyond the bonding level and show org. evolution of goals, mandate, leadership etc. to be valid for study.
  • Intervention: identifiable (measurable?) timing and degree of government intervention
  • Diversity:
    1. Degree of observable or identifiable diversity of leaders and engaged participants, from visible minorities, gender balance etc. Power balance in network decision-making was not discussed but remains and open question. (General agreement that primarily white researchers would be unable to evaluate meaningfully an aboriginal network for example.)
    2. Diversity of case types, e.g. government and non-government. (Corporate? Other?)
  • Outcome: continuity of the network, from planned obsolescence to self-perpetuation
  • Evaluation: observable (explicit or implicit) attempts to evaluate successes and/or failures, measures for self-evaluation or by an external agency (rare)
  • Feasibility/Pragmatism: cases must be accessible, feasible and “researchable” from a functional perspective. Distance, cost, background data accessibility, and openness of key leaders/participants are all factors to be considered for this criterion. (Need a working definition and/or criteria for “leader” and “participant” in case selection.)