Lee, A.S. “A scientific methodology for MIS case studies.,” MIS Quarterly (13:1), March 1989, pp 33-50.

In message 207 on Saturday, October 27, 2007 5:17pm, Charles Myers (cemyers) writes:
>Lee presents an argument against the use of a single case study for a research topic.

Actually, Lee is defending single-case-study research.

Key rhetorical strategy: Lee says he chooses the natural science model as the ideal for the social science model, in part because the critics of single-case studies often ground their criticism in natural science methodology; Lee thus intends to respond to the critics in their own language and show that single-case studies can satisfy natural science criteria [34].

The four problems of single-case studies:

>–Making controlled observations
>–Making controlled deductions
>–Allowing for replicability
>–Allowing for generalizability

To understand how Lee defends single-case studies against the charges that they can’t satisfy the above 4 criteria, Lee appeals to 4 other standards laid out by Popper, who said you have a good theory when it is…

1. falsifiable
2. logically consistent
3. competitively predictive (it predicts stuff at least as well as competing theories)
4. durable (scientists test it, and it survives!)

Markus tests her three theories, falsifies two of them, and finds the third (the interaction theory) satisfies Popper’s conditions. Someone else could still construct a test to falsify it; it’s consistent with what Markus observed; it makes better predictions than two competing theories; and it survived this case study. That’s science!

>Seemely Allen both agreed with Marcus and disagreed with Marcus.
>In the end Ibelive he states that multple case study approach is better
>for reasearch because of the rigor and potential for quantity and quality
>of data.

I don’t want to offer excuses for sloppy science — I’ll take multiple examples over one anecdote any day — but I might propose the 9/11 Theory of IS Research in support of single-case studies. The United States restructured the entire federal security apparatus, engaged in two significant military adventures, and radically changed the nature of defendant rights with the PATRIOT Act, all on the basis of a single event, one coordinated terrorist attack. Without commenting on the wisdom of any particular policy adopted, I think it is safe to say that scorn and derision would have met anyone who stood up on September 12 and said, “Hang on, before we form any theories or design any solutions, we’d better try replicating the experiment and controlling the variables. We can’t derive any useful knowledge from just one event.”

In practice, single cases form the basis of important decisions and life-lessons all the time.  Granted, single events also often form the basis of really bad decisions and prejudices. Scientists have an obligation to be circumspect, to look around for more than one case when possible to back up what they wish to argue. But sometimes a single case can provide such powerful, useful information that we’d be fools to ignore it.

Given that IS interacts so closely with the world of practice (we really are flying the plane, studying it, and swapping out bolts and rotors all at the same time!), maybe we IS researchers get special dispensation to do more single-case studies. Astrophysics and molecular biology don’t move fast like IS; we’ve got to provide folks some useful results before the technology we’re studying mutates into something completely unrecognizable. Maybe we need to make the most we can out of single-case studies, give business all the advice and best-guesses we can derive, and hope for the best as we scramble to study the next new thing.