Who's helping case authors?

tower of peopleThere are many reasons why people decide to write cases, such as responding to a student learning objective, developing an interesting by-product of academic research, needing a case on local business or as a result of a conversation with an executive or entrepreneurial alumnus.

Whatever the impetus to begin a case, the lengthy process of its development is almost always an activity over and above the regular responsibility of faculty members and teachers. Case production and publication requires time, commitment, human and financial resources, and support. Some institutions, notably Harvard Business School, are renowned for the case method and producing many quality cases. However, assigning a high priority to case development is not always straightforward, even at schools that use many cases in teaching. In the UK, for example, the regular academic research assessment exercise (RAE) influences government funding for higher education and can make it difficult for institutions to place a high priority on case development because they are not part of the evaluation. According to Nirmalya Kumar, Professor of Marketing at London Business School, himself a prolific and award- winning case author, “case writing is becoming a more important activity at London Business School, inspired, in part, by student demand. The school has financial resources available for faculty with proposals to write cases. These often emerge as a direct result of academic research which remains the most important influence on faculty career progression.”

Financial resources

Developing cases, especially field researched ones, costs money. Many schools have funds that faculty can apply for to cover expenses such as research and travel. Peter Zemsky, Professor, Head of Strategy and Chair of the R&D Committee at INSEAD says faculty can submit case proposals and budgets to the committee that meets six times a year. “The hallmark of the INSEAD faculty is diversity,” he says, “some write quite a few cases, others don’t, but overall we aim to have a meaningful fraction of our own cases on our courses.” A number of schools, including the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia and ESSEC Business School, France have designated funds for developing specific types of cases, such as multimedia .

Andrew Inkpen, Professor, Seward Chair in Global Strategy at Thunderbird School of Global Management, is Director of the Thunderbird Case Series, part of the larger Knowledge Network, supporting all research. “We provide financial resources for case writing, which is a core activity that supports our various programs,” he says. “The Case Series’ mission is to generate resources that can be used for case writing; so, the more cases we publish and sell, the more resources are available for case writing.” Many schools plough royalties from case sales directly back into supporting new case production, something which appears to be especially important at those schools where case writing has yet to receive widespread internal recognition.


It is a rare case author that works alone. Apart from juggling case development with other research and teaching commitments, case writing is an acknowledged skill in its own right. Many institutions have the services of case writers available to faculty, either in-house or on a regular contractor basis. Stanford Graduate School of Business regards case writing as an important part of curriculum development and, in 1998, decided to create an in-house pool of writers. Margot Sutherland, Director of Case Writing reports that, “over the years, the faculty have experienced the benefits of maintaining pools of writers at the school: faculty and writers become familiar with the styles and capabilities of each other, resulting in effective long term working relationships for creating new materials for our courses.”

Smaller schools also employ case writers. Manuel Dias Ferreira, Professor at AESE - Escola de Direcção e Negócios, Portugal says “all faculty are expected to work on cases and we aim to increase the production of Portuguese cases. We provide case writers to support faculty as required.” At ISC - Paris School of Management case writing “plays a significant role in the pedagogical mission of the school,” says Ronald G Kamin, Professor of Marketing. “Providing case writing support is part of the school’s objective to produce a deliberately limited number of cases to always ensure their highest quality.”

Quality and administration

Quality control is just one factor that has led many schools to create a central resource, or office, to oversee all aspects of case production and to assist with some of the associated administrative tasks, such as gaining permissions from subject companies and registration for distribution at The Case Centre. IMD, Switzerland takes a broad view of academic output, encouraging both peer reviewed research and case publication. The school has one of the longest established and comprehensive internal structures for supporting case development. Case Services Manager, Persita Egeli-Farmanfarma is clear about the necessity of maintaining quality control of case output. “At Case Services, we follow the process of each case from the beginning,” she says. “Up to 75% of faculty work on cases and we assist throughout, from application for financial resources to the provision of case writers, if required, through to professional editing (IMD has developed its own style guide) and publication. Our track record of winning case awards speaks for itself.”

At ESADE, Spain case developers are offered organisational support and pedagogical guidance from the Department of Educational Innovation and Learning (DIPA). Adolfo Montalvo Garcia is responsible for ESADE’s Case Program. “Our cases contribute not only to faculty development, but also to developing ESADE itself and to the quality of learning we offer,” he says. “We provide guidance on teaching note development and revise cases to ensure that they fit with their intended audience and the learning objectives.”

Improving skills

Many institutions invest in case method training. Authors can participate in open case writing programmes run by organisations such as The Case Centre, and there are many internal training programmes. In Australia and New Zealand, the imperative to focus on published academic output, that will attract university funding, can work as a disincentive to would-be case authors. ANZSOG (Australia and New Zealand School of Government) regards excellence in teaching as central to its mission, “and a key feature is the use of case teaching and other interactive approaches.” John Alford, Professor of Public Sector Management at Melbourne Business School and co-director of the ANZSOG Case Program (with Dr Richard Norman of Victoria University of Wellington) says, “we support the development of new cases through our Editorial Board and through our Program units in Melbourne and Wellington, each with one or two case writers, who will develop some cases themselves and assist academics with theirs. We also have a regular annual programme of workshops by international experts and are consistently increasing the emphasis on the benefits of case teaching.”

With offices throughout Latin America, INCAE Business School, based in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, produces around 50 cases a year, mostly in Spanish. Thomas Bloch, Director of Libraries says, “INCAE offers seminars on the case method not only to its own faculty but also to other institutions throughout Latin America.” Like many others, he fears that as the major accreditation agencies require an increased output of academic articles, case production could be affected.

The future

At WHU, Germany Lutz Kaufmann, Professor, Chair of International Business and Supply Management pioneers case development in an academic culture in which case writing is little recognised. Sowing the seeds of case development in the next generation, he has created a seminar in which student teams write cases and has even allowed certain BSc or MBA students to write their theses in the form of a case. “Excellence is primarily evaluated by looking in particular at their teaching notes. This process ensures good quality cases and a great deal of learning for the students.” While issues remain around recognition for case writing in rankings and accreditation, this approach is surely an innovative step in a positive future direction for case writing.

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