The cycle of good impact practice: Case studies

Case studies look in-depth at particular cases. They are commonly used in a communications or fundraising context, but can also be used to understand your impact by seeking to explore how change occurs and under which circumstances. They are well suited for outcome and impact data.

Here we explain how to develop case studies for understanding your impact.

Why use case studies?

Benefits

  • Gives a detailed understanding of a particular setting or process
  • Allows for comparisons, for example, between individual experiences, service delivery settings, or geographical areas
  • Can be a powerful storytelling tool

Limitations

  • Examples need to be selected and handled carefully as they will not be representative
  • Can be time consuming

How to develop case studies

1. Design and conduct your research

Select your case studies
Case studies for understanding impact require a different approach to marketing or fundraising case studies. Rather than looking for stories about people who most dramatically illustrate the needs and benefits of your service, look for stories that give a more balanced view. You want to explore both the typical and the range of experiences of people who use your service, to gain a better understanding of the difference your programme is making and how people experience it.

Conduct your case study interviews
Use the guidance outlined in the previous section on interviews to conduct your research. In addition, bear in mind the following:

  • Your focus should be on the difference that has been achieved. Evidence is important for justifying your claims about impact, as is an understanding of context.
  • Participants need to understand the role they will play and the ways in which their story may be used, before giving written approval via a consent form. Explain what you’re trying to achieve. Reassure them that their contact details will not be shared without their consent. Check if they are happy to use their real name or whether they would prefer to use a pseudonym. Ask about which types of media they would be happy to be featured in. Get their written approval on the notes you prepare and a consent form, to confirm what’s been agreed.
  • Ask for any high-quality photos the case study participant is willing to share with you. If they don’t have any, check whether they’d be happy to be photographed and be clear about how the photos will be used.

2. Writing your case studies

Once you have your aim and evidence, you need to weave your story together. How you write your case studies will depend on how they will be used. A few general principles can help:

  • Think about your audience: What information would they like to know and how would they like that to be presented to them? What style and tone will they find engaging?
  • Reflect on the positive and negative learnings: It is as useful to learn from your story as it is to convey the good things. This also helps to make your case study feel more genuine and honest.
  • Consider the structure and format: Make sure your case study is comprehensive by covering the background, the issues and problems faced, the actions taken, the outcomes, and the lessons learned. Keep it as short as possible, but make sure you include enough evidence to support your story. Include quotes throughout to add authenticity.
  • Review your case study: Think about what your work has achieved that hasn’t been evidenced sufficiently. Ask a colleague to read through your case study to help identify any gaps.

Adapted from content NCVO

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Do

The cycle of good impact practice defines what impact practice is and articulates a clear path to success. It follows a four-step cycle. This page is part of Do, the second step in the cycle.

Other resources from this step in the cycle

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This webpage has been adapted from the Inspiring Impact programme, which ran from 2011 until early 2022 and supported voluntary organisations to improve their impact practice. More information about the Inspiring Impact programme.

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