Is There Room for Case Studies in Development Practice?

Amid the current much-needed revolution in (quantitative) evidence-driven development practice, is there room for case studies?

Michael Woolcock at the Bank says yes:

The frequency and sophistication with which case studies are deployed by social scientists has greatly expanded in recent years. The goal now is not merely to document or describe, but to diagnose, explain, interpret, and inform a basis for action. Professional schools across the disciplines – from medicine and engineering to business and public policy – now routinely use ‘the case method’ not only to teach but to generate practical knowledge.

As an example, Woolcock cites a report with case studies of successes achieved in the Ministries of Finance and Education in The Gambia (I should add, despite Yahya Jammeh):

Despite facing formidable political, economic, and capacity challenges, The Gambia has recorded sizable advances in the education sector in a relatively short time frame. Since 2000, enrollment has more than doubled in secondary schools, while the number of students enrolled in basic education has increased by 40 percent, with notable growth in the madrassas schools. Gender equality and completion rates in basic education have continued to improve across the board and surpass the regional averages. Simultaneously, the number of teachers formally trained and the number of students enrolled in the Teachers’ College has grown considerably since 2005.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 4.30.59 PMThese gains are directly linked to the scaled-up investment in the sector, which has translated into a greater number of schools, larger number of qualified teachers and monitors, and the introduction of innovative programs catering to hard-to-reach groups. In turn, these achievements have been made possible by the organizational and management changes introduced by the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE) and its ability to remain focused on a small set of goals, report results, and mobilize domestic and external support to realize them, while generating and renewing its leadership cadre. To achieve this, the institution has had to navigate and solve numerous challenges in its internal organization and in the governance environment.

This is how development happens. Specific segments of governments get it right and, with some luck, generate positive spillovers into other departments. In Gambia it is happening in the Ministries of Finance and Education. In Kenya, the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and, to some extent, the Treasury are doing much of the heavy-lifting in the quest to rationalize the Kenyan economy.

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