In this blog, What Works Scotland Research Associate, Richard Brunner tells you what we think.
On one level, the case study of Operation Modulus describes a successful gang violence intervention in Gorbals, Glasgow. But a case study is a story – and all good stories tell a deeper tale.
For the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre (2013, p.216), the human being is a ‘story-telling animal’, narratives being the way that we make sense of the world to each other, all the time.
The principles revealed in the Operation Modulus case study are those through which the Christie Commission (2011) expects all public services in Scotland to operate. But there is as yet little evidence of how public services actually do this in practice (Mitchell, 2015). By being presented as a case study, Operation Modulus allows readers to take a look ‘behind the scenes’ at the vital micro-details of how decisions were actually made, uncovering some of the stresses, strains and synergies of humans trying to do good work together to achieve better social outcomes.
Flyvberg (2006, p.239) points out that professional expertise is developed by people learning case-by-case about how they can best work, and about what best works:
…true expertise is based on intimate experience with thousands of individual cases and on the ability to discriminate between situations, with all their nuances of difference, without distilling them into formulas or standard cases.
Actual practices are studied before their rules, and one is not satisfied by learning about only those parts of practices that are open to public scrutiny; what Erving Goffman (1963) called the “backstage” of social phenomena must be investigated, too.
Finally, a case study, because of its refusal to gloss over complexity, contradiction and ambiguity does not give a simple set of answers, but highlights new ways of understanding a problem. It also expects people to enjoy, criticise and value and devalue different elements of the story, and the interpretation of the story: in other words, to think and learn. As Flyvberg (2006, p.238) notes:
The goal is not to make the case study be all things to all people. The goal is to allow the study to be different things to different people…
Case studies are a long-established approach used across the social sciences to help people understand, in sometimes hugely influential ways, about how elements of the world operate. We look forward to hearing about what you learn from the Operation Modulus case study.
- Flyvbjerg, B. (2006) Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research. Qualitative Inquiry, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 219-245.
- Christie Commission (2011).Report of the Future Delivery of Public Services, by the Commission chaired by Dr Campbell Christie.
- MacIntyre, A. (2013). After Virtue: a study in moral theory. 3rd Ed. University of Notre Dame Press, Indiana. Mitchell, J. (2014). The emerging Scottish model: Avoiding everything becoming nothing What Works Scotland.