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The complexity and the case method

T. Grandon Gill (Information Systems and Decision Sciences Department, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 14 October 2014




The purpose of this paper is to propose a framework that uses complexity as a means of better understanding the role that case studies can play in the classroom and in building bridges between research and practice.


The paper synthesizes complexity theory and the practical classroom and case writing experiences of the author into a framework.


A narrow view of the impact of case studies severely limits their widespread adoption. Rather than treating a case study as a document of very limited value to an academic career, the author needs to recognize their role in building relationships between research and practice. Through these relationships, opportunities for students and two-way flows of knowledge between academia and practice can be achieved.

Research limitations/implications

The framework developed assumes that domain of study is complex – involving many interacting elements taking place in a context where an objectively “right” or “best” answer is unlikely to be realized. It is less clear that it is applicable to situations where optimal procedures are available and can be taught or learned.

Practical implications

A key implication of the framework is that separating the use of case studies in the classroom (i.e. case facilitation) from the development of case studies in the field (i.e. case writing) can greatly diminish their value.

Social implications

The proposed framework argues for greater interaction between the academic and practitioner communities.


The paper offers a comprehensive perspective on cases that is rarely expressed. It should be of particular value to faculty and administrators seeking to justify the development and use of case studies.



Grandon Gill, T. (2014), "The complexity and the case method", Management Decision, Vol. 52 No. 9, pp. 1564-1590.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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