A case study is one of the most flexible types of research designs; basically, it allows the researcher to retain the holistic characteristics of actual life events while carrying out a study on empirical events. According to Morgan (1997), a case study may contain elements of history in it from real-life events. A case study may also provide a description of events in their environment, including issues that may be hidden; in this case, the study may help discover such issues. Case study research has evolved considerably since the 1930s when it first came into operation. Case study methodology has a long history in the pure sciences, social sciences, and humanities; it started in the early 1930s in medical science where it was useful in helping researchers come up with valid inferences from happenings that could not be properly investigated in the lab (Ellet, 2007). The methodology then gained importance with time as a research strategy, particularly for the identification of rich sources of data. Eventually, case study developed into a technique combining both qualitative and quantitative research and gained popularity in social science and business. Now case study research is popular in business, education, management, and public administration among other areas (Ellet, 2007).
Case study is a relevant medium of investigation in the modern world with a lot of advantages in business research, development planning and many other areas in business learning. When used appropriately with proper consideration of the context of the area of interest, case study research can produce very useful findings for business strategy and planning. Case studies enable students and other groups to learn about phenomena in their natural state by examining them in real time and considering their history and context in which important observations are made. They make a comparison with other cases of electronic communities possible and enable drawing of more informed inferences and conclusions. Some of the objectives of this case study research that can be transferred to practical research include establishing the viability of electronic communities in entire regions on a larger scale, finding out the socio-economic and cultural role of online communities to different areas (Zhang et al., 2007).
Definition of the Objective
The overall objective of this case study research is to determine the viability of an electronic community network on the World Wide Web as a beneficial communication method to the Western Cape community in South Africa. The main objective of the study is to carry out a survey targeting 200 respondents in the Western Cape by the end of December 2013 for their opinion about internet electronic communities. This case study focuses on the Western Cape region of South Africa where the various aspects of the local community will be investigated including the culture, economic environment, political environment, history and current socio-economic set up. Electronic community networks have been in application for decades now and have increasingly grown on the Internet since the advent of the World Wide Web (Lakhani & Hippel, 2006). Web-based communities have become important places for people to seek and share expertise throughout the world. The South African Western Cape region is one of the regions in developing countries, which have been experiencing great growth in the last decade and which provides a rich environment for this case study.
A number of scenarios may come up in this case study research; the first may be that electronic community networks have been greatly utilized for economic gain the region with aspects such as business being the main beneficiaries. Another scenario may be that the communities have enriched the cultural and socio-political life of the region, and that they play a greater role in this life more than they affect the economic situation in the Western Cape. In the first scenario, the case study would have to be planned with a particular focus on the socio-economic environment to provide good information on the effects of the World Wide Web to the economy of the region and how other regions can learn from it (Wasserman and Faust, 2004). The appropriate course of action in case the cultural or socio-political landscape is of more interest would be to focus the case on objectives that seek information in the culture, politics and general way of life of people in the region. This would then be used for comparison to other regions around the world with particular emphasis on the impact of the socio-cultural landscape on business and economics.
Case Study Research Design
For a long time, case studies have been perceived as being weak in terms of objectivity in comparison with other social research methods. For this reason, extra care must be taken when developing the research design to ensure that it is well articulated and implemented. It should be considered that in this case study, the main interest would be to use it as a preliminary basis for the development of more structured tools of study for the region and other similar areas around the world (Schuler, 1996).
When designing the case study it is important to consider several factors; the first factor is the type of questions to be answered by the research. The research must be able to provide concrete answers to the specific objectives selected for the study (Easton, 1992). The design must also ensure that there is considerable control over behavioral events and that there is a greater degree of focus on contemporary events than on historical events (Eisenhardt, 1999). In this case, the design of the study should be descriptive and therefore, concentrate on providing answers that can describe the situation on the ground both in both their historical and present context. This study will apply descriptive cross-sectional research. Cross-sectional research involves surveying of different groups of people with various differing interests but who share some common characteristics like neighborhoods, ethnicity, education or socio-economic status (Yin, 1994). The study will involve gathering of data from all kinds of respondents across the Western Cape region. The case study approach supports deeper and more detailed investigations that are more appropriate in answering ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions and therefore, the design will take advantage of the richness and variability of the sampling frame (Yin, 1994). The cross-sectional research will enable gathering of data whose results will be representative of the views of the whole region.
Suggestion of Data Types and Sources
This case study focuses on wide aspects of the Western Cape region of South Africa, a region rich in history, culture, and other information. This would form a basis for the questions to be asked by this study, particularly those focusing on the context of study. However, more important is that particular data has to be collected on online communities in the World Wide Web, their characteristics and impacts on the society as a whole. In a case study research, just like in any other type of research, the objectives of study determine the type of data to be collected and their sources (Eisenhardt, 1999).
This study will collect both primary and secondary data. Primary data will be collected directly from the respondents through questionnaires, interviews and other real-time data collection tools, and it will be important in establishing current views on the ground for the establishment of the electronic community network on the Internet. Primary data should provide important information about perceptions on online communication, Internet usage trends, technology, and the usefulness of electronic communities to the Western Cape region.
Examples of primary data will include the age ranges of people, who utilize the Internet, why people utilize the Internet, the benefits of the Internet, frequency of utilization of the Internet, economic activities of respondents, income and other demographic information. A sample of the questionnaire is provided in Appendix 1. Other methods of gathering primary data will include focus discussion groups, mapping, observation, and scaling. Focus discussion groups will be created depending on age group and type of activity. People of the same age groups will be included in the same groups to create the freedom of expression; similarly, people pursuing similar economic activities will be included in similar groups. To create gender equality, groups will have members from both sexes.
Secondary data will provide insights about important factors that determine the growth of technology and its application in the community, including education levels, wealth, accessibility and others (Kollock, 1999). This information should also include the adoption of the Internet and online communities, its success so far, usefulness and a projection of the future (Agre & Schuler, 1997). Examples of secondary data sources will include government development reports, data from statistics organizations, regional census data, data from telecommunication companies, and data from Internet providers. Figure 1 and Table 1 illustrates some of the data that will be collected (Source: Statistics South Africa).
Table 2 below indicates the demographic data of the Western Cape community; this is among the secondary data that will be useful to collect in the study.
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