most basic aim of our research is to understand learning processes occurring
in small and medium size companies. This requires a qualitative approach.
The analysis of the organisational and cultural contexts in which those
processes take place is another of our goals. The case study methodology
fits this aim very well. And last but not least, we are interested in researching
several variables: each and every "learning topic" identified in our cases
can , in fact, be considered a variable. Again, the case study methodology
seems the most appropriate choice for this purpose.
We can say that our research could be placed somewhere between what Stake
calls intrinsic, instrumental and collective case studies. Stake himself
admits that 'authors and reports seldom fit neatly into such categories'
and he sees these categories as heuristic more than functional. In our
case, we choose cases with an instrumental purpose and resort to several
cases (collective instrumental case studies), but our purpose might be,
as well, the understanding of these particular cases as a previous step
to any theory development. It is possible that some of the phenomena that
we come across in the cases analysed (five or six companies) do not take
place in other companies. It is not the purpose of our project to find
out, for example, that knowledge is transferred from individuals to groups
if frequent meetings are held in all companies. Our purpose is to understand
how knowledge transfer happens in a particular case (company) because understanding
it can be useful as a first step in developing theory and/or refining previous
theory. And it can be useful for other companies that have access to the
research findings, allowing them to make use of such findings if relevant
and applicable to their situations. Furthermore, it can also be useful
when described in a case study for teaching purposes in order to set up
a discussion about transfer of knowledge in a company."
1999, pp. 13f.; Stake, R.E.; Denzin, N.K.; Lincoln, Y.S. Case Studies.
Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, California. Sage, 1994)