Organizations Partner with SOM to Develop Customized “Raw” Cases
Three years ago, the SOM Case Study Research and Development group pioneered a new form of business curriculum — the raw, multimedia, web-based case study. In the subsequent years, the group has developed more than 35 of these cases for use at the SOM. Now, various outside groups are taking notice and funding the development of raw case studies.
The raw case represents a major break from the standard business case developed at Harvard 75 years ago. The standard case lays out a problem in straightforward narrative of 10-15 pages. In contrast, raw cases are presented on the web, allowing case editors to combine shorter narratives with "raw" data such as 10-Ks, industry analyst reports, news reports, and in-depth video interviews of principals. The end product better reflects real-world decision making, where complex and interrelated issues are the norm. The wide range of data and lack of a single narrative also allows attacking a problem from multiple perspectives — in line with the school’s integrated curriculum.
The Yale approach is drawing interest from other schools and organizations. The case research team has partnered with a number of outside groups, including the Aspen Institute and the World Economic Forum, to develop case studies. The school has also received a grant from the Winterhouse Institute to produce a series of cases on the use of design in social enterprise. The funding for the four-case series allowed the school to devote more resources to these cases than it otherwise might.
The first case in the series focuses on SELCO, an Indian solar energy company. Established in 1995, the company provides energy solutions to poor households and businesses mostly in rural areas of India. A major SELCO innovation is small, inexpensive solar panels that are used to run lights for street vendors or solar-powered headlamps for midwives. The idea is to remove a major obstacle for entrepreneurs in places where electrical power is intermittent at best.
"It’s a strong social venture," said Jaan Elias, director of case study research and development, "where an idea is both smart for business and has a real positive impact on the community. The cleverness of the company in adapting off-the-shelf solar products demonstrates the importance of design in creating a viable enterprise. We could write up a standard case for SELCO, but it wouldn’t come close to capturing what this company is really about."
Tony Sheldon ’84, the executive director of the Program on Social Enterprise at Yale SOM, set up the case opportunity after Harish Hande, the founder of SELCO, spoke at a social enterprise forum at the school. With the Winterhouse funding, SOM sent a pair of case research producers to India for two weeks to see — and film — the company in action. With the help of a six-person local crew, the case research producers traveled to five cities, where they interviewed people who use SELCO products in their homes, in a Buddhist monastery, and even on fishing boats. In total, the SOM researchers recorded more than 20 hours of video, collected company documents, and interviewed management and customers. This research will form the core of the raw case study, which will debut in January 2010.
(A video produced for the SELCO case can be viewed to the right.)
While the case will serve multiple classes at SOM, the funding allows the case to be available to the public once it is complete. It is expected that this case will be useful in business, nonprofit, and design curriculums throughout the country. Work is also underway on the next case in the series, which examines the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovations’ use of designers to re-imagine medical care.
In addition to the design and social enterprise case series, the Yale case group has been working with the World Economic Forum on a series of cases about media in fast-growing markets such as India, China, and Brazil. These cases will be debuted at the Davos conference in January 2010 and will be made available to SOM students in June of the coming year.
"These are just a few examples of how other people are getting excited about raw cases," said Elias. "The idea seems to be gathering steam even beyond Hillhouse Avenue."
View a video developed for a case on SELCO, the
Indian solar energy company, in partnership with the
Winterhouse Institute, which is studying how design
can impact social change. (3:04)