DECRG Kuala Lumpur Seminar Series: Using Cases and Case Studies in Development: Causal Inference, Extrapolation, Diagnostics
June 2, 2016DECRG Kuala Lumpur Seminar Series


How can the quality of our decision-making with small sample sizes be enhanced? When can one generalize on the basis of a well-identified single case? In an array of prominent fields (e.g., law, medicine, business), case studies have a long and venerable history as tools for both research and teaching. They have recently risen to prominence in international development, as exemplified by the Global Delivery Initiative (a 30-organization consortium based at the World Bank), which produces and shares case studies on development interventions from around the world. But lingering concerns remain about the methodological veracity of cases and case studies as a basis for deriving defensible claims about causal inference, extrapolation, and their utility for problem diagnosis. Recent scholarship, however, seeks to identify more precisely the conditions under which these concerns can be assuaged. For 'complex' development interventions in particular, singular cases and case studies can offer distinctive insights into how such interventions work; and when coupled with theory and broader quantitative data, they can in fact be used to make causal inferences, and to guide decisions about the likely impact of replicating the intervention for different groups, in novel contexts, at larger scales of operation, or when implemented by different agencies. Engaging epistemological strategies from across the social sciences can greatly enhance development effectiveness.

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Using Cases and Case Studies in Development: Causal Inference, Extrapolation, Diagnostics

  • Michael Woolcock,

    Lead Social Development Specialist, Development Research Group, World Bank
    Michael Woolcock is Lead Social Development Specialist in the World Bank's Development Research Group, where he was worked since 1998. He is also a (part-time) Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. His current research focuses on strategies for enhancing state capability for implementation, on crafting more effective interaction between informal and formal justice systems, and on using mixed methods to assess 'complex' development interventions. In addition to more than 50 journal articles and book chapters, he is the co-author or co-editor of seven books, including Contesting Development: Participatory Projects and Local Conflict Dynamics in Indonesia (with Patrick Barron and Rachael Diprose; Yale University Press 2011), which was a co-recipient of the best book prize by the American Sociological Association's section on international development. He has served for many years on the World Bank's Social Development Board and co-founded the Justice for the Poor program; in 2007-2009 he was the founding research director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester (on external service leave from the Bank), and in 2002 was the Von Hugel Visiting Fellow at St Edmunds College, University of Cambridge. An Australian national, he completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Queensland, and has an MA and PhD in sociology from Brown University.
Event Details
  • When: Thursday, 2 June 2016; 12:30-2:00PM
  • Where: World Bank Malaysia Office, Level 3, Sasana Kijang, No. 2, Jalan Dato’ Onn
  • RSVP: Kindly RSVP to Ms. Stella Ambrose ( and provide your name, Malaysian I/C no. or passport no., and affiliation by Wednesday, 1 June 2016.