Welcome to Case Matters, the e-Bulletin of the International Journal of Instructional Cases

We have a packed edition of Case Matters this time. A special focus on Communities of Practice (CoPs) includes an exclusive Q&A with our latest authors, Laurie L. Levesque and Sarina Cerulli, as they share their thoughts on their new concise case and how it developed. We are also very pleased that our new Associate Editor for Tourism & Hospitality, Rebecca Wilson-Mah of Royal Roads University, has contributed a piece on CoPs to develop the conversation further.

Gina Vega, our Editor-in-Chief, kicks off this edition with her thoughts about how case writing can actually benefit as an unanticipated consequence of today's technological landscape. Let us know what you think at editorial@ijicases.com

With IJIC celebrating its two-year publication milestone last summer, we also have exciting news about the further advancement of our partnership with PMI, Project Management Institute, and the launch of our new Project Management Zone.

We are also very excited about the first of the journal's specialist tracks and the establishment of a new board of Associate Editors. Our Associate Editors are experts in their particular field and have lots of experience in case writing and teaching - get in touch with them to discuss an idea that you might have for a new concise case in your subject area or region. Find out all about it at http://www.ijicases.com/new-tracks/

Join our support for concise case studies by submitting your own case for review, coming onboard as an IJIC reviewer, or using IJIC cases in your teaching. We can't wait to hear from you! Get in touch with me at rob@ijicases.com

Rob Edwards, Publisher
P.S. We are now preparing content for the next issue of Case Matters. Send me an email if you would like your case news included!

Rob Edwards

Unanticipated Consequence and the Art of Case Writing

Gina Vega, Editor-in-Chief


We have been warned many times about the dangers of unanticipated consequences. Unanticipated consequences includes all types of unexpected results to actions meant to improve an existing situation. These are not arcane, mysterious, or necessarily technical outcomes. There are many well-known examples of unanticipated consequences, most of which are negative. The introduction of kudzu as an attractive ornamental plant to the southern US in the late 19th century has resulted in the vine’s choking out much natural growth in the region and overrunning forests and other wooded areas. The spread of the Bubonic Plague in London was accelerated by the order to rid the city of dogs and cats, resulting in the unintended protection of the rats that carried the fleas that brought the disease. As scientists have demonstrated, much climate change is the result of our own human actions originally designed to improve our lives. The importing of rabbits to Australia for food resulted in their explosive population growth, turning them into feral pests.

Even our very human and natural behavior can result in negative outcomes. In organizational behavior courses we teach our students about Groupthink, originally described by Irving Janis in the 1970s[i]. His own definition is:

The more amiability and esprit de corps there is among the members of a policy-making ingroup, the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed against outgroups.[ii]

The dangers of agreeing too much in the greater interest of achieving consensus can have devastating human results. We often refer to the Challenger disaster of the O-rings as an example of too much agreement and an unwillingness to miss an artificial deadline established by higher-ups. In a less graphic example, how many of us are willing to stand up in a meeting and disagree with the boss when everyone else is silent? How many US Republican Senators were willing to vote against Donald Trump’s impeachment? How many can truly accept their ethical responsibilities when faced with illusions of unanimity?

These negative or perverse unintended consequences have truly awful outcomes, but not all unintended consequences are bad. Although far less ubiquitous than negative consequences, some very well-known positive outcomes include the use of aspirin, developed as an analgesic, as a blood thinner to avoid heart attacks. Other drugs have developed for one use have been found to be effective against other diseases, such as prednisone designed for inflammatory diseases but also used for Parkinson’s disease, Viagra originally for hypertension and angina and subsequently discovered for its most well-publicized and current use, as well as many other drugs. For a more complete list, visit https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161129150501.htm.

As systems become more and more complex, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify possible unintended consequences, positive or perverse.

But I suggest one very positive sub-consequential windfall of a negative consequence of our rapidly advancing technology.

We have all decried the loss of privacy (unintended negative outcome) resulting from improved technological access to information. However, that loss of privacy has resulted in global access to information that allows far greater freedom for case writers. We can see and hear interviews posted on YouTube, we can read interviews from media outlets large and small, we can access financials of publicly-traded companies, we can often see manuals and other internal documents posted online etc. All of this does not necessarily obviate the need for field research, personal interviews, and direct observation, but it does give us a leg up on making our secondary-source cases come alive.

We can use any publicly quoted material in our narratives; we can apply various analyses to the published financials of many companies and use them as benchmark material for the smaller or privately-held businesses; we can direct students to durable public links for manufacturing processes; and many other uses abound for readily-available Internet-accessible information. None of this material requires a release, as it has already been made public and is available to all.

I’m not suggested “outing” all sorts of behavior. What I am suggesting is that we take advantage of what has already been released by businesses, blogs, and journalists in order to develop improved learning materials for our students in an efficient manner. Especially for the kind of concise cases we publish at IJIC, speed and timeliness are key components of providing cases on current and evolving issues.

Try it on for size…you may discover that this method of research really works for you.

[i] Janis, I. L. (1982). Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-31704-5.
[ii] Janis, I. L. (November 1971). "Groupthink" (PDF). Psychology Today. 5 (6): 43–46, 74–76. Archived from the original on April 1, 201

IJIC & PMI launch new Project Management Zone

The International Journal of Instructional Cases is delighted to be working with our partner, Project Management Institute, to promote the use of concise cases in project management.

The newly-launched Project Management Zone provides readers with access to IJIC's growing collection of project management concise cases, and links to the latest news and events from PMI.

For the full story, please visit the IJIC website.
Project Management Institute logo

Focus on Communities of Practice

In this issue of Case Matters, we are delighted to showcase our latest concise case, authored by Laurie L. Levesque & Sarina Cerulli. The case considers the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) and similar bodies as 'Communities of Practice', inviting students to discuss how CoPs can play an important role in their own professional and career development.

More information about the new case follows, along with a fascinating Q&A with its authors as they provide more background and context to their case writing. Many thanks to Laurie and Sarina for their valuable contribution - we are very excited to welcome them as IJIC authors.

We are also very grateful to IJIC Associate Editor for Tourism & Hospitality, Rebecca Wilson-Mah of Royal Roads University, who has taken time to share her reflections about Communities of Practice.

Recently published: The Young Entrepreneur Council

Scott Gerber cofounded Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) to create a community of people who could fill a knowledge deficit for himself and others. Students examine the formation and success of YEC and affiliated organizations as ‘communities of practice’ (CoP). Optional career-focused assignments and activities let students apply the concept of communities of practice to gaps created when college coursework and workplace training don’t provide all the tacit knowledge needed to excel in the job.
Communities of practice; learning; knowledge sharing; careers; entrepreneurship; classroom exercise
Target Audience and Usage
This case is aimed towards undergraduate and graduate students who will benefit from understanding how CoPs relate to their own professional learning and career management. It can be paired with units on learning organizations, knowledge or career management, entrepreneurship, and employee development.

Order copies of the new case here.

Author Q&A with Laurie L. Levesque, Ph.D. and Sarina Cerulli

Laurie and Sarina
Q1. Please introduce yourselves
[Laurie] I’m an Associate Professor, wrapping up my 19th year in the Sawyer Business School at Suffolk University. Over the years I’ve enjoyed a mix of faculty and administrative roles and been involved in program development and oversight, curriculum and course design, accreditation, faculty development, student engagement, recruitment, and policy and planning. I currently teach negotiations, organizational behavior, and managing a learning organization. The latter utilizes a classroom-as-organization design (i.e., student-centric and student-led) and doing so pushes me to continue developing my facilitation skills and be willing to take the same risks I am asking of students enrolled in a non-traditional course. I’m in a Community of Practice with others who use this model, and that allows us to learn from each other. Outside of higher education, I am an artist and belong to various groups to support my painting habit.

[Sarina] My name is Sarina Cerulli and I graduated from Suffolk University in May 2019 with a BS in Business Administration and a double minor in Accounting and Marketing. Post-graduation I went on to work in the nursing home/assisted living industry where I currently perform centralized Accounts Payable. I spent a majority of the summer learning Human Resource practices when I assisted in onboarding new employees in new facility acquisitions.
In college I was a 4-year member and 2-year captain of the Suffolk University Dance Company where I was able to implement leadership topics that I learned in the classroom. I was able to connect the importance of Communities of Practice (CoPs) once I realized through my dance experience that having a commonality with a surrounding group of people can make you more motivated to work towards a better final result.
In the future I hope to pursue a career in Human Resources while getting back to dancing and creating a platform for post-graduates to continue their own passion with dance.

Q2. What brought you to choose the Young Entrepreneur Council as a subject for your concise case study?
[Laurie] We were looking for a local example and came across the YEC. It seemed like a very obvious choice and one that would resonate with Suffolk students, many of whom are innovative doers.

[Sarina] This all came about after a project I conducted in Professor Levesque’s class my junior year about CoP’s. She approached afterwards, interested in the subject, and from there on we began working on a publication project about the matter. It evolved over the span of a year and a half and later became more specific as we made the choice to focus on a specific CoP, the Young Entrepreneur Council, rather than the broad subject matter. We thought that it would be easier to comprehend using one example.

Q3. In the case, you consider Communities of Practice (CoPs) like YEC as a bridge between the classroom and the world of work. Can you elaborate?
[Laurie] It’s helpful for students to have practical examples of what can be abstract concepts. With a CoP, students can easily misunderstand and assume it’s the same as a social network in general. Having a case that walks them through the need for, creation of, and utilization of a Community of Practice lets them truly understand the concept from the ground up. The case was intended to be very accessible to undergraduates, one in which they could discuss and identify with the individuals and situation.

[Sarina] In classrooms, we are typically put into groups to conduct projects and this is supposed to prepare us for working with others in the workforce. But sometimes these groups are not always on the same page – some people don’t pull their weight due to disinterest in the subject, people may have different outlooks, etc. However, CoPs have a commonality between the members which causes members to want to put their best work forward to accomplish a shared goal. I feel like the workforce is more apt to be like this than the classroom because most of the time, employees are in a field because they enjoy it and want to put their best work forward. Working with others who have a likewise interest can make the whole process more enjoyable and collaborative.

Q4. How did you share the writing of the case between each other?
[Laurie] There was a lot of back-and-forth, and over the evolution of our project we each took the lead on different parts. It was enjoyable to work with a former student and introduce her to case publishing.

[Sarina] We used Google Docs a lot and made lists of things to accomplish. We tried to set deadlines (and stick to them!). We also proofread everything that one another did, which allowed a second set of eyes to add information, take away things, etc.

Q5. Talk us through some of the advantages of a concise case study in sparking debate and discussion in the classroom.
[Laurie] Students’ lives are very busy these days. In our business school, they take five courses, many of which have group projects. They work 1 or more jobs, and are active with co-curricular and extramural programs and sports. I find that lesson plans that tackle a topic in several ways ultimately allow students to gain a better grasp of the concepts and their application. Concise cases are thus easier to build into a class. Given the number of international students we have at Suffolk, my preference is to assign readings ahead of time, with immediate deliverables in class to encourage accountability. But the flexibility of compact cases means that isn’t always necessary and they can read and immediately discuss while the thoughts are still fresh in their mind.

[Sarina] Having open discussions in the classroom is so important to students because it allows them to hear viewpoints other than their own, which they may not have been exposed to before. I believe that discussions such as these allow for student growth as they transition into the workforce. We are all constantly evolving and growing, so sparking a discussion where people can share their opinions and/or experiences could help those listening relate it to their own lives.

Foundations of Communities of Practice

Rebecca Wilson-Mah, Associate Editor, Tourism & Hospitality
Royal Roads University

Rebecca Wilson-Mah
The concept of a community of practice (CoP) is based on the work of Lave and Wenger (1991) and Wenger (1998). Wenger developed a social theory of learning to account for learning as social participation. Wenger’s (1998) social theory of learning included four main components: community, identity, meaning, and practice. A community of practice is proposed to be an entry point to social learning where people explore, practice, and develop learning through social and participatory activity with one another (Wenger, 1998).

CoPs are “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger, 2015 p. 1). Etienne and Beverley Wenger-Trayner (2015) simplified the community of practice learning partnership to three characteristics: the domain of interest, the community, and the practice. The domain of interest represents the area of competence that brings a certain group of people together, i.e., CoPs develop around the things that matter to people (Wenger, 1998).

The second characteristic of the learning partnership is community. Wenger (1998) proposed that learning is associated with our evolving social relationships with others in the group through multiple relational processes. Some examples of community-focused practices shared by Wenger (1998) include how the group coordinates to learn together, the functioning within the group (discussing, problem solving, sharing, coordinating, creating, identifying gaps), and the commitment and support that group members extend to one another. Mercieca (2017) emphasized that the community sustains a CoP and nurtures continued participation.

The third characteristic, practice, connects the CoP concept to the practitioner. In a CoP, the group, through their community relationships, share aspects of the activities and understandings that they engage in within their practice. Over time, they develop a repertoire of shared resources described as experiences, stories, and tools that form the underpinning of their collective knowledge and learning (Wenger-Trayner, 2015).

Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner (2015) noted that communities of practice develop into a variety of forms and they practice multiple different activities. Some additional features of CoPs are that they are voluntary (Mercieca, 2018, Nagy and Burch, 2009), emphasise open accessibility to new members and offer opportunities to explore competence in domains that invite participation from across boundary organisational structures.

Want to know what IJIC is all about? Don't forget we have a sample concise case and teaching note on our website!


For more information, please visit the IJIC website.

Media Contact: Rob Edwards, rob@ijicases.com

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