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  • Writer's pictureElina Halonen

Why are there so few detailed case studies in applied behavioural science?

Source: DALL-E

One of the responses to my recent question about what content people were interested in was "Very detailed, practical accounts of interventions you've personally designed, implemented and ideally tested. Nothing generic or abstract." There were other, similar requests too but none as detailed as this, so I thought I'd give my POV on why there are not many detailed case studies available in public.

1. Client confidentiality constraints:

NDA are a requirement for most projects, making it nearly impossible to share detailed public case studies without risking client confidentiality. Even with anonymization, certain details can inadvertently reveal the client or sensitive aspects of the project. Any in-depth public disclosure would require approval from the client's legal department, adding another layer of complexity.

2. Complexity of the behavioural challenge:

In a recent project, my goal was to understand the factors influencing the behaviour of specialist healthcare practitioners across five vastly different countries. The objective was to improve referral rates to surgery, ultimately leading to positive outcomes for patients with a serious medical condition. Each country not only has a unique healthcare system with different situational constraints but also has distinct cultural factors influencing the dynamic between healthcare professionals & patients, and the condition is so complicated the treatment guidelines comprise a 150 page document - it's easier to balance a coffee cup on one's head than write about that in an engaging way!

3. Silver bullets are rarer than PopSci books suggest:

Addressing complex challenges effectively involves adopting a systems perspective, which goes beyond the scope of simple interventions. The success of any intervention in cases like this depends on various factors, making it difficult to evaluate it like a single, simple intervention of changing one or two elements, such as moving a signature box to the beginning of a form. This complexity makes it harder to present clear-cut case studies with definitive outcomes.

4. Diverse target groups and solutions:

Addressing different target groups often requires creating multiple, tailored interventions. In this case, one of my recommended solutions was an AI-powered tool, which will take time to implement due to considerations on the client's side and requires a team, rather than being the work of a single individual, like an independent consultant.

5. Proprietary data:

Detailed explanations of behavioural challenges would require sharing proprietary data. For example, this recent project spanned various countries with distinct healthcare systems and cultural practices. The volume of data we went through to understand the complex challenge would make it impractical to share publicly while retaining meaningful insights and respecting confidentiality.

In addition to this, if you did write a case study that is detailed enough, it will take so much time to write that the ROI on effort is often not enough for an independent consultant unless you are certain that the case study will attract clients with a very similar problem to the one you're describing.

All is not lost, however, because there are some case studies available in public - although they may not be free:

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