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Copyright © 2015 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited. This chapter considers the usefulness and validity of public inquiries as a source of data and preliminary interpretation for case study research. Using two contrasting examples - the Bristol Inquiry into excess deaths in a children's cardiac surgery unit and the Woolf Inquiry into a breakdown of governance at the London School of Economics (LSE) - I show how academics can draw fruitfully on, and develop further analysis from, the raw datasets, published summaries and formal judgements of public inquiries. Academic analysis of public inquiries can take two broad forms, corresponding to the two main approaches to individual case study defined by Stake: instrumental (selecting the public inquiry on the basis of predefined theoretical features and using the material to develop and test theoretical propositions) and intrinsic (selecting the public inquiry on the basis of the particular topic addressed and using the material to explore questions about what was going on and why). The advantages of a public inquiry as a data source for case study research typically include a clear and uncontested focus of inquiry; the breadth and richness of the dataset collected; the exceptional level of support available for the tasks of transcribing, indexing, collating, summarising and so on; and the expert interpretations and insights of the inquiry's chair (with which the researcher may or may not agree). A significant disadvantage is that whilst the dataset collected for a public inquiry is typically 'rich', it has usually been collected under far from ideal research conditions. Hence, while public inquiries provide a potentially rich resource for researchers, those who seek to use public inquiry data for research must justify their choice on both ethical and scientific grounds.

Original publication




Journal article


Advances in Program Evaluation

Publication Date





181 - 206