Using Complete Stories in Decision Forcing Cases by Dr. Bruce I. Gudmundsson

The story that surrounds the problem at the heart of a decision-forcing case is necessarily interrupted. That is, sometime between the beginning and the end of the narrative, the story telling ends and the problem solving begins. This does not mean, however, that there is no role for completed narratives in the world of the case method. On the contrary, completed narratives are often a very useful way of providing students with background information.

Consider, if you will, a decision-forcing case set in the middle of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. Asking students to watch the classic film Zulu, which depicts events at the beginning of that conflict, will provide students with lots of useful information about the combatants, their weapons, their tactics, and the terrain over which they fought. Similarly, a case about the battle of Formigny (15 April 1450), which took place towards the end of the Hundred Years War, could begin with a documentary about the battle of Agincourt, an article on the same subject, or even a production of Shakespeare's Henry the V.

Complete story

The only requirement that completed stories must meet in order to be used as part of the "back story" of a decision-forcing case is the absence of "spoilers." (A "spoiler" is a piece of information that prematurely discloses the ending of a story, thereby depriving readers, watchers, or listeners of the full enjoyment of it.) Thus, before assigning a film, podcast, article, book, or play as a means of providing background information for a decision-forcing case, a case teacher must examine it thoroughly for information that betrays the ending of the case. (A spoiler can appear anywhere in a work, but is most often found in introductions, conclusions, prologues, epilogues, parenthetical remarks, and footnotes.) The absence of spoilers often coincides with a narrative that ends well before the events immediately preceding the problem at the heart of a case took place.

Thus, the battle of Agincourt took place 35 years before the battle of Formigny and, as a result, most accounts of the first event make no mention of the second. Still, there is no substitute for a thorough "spoiler search." The use of complete narratives often facilitates the assembly of materials for a case. In particular, it reduces the need to redact documents, edit video files, or truncate audio files. This, in turn, makes it possible to use works that are prohibitively difficult to alter: bound books, electronic texts that have been locked in some way, programs in an analog format, and works made available on condition that they not be altered in any way.

Thanks to Bruce Gudmundsson once again for his insights into how to design and facilitate decision making exercises that create and nurture adaptability.