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Extension of Theory in Leadership and Management Studies Using the Multiple-Case Study Design

Authors:
  • École des Ponts Business School

Abstract

Extension of theory using a multiple-case study design can contribute value to a particular theoretical perspective and further define the boundaries of the original theory. Most organizations today operate in volatile economic and social environments. Qualitative research plays an essential role in the investigation of leadership and management problems, given that they remain complex social enigmas. The multiple-case study design is a valuable qualitative research tool in studying the links between the personal, social, behavioral, psychological, organizational, cultural, and environmental factors that guide managerial and leadership development. Multiple-case studies can be used by both novice and experienced qualitative researchers to contribute original qualitative data to extant theory. Multiple-case study research is particularly suitable for responding to questions of how and why and what Eisenhardt (1989, 2020) terms "big picture" research questions that remain unanswered in the extant leadership and management literature.
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Extension of Theory in Leadership and Management
Studies Using the Multiple-Case Study Design*
Daphne Halkias and Michael Neubert
International School of Management Paris
Extension of theory using a multiple-case study design can contribute value to a particular
theoretical perspective and further define the boundaries of the original theory. Most
organizations today operate in volatile economic and social environments. Qualitative
research plays an essential role in the investigation of leadership and management
problems, given that they remain complex social enigmas. The multiple-case study design
is a valuable qualitative research tool in studying the links between the personal, social,
behavioral, psychological, organizational, cultural, and environmental factors that guide
managerial and leadership development. Multiple-case studies can be used by both novice
and experienced qualitative researchers to contribute original qualitative data to extant
theory. Multiple-case study research is particularly suitable for responding to questions of
how and why and what Eisenhardt (1989, 2020) terms “big picture” research questions
that remain unanswered in the extant leadership and management literature.
Key words: leadership studies, management studies, multiple case study, research
methodology, study design, theory extension
Qualitative research plays an essential role in the investigation of leadership and
management problems, given that they remain complex social enigmas even after
tons of ink has been spilled on behalf of these phenomena for longer than anyone
cares to remember. Quantitative methods remain insufficient for investigating
phenomena with dynamic and symbolic components at multiple levels. Qualitative
methods support investigators in finding interpretive contexts in which leadership
is defined through daily lived experiences. Denzin and Lincoln (2000) note that
qualitative researchers follow an interpretive and naturalistic approach, which
“means that qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings,
attempting to make sense of or interpret phenomena in terms of the meanings
people bring to them (3). Leadership and management researchers are
increasingly adopting qualitative methods in their studies, mainly because of the
*To cite this article: Halkias, D., & Neubert, M. (2020). Extension of theory in leadership and
management studies using the multiple-case study design. International Leadership Journal,
12(2), 4873.
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approach’s flexibility and suitability in capturing the multiple dimensions of and
subtle differences in social phenomena (Halkias et al., 2017).
The multiple-case study design is a valuable research tool for studying the links
between the personal, social, behavioral, psychological, organizational, cultural, and
environmental factors that guide managerial and leadership development (Abadir et
al., 2020). Case study research is essential for the in-depth study of participants’
perspectives involved in the phenomenon within its natural context. Rigorously
designed management and leadership case studies in the extant literature have, as
a central focus, the stories of individual managers and leaders and their perceptions
of the broader forces operating within and outside their organizations.
Extant theories can be expanded and enhanced with a multiple-case study
design that is utilized for gathering data to answer a qualitative research question.
Extension of theory using a multiple-case study design can contribute value to a
particular theoretical perspective and further define the boundaries of the original
theory. Multiple cases are like multiple experiments; the previously developed
theory can be compared and extended to account for the empirical results of the
case study (Yin, 2017). The examination of the rich data collected in theoretically
significant cases can bring forth additional constructs and relationships to theory
to reflect the actual multiple-case study data set. Extension studies, such as this
multiple-case study, not only provide replication evidence but also extend prior
research results with new and important theoretical directions (Bonett, 2012).
Theory extension from a multiple-case study is distinct from other approaches to
theory building, such as mathematical modeling or computational simulation.
Extension of theory using a multiple-case study design is guided by logic that is
informed by the systematic analysis of empirical data. Theory extension through
multiple-case study research is a broader approach than other inductive methods
such as interpretivist research, in which knowledge is assumed to be socially
constructed by study participants’ voices and lived experiences (Cooper & White,
2012). Narrative and phenomenological studies more often focus on exploring
constructs such as identity, the meaning of experience, participant voice, and
socially constructed knowledge about a specific phenomenon and less on creating
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theory extension. Ethnography researchers explore culture through immersive
observation and daily practices often unbeknownst to the observed participants,
such as nonverbal cues, cultural rituals, and data derived from artifacts.
Nevertheless, despite differences, qualitative approaches such as multiple-case,
interpretivist, and ethnographic studies all utilize common research strategies, such
as immersion in the phenomenon studied and purposeful sampling.
Multiple-case studies can be used by both novice and experienced qualitative
researchers to contribute original qualitative data to extant theory. Multiple-case
study research is particularly effective for responding to questions of how and why
and what Eisenhardt (1989, 2020) terms “big picture” research questions that are
essentially broad inquiries to address a gap in the extant literature. When a
research question is tightly bounded within the context of an existing theory, using
a set of theoretically relevant case studies to understand complex processes that
occur in the context of this theory is deemed methodologically appropriate.
Although the exploratory nature of a qualitative study overrules the benefits of a
theoretical framework, theory-free research does not exist (Guba & Lincoln, 1994).
A researcher who cannot formulate a theoretical framework to ground their multiple-
case study still needs to immerse themselves in the literature to discover
preconceptions about their study. Findings in a multiple-case study confirm or
extend the existing knowledge in the discipline, as each case presented can be
grounded in the reviewed literature (Stake, 2010).
Theory in Qualitative Research
Theory, theoretical frameworks, conceptual frameworks, and theory of method are
“terms that have blurred lines within qualitative methods literature and either suffer
or benefit from widespread nuanced differences. In general, a theory is a big idea
that organizes many other ideas with a high degree of explanatory power” (Collins
& Stockton, 2018, 2). The theory of method (or methodology) provides guidance
as to what method will help answer a research question. A conceptual framework
best functions as a map of “concepts” from those defined in the extant literature
that used to define a particular study. These concepts are grounded in a
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foundational theoretical framework that identifies the lens through which the study
will interpret new knowledge.
Maxwell (2013) defines a conceptual framework as a tentative theory about the
phenomena being studied that informs the whole of the study's design, noting that
“this may also be called the ‘theoretical framework’ or ‘idea context’ for the study”
(39). This use of theory to ground a study’s concepts helps the qualitative
researcher refine goals, develop research questions, choose methodological
approaches, identify potential threats to the trustworthiness of analyzed data, and
define the significance of the research. The primary source of the conceptual
framework, from Maxwell’s perspective, does not necessarily need to be an
existing theory. Four primary sources are options from which to derive a
conceptual framework: (a) knowledge based on experience, (b) existing theory,
(c) exploratory research, and (d) “thought experiments” (44).
The network or “frame” of concepts woven together by the researcher from the
literature are the guiding constructs of epistemology and theory for qualitative
studies. Maxwell (2013) notes that the conceptual framework includes “the system
of concepts, assumptions, expectations, beliefs, and theories that supports and
informs your research” (39). Maxwell (2013) continues: I use the term in a broader
sense, to refer to the actual ideas and beliefs that you hold about the phenomena
studied, whether these are written down or not; this may also be called the
‘theoretical framework’ or ‘idea context’ for the study” (39). Similarly, Merriam and
Tisdell (2015) add:
Yet another point of confusion is that the terms theoretical framework and
conceptual framework are often used interchangeably in the literature. We prefer
theoretical framework because a theoretical framework seems a bit broader and
includes terms, concepts, models, thoughts, and ideas as well as references to
specific theories; further, conceptual frameworks are often found in the
methodology chapter or section of a quantitative study wherein the concepts and
how they are to be operationalized and measured are presented. (84)
According to Saldaña and Omasta (2016), a theory encases research into a
narrative about “social life that holds transferable applications to other settings,
context, populations, and possibly time periods” (257). This “big truth,” or theory,
has four properties: (a) predicts and controls action with if-then logic, (b) accounts
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for variation, (c) explains how and why something happens through causation, and
(d) provides insights for improving social life (Saldaña & Omasta, 2016). Theory
extension in case study research is a result of data collection that adds new
knowledge to a conceptual framework by using theory as the framework to guide
the study. Certain qualitative methodological approaches call for theory
construction from a study’s findings, such as in the case of grounded theory
studies. Saldaña (2015) challenges the notion that theory construction should be
the primary type of theoretical thought in qualitative research and urges
researchers to consider utilizing the frameworks of noted theorists to guide
qualitative studies. Guba and Lincoln (1994) note that theory in qualitative research
must be present within the guiding framework when searching out new knowledge,
while Ridder (2017) specifically recommends the use of case restudy research for
theory modification or extension.
Theoretical frameworks provide four dimensions of insight for qualitative research:
(a) focus and organization for the study, (b) exposing and obstruction of meaning,
(c) connection of the study to existing scholarship and terms, and (d) identification
of the strengths and weaknesses of the study (Maxwell, 2013). The theory makes it
possible to highlight data and observations that another standing theory may
misinterpret or overlook. According to Maxwell (2013), ineffective use of existing
theories occurs when researchers are not sufficiently critical of the theory or rely on
it too much, or when they make less than adequate use of it. Merriam and Tisdell
(2015) note that all research has a theoretical framework that is either explicit or
implicit, even when utilizing an inductive approach, and they refer to a theoretical
framework as the “underlying structure, the scaffolding or frame” (85) of the study.
Merriam and Tisdell (2015) also include the use of concepts, terms, definitions, and
models in a theoretical framework. Consistent with Maxwell’s assertion, Merriam
and Tisdell note that all parts of a qualitative study are informed by a theoretical
framework and describes the relationship between the research problem and the
framework as a “set of interlocking frames” (86).
Consider a broader idea about theory as “webs of interlocking concepts that
facilitate the organization of empirical material by providing explicit interpretive
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frameworks that researchers use to make their data intelligible and justify their
choices and methodological decisions” (Bendassolli, 2014, 166). Across all the
methodological literature reviewed, this conceptualization is the closest to the
cohesive presentation of a conceptual framework. The conceptual framework
should show how [the writer] is studying a case in a larger phenomenon. By
linking the specific research questions to the larger theoretical constructs or
important policy issues, the writer shows that the particulars of this study serve
to illuminate larger issues and therefore hold potential significance for that field.
(Marshall & Rossman, 2011, 7)
Utilizing the literature to draw parameters for the conceptual framework is an
exercise marked by efforts targeting distinction as well as simplicity. Literature
presenting the conceptual framework in a way that shows how research and
literature come together in molding a study is the most successful way to gain a
deeper knowledge on how a contribution extends or modifies a theory.
Where Does the Novice Case Study Researcher Begin?
Case study design aligns with a research goal that can be met by answering
phenomena-driven research questions and offers methods to extend a theoretical
proposition. Yin (2017) recommends the case study method when the research
seeks to address an explanatory question, such as how or why something
happened, or a descriptive question, such as what happened. Qualitative case
studies are now an integral part of the business, management, and leadership
literature and used by researchers to understand better the actions and outcomes
of actors and organizations in multiple fields (Klenke, 2016). Qualitative case
studies generate holistic and contextual in-depth knowledge using multiple
sources of data.
A case study is a “thick” or rich empirical description of a specific instantiation of
a phenomenon, commonly with embedded (i.e., nested) levels of analysis and
frequent reliance on multiple data sources (Yin, 2017). A defining aspect of case
study research is the researcher’s deep immersion in the phenomenon.
Replication logic is a second defining aspectthis refers to the fact that the
researcher does not pool cases together and use pooled logic (i.e., combine
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cases) as in traditional theory-testing research; instead, the researcher analyzes
each case as a stand-alone experiment. The researcher tries to understand the
central research question within each individual case and then tries to replicate
these insights across each case. This analysis of one or more cases is done to
detect patterns in the data that offer theoretical insights in the form of constructs,
theoretical relationships among those constructs, and sometimes propositions
(Eisenhardt, 1989).
Yin (2017) articulates three conditions that are useful in determining whether the
case study design should be used as a research strategy. The first condition
relates to the type of research question that is being considered. Case study
research is most appropriate when the researcher is interested in how, what, and
why questions. The second and third conditions relate to the extent of control over
behavioral events and the degree of focus on contemporary events. When a
researcher is interested in contemporary events and cannot control or manipulate
behavioral events, case study research is deemed an appropriate strategy. Three
types of case studies can be undertaken: explanatory, exploratory, and descriptive
(Yin, 2017). Case studies are particularly relevant when an understanding of
complex social phenomena is needed because “the case study method allows
investigators to retain holistic and meaningful characteristics of real-life events”
(Yin, 2017, 2). Additionally, case studies may be used in evaluation research to
explain, to describe, to illustrate, to explore, or to be used as a meta-evaluation.
Case studies may be undertaken for several reasons and are an appropriate
approach when a researcher is interested in the process or seeks an in-depth
understanding of a phenomenon because of its uniqueness. Stake (2005)
identifies three motivations for studying cases: intrinsic, instrumental, and
collective. An intrinsic case study is undertaken because the case itself is of
interest. An instrumental case study is undertaken to gain insight into an issue.
The case becomes secondary because it facilitates an understanding of something
else. A collective case study is undertaken when several cases are selected jointly
to provide insight on a phenomenon, population, or condition. A collective case
study may result in an enhanced understanding of the phenomenon or theorizing.
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Case studies can be descriptive, interpretative, or evaluative. Additionally, there
are many types of qualitative case studies that can be undertaken: ethnographic,
historical, psychological, or sociological (Baxter & Jack, 2008). A recent, dynamic
approach to case study design is that of the live case study, also utilized in recent
years at Harvard Business School, where the case study method for teaching has
its origins (Neubert et al., in press). Specifically, live case studies function to
immerse students in interactive working environments, so that system nuances
and behavior can be observed in a way not possible through traditional methods
(Neubert et al., in press; Rapp & Ogilvie, 2019).
Academic work traditionally begins with a problem and establishes a literature
base to substantiate the problem and provide a record of what researchers have
said on the matter. Subsequently, it is possible and necessary to logically and
visually organize the literature into a conceptual framework, thus demonstrating how
the literature covers or leaves available room to explore specific questions. From
this point on, the theoretical framework can represent the turning point or pinnacle
of a qualitative study. From the problem, the research questions, which can provide
data to address the problem, are developed. The research questions are strongly
related to existing theory, focusing on how and why questions. The existing theory
contains research gaps that, after having been identified within the standing theory,
point to assumed relationships that form a base for propositions and a framework
that empirical data will be matched. This broad difference is further pronounced by
using a design that targets the social construction of reality.
The case study research design includes research questions and interview
questions to uncover the participants’ experiences, participant selection logic, data
collection, field procedures, an identified data analysis technique, and a template
to follow for reporting the multiple-case study (Noor, 2008; Stake, 2013). Interviews
are a primary source of data collection to answer a research question. Data
triangulation is done in such a way as to limit problems related to construct validity,
given that multiple data sources offer different measures of a phenomenon.
Several strategies can be used for data analysis (e.g., case description,
investigation of opposing explanations) as well as analytic techniques to compare
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proposed relationships with empirical patterns (Yin, 2017). Pattern-matching logic
is employed to compare empirical and predicted patterns, which supports
additional techniques of data analysis (e.g., cross-case synthesis, time series
analysis, explanation building, and logic models). Analytical generalization entails
comparing the theory with the empirical results; based on the outcomes, the theory
can be extended or modified (Ridder, 2017; Yin, 2017).
Designing a case study protocol allows researchers to augment the reliability of
their study (Baxter & Jack, 2008; Yin, 2017). The method and research design
delineate the process of conducting a multiple-case study (Tsang, 2013). The
capacity of a multiple-case study to elicit common findings from across different
settings is one of its design strengths. In multiple-case study research, theoretical
replication involves the testing of a theory through comparison of the findings with
new cases. If pattern-matching between data and propositions emerges in a series
of cases, theoretical replication can manifest through a new series of cases that
have contrasting propositions. The use of replication logic in case studies also
allows for development of a rich, theoretical framework (Nonthaleerak & Hendry,
2008; Yin, 2017). Various authors (Yin, 2017) state that theoretical frameworks
offer a base for generalization to new cases, similar to cross-experimental designs.
By evaluating each case as a separate investigation in this study, generalizations
can be supported by replication logic. For multiple-case studies, the use of
replication logic has been likened to multiple experiments (Yin, 2012). Theories or
hypotheses about the selected cases, essential for case study analysis and
design, can be used to derive replication logic (Yin, 2012). For each case, a
researcher applies further logic to develop consistent protocols for the collection
of data (Yin, 2012).
The Advantage of Multiple-Case Study for Theory Extension
The advantage of multiple-case data analysis for leadership and management
researchers is the ability to move from simple description to explanation of
underlying organizational and behavioral dynamics that allows one to confirm,
disconfirm, and extend a theory that underlies the whole set of multiple cases
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(Mullen-Rhoads et al., 2018). Theory extension from case studies represents an
important research strategy (Bonett, 2012). It can contribute theoretical insights
that are both rich and weighted on phenomena that are under-theorized and
inadequately explored. Entailing extensive immersion into a focal phenomenon,
case research is appropriate for answering “how” research questions. The most
successful research projects engender new theoretical insights related to “big-
picture” research questions that seek to fill important gaps and dilemmas in theory.
In multiple-case research, after completing the within-case analyses, a researcher
also does a cross-case analysis.
Comparing multiple cases makes it possible to test the theory that is emerging
in each successive case with the use of replication logic (Yin, 2017). Approaches
used in comparing and contrasting cases (e.g., A to B, A to C, and B to C) compel
a researcher to investigate and treat the data from more than one perspective and
utilizing various combinations. Relevant constructs, for example, can be identified
by distinguishing differences as well as similarities across the cases. Measures of
constructs can be summarized in tables (Miles et al., 2014). Researchers can use
these construct tables as tools to advance insights that establish theoretical
relationships among constructs.
Real-life phenomena can be scientifically studied in depth and within the context
of their environments using case study research. A person, problem, event,
organization, group, and even an anomaly can be distinguished as a case (Ridder,
2017; Yin, 2017). In contrast to an experiment, a case’s contextual conditions form
part of the investigation; they are not controlled or outlined. No sample is seen to
represent a larger population. As such, case study research employs non-random
sampling. The case is selected, contrary to quantitative logic, precisely because it
is of interest (Stake, 2005), or there may be theoretical reasons for selecting it
(Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007). Maximum variation (heterogeneity) sampling is
used in qualitative sampling “to document variations that have emerged in adapting
to different conditions” (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, 200) and is the preferred sampling
mode for constructivist inquiry (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). A multiple-case study
researcher can enact maximum variation sampling by purposefully selecting
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leaders and managers from organizations operating in different sectors to include
a diverse set of organizational contexts.
Maximum variation sampling in qualitative research relies on a researcher’s
judgment to select participants with diverse characteristics to ensure the presence
of maximum variability within the primary data. The multiple-case study sample can
be purposefully built up by including leaders and managers who would be
information-rich for the study. This criterion-based sampling can gather a
heterogeneous group of participants to support maximum variation sampling
(Benoot et al., 2016). The sample size is determined by what the researcher wants
to know, the purpose of the research, and the sampling strategy and data saturation.
According to Patton (2002), “the validity, meaningfulness, and insights generated
from qualitative inquiry have more to do with the information richness of the cases
selected and the observation/analytical capabilities of the researcher than with
sample size” (245). Accordingly, the multiple-case study researcher may collect data
from individual participants representing their unit of analysis and conclude a
saturation point is reached when no new themes emerge from the data analysis.
As part of the data collection strategy, researchers employing the case study
method typically triangulate data, which provides a detailed case description
(Dooley, 2002; Eisenhardt, 1989; Ridder, 2016; Stake, 2005). The detailed
description and analysis arising from a single-case study can be used to enhance
understanding of how and why things happen and thus represent the potential
advantages of this type of research. Single-case study research offers the chance
to delve into a “black box” that presents itself and thus examine a phenomenon's
deeper causes (Burns, 2000; Fiss, 2009). Data gathered on a case can help
identify patterns and relationships and enable a researcher to test, extend, or
create a theory (Gomm et al., 2000).
To address a study’s problem, the multiple-case study design and the selection
of the cases are categorized into two types of selection, namely the literal
replication and the theoretical replication. While the former means that case
studies selected yield similar results, the latter means that case studies are
selected to predict contradictory results. In a multiple-case study, the case itself
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may be a person, event, entity, or other unit of analysis (Yin, 2017). Taking the
example of a person as a case, a single case concerns one individual, whereas a
multiple-case study involves more than one person. The purpose of this process
is to replicate the same results across multiple cases by exploring the differences
and similarities between and within cases. The evidence resulting from the
replication process is considered robust and reliable and can be utilized to extend
theory from cases (Welch et al., 2020; Yin, 2017).
The contributions to theory extension of multiple-case study research design lie in
furthering in-depth knowledge that is dependent on context and concerns the
identification of novel trends and new phenomena. Utilizing a multiple-case study, a
researcher can contribute new perspectives and construct new realities based on
openness to new phenomena, the ability to avoid theoretical preconceptions, and
opportunities to gain insights from collected data. Although Eisenhardt’s (1989)
multiple-case study design is based on other philosophical assumptions and is itself
used in various ways, there remains a substantial tendency to follow and quote her
research strategya strategy aimed at advancing new relationships and developing
new constructs from real-life cases. Interviews, observations, and documents are
the primary means of collecting data. Concepts, themes, and relationships emerge
from analyses within sites and across cases. Once emerged constructs have been
identified, a researcher verifies the relationships that emerge between the constructs
in each case. The logic supporting this approach is one of validation by replication.
A researcher treats cases as experiments in which hypotheses are replicated on a
case-by-case basis. In replication logic, emergent relationships that are confirmed
by cases improve confidence in their validity and theory extension by targeting the
precision of constructs and emerging relationships.
Extending Theory with Multiple-Case Study Design
Multiple-case study can produce detailed descriptions and cross-case analysis of
leadership and management phenomena using constructs to compare the
collected qualitative data to earlier literature. Yin (2017) emphasizes that multiple
cases strengthen study results through replication logic, thus increasing the
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robustness of the findings. A multiple-case study researcher may choose to use
either literal replication (in which cases corroborate each other) or theoretical
replication (in which cases cover different theoretical conditions) to establish
replication logic. Since case studies rely on analytical rather than statistical
generalizations, replication logic provides external validation to the findings. Each
case can serve to confirm or disconfirm the conclusions drawn from the others.
Often, the term multi-site case study is used in the same sense as comparative
case studies, multiple-case study, and the term collective case studies used by
Stake (2013). Used to examine a current and defined phenomenon common to
two or more naturalistic or real-world settings, a multi-site case study also provides
opportunities to understand an event, individual, group, program, or policy through
multiple representations of the phenomenon under study. In other words, a more
comprehensive understanding of a phenomenon can emerge by shedding light on
the implications, experiences, and effects of a phenomenon in multiple settings. In
such a study, the research design is usually the same across all the sites, meaning
the researcher studies the same phenomenon or unit(s) of analysis in the context
of the same key research questions. Further, the researcher employs the same or
similar approaches to collection, analysis, and reporting of data across all the sites.
As such, in addition to producing site-specific findings, a multi-site case study can
enable valid replication claims and cross-site syntheses.
A variation of the single-case study, a multiple-case study entails more than one
observation of a phenomenon; this makes replication possiblethe use of multiple
cases to independently confirm emerging constructs and propositions. Further, it
enables theory extensionthe use of cases to bring out a phenomenon's
complementary aspects. This results in a theory that is more robust, generalizable,
and developed. Single-case research may reveal fascinating stories, but it is not
as likely to support a high-quality theory. Multiple-case studies begin with data and
end with theory building, construction, or extension. Given that deductive research
just reverses the order of operations, it stands to reason that the two are not that
different. The similarities include a clearly designated population that observations
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are drawn from an a priori-defined research question and definition of constructs
and, where possible, their measurement with triangulated data.
Multiple-case study design aligns with the social phenomena to be explored and
includes the development of an appropriate case study to address the nature of
the research problem (Yin, 2017). Since multiple-case studies are based in natural
settings with the intent of understanding the process of an under-examined area,
a holistic understanding of the phenomenon can thus be explored (Eisenhardt,
1989; Stake, 2013). This method enables the researcher to explore differences
within and between cases (Yin, 2017). Yin (2017) argues that multiple-case study
design is relevant for replication and allows researchers to address a complex
social phenomenon and is relevant when comparing different studies.
Case study designs are useful in examining events when behaviors cannot be
manipulated and when attempting to seek a greater understanding of an issue
(Yin, 2017). A multiple-case study of a social phenomenon can involve individuals
living within a social context as a separate unit of study (Yin, 2017). When the data
focus is only on individuals in a multiple-case study design, the study’s central
phenomenon is the context and not the target of study (Eisenhardt & Graebner,
2007; Yin, 2017). The unit of analysis in a multiple-case study can be a person,
place, organization, or event, and as such, this design allows for investigating
differences within and between cases (Yin, 2017). The goal of a multiple-case
study design is to replicate findings across cases and allows the researcher to link
the research question and the research conclusion. Because comparisons are
drawn, cases are chosen carefully so that the researcher can predict similar results
across cases or contrasting results based on the conceptual framework (Yin,
2017). Comparing and contrasting results between multiple cases leads to more
robust outcomes when using inductive theory. For any such outcomes to be
persuasive, utilizing a specific research method and design must rely on
arguments rooted in the methodological literature (Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007).
Multiple cases are used by qualitative researchers to arrive at both theoretical
and actionable insights. A multiple-case study allows a researcher to investigate a
social phenomenon, comparing and contrasting differences between cases in the
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same social context while contemplating each participant as a separate entity (Yin,
2017). The situational complexities associated with specific social contexts are
vital for understanding the social and behavioral interaction of variables within a
larger system (Stake, 2013). Yin (2017) suggests the qualitative method for
probing questions, which also contribute originality, using a variety of data sources
(Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007). Eisenhardt and Graebner (2007) recommend that
researchers utilize a multiple-case study approach when the goal of the study is to
make an original contribution to a theoretical or conceptual framework and provide
a rich, compelling picture of human interaction as compared to a single-case study.
When conducting research in the context of leadership, management, and
business, ethical concerns may arise in a multiple-case study that does not occur
in some forms of research (Gray, 2019). In turn, any ethical concern means
researchers need to be well prepared to complete a valid and credible multiple-
case study. The need for researchers to anticipate ethical and procedural issues
in the fieldwork and reporting of multiple site cases is especially pronounced. For
example, some participants who are interviewed may have unusual speech
patterns that identify them if their perceptions are included in a report verbatim.
Careful observation and listening practices during fieldwork can help reduce the
risk of this happening. When reporting quotes, commonly used words can replace
any idiosyncratic terms that participants have used.
The very act of asking an individual to give time to being part of, reading about,
or acting upon findings from a study warrants respect from a researcher. It is
unethical to encourage individuals to change their ways because of findings from
a sloppy or unsound study. A researcher’s first obligation is to participants and, if
not taken seriously, may result in long-term unintended consequences for the
participants. While a researcher and participants are personally interacting, their
involvement can be ethically challenging in all stages of the study. Ethical
challenges such as anonymity, confidentiality, and informed consent could
potentially affect researchers and participants (Merriam & Tisdell, 2015).
There are numerous ways to analyze multiple-case studies. Almost inevitably, a
researcher’s ontological, epistemological, and other methodological stances will
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influence the analytic approach selected. Ideally, a researcher’s view of what
constitutes “reality” and how meaning comes from knowing are explicitly
acknowledged, underpinning features of a multiple-case study. The approach used
to analyze a descriptive case will likely be different from those used in exploratory
or explanatory multiple-case studies. Further issues in designing, conducting,
analyzing, and reporting aspects of a multiple-case study are considered in the
exemplar below. When the design, conduct, analysis, and reporting of a multiple-
case study are sound, the findings may be more compelling than those from a
sound study in which the sample is one cohort or a single phenomenon. A multiple-
case study is a potentially useful means of capturing the complexity of a
phenomenon while revealing rich understandings about the context in which it is
based. In terms of costs, a multiple-case study can be one of the most expensive
ways of investigating, due to the time and labor intensity. Because researchers are
the main instrument in multiple-case studies, they need to be well prepared for the
fieldwork requirements in a study. This includes being able to make analytical
judgments while collecting data.
To thoroughly investigate a social phenomenon by comparing and contrasting
differences between cases and considering each participant as an individual case,
Yin (2017) suggests using a multiple-case study. Understanding the situational
complexities related to particular social settings are imperative for understanding
the social and behavioral cooperation of factors inside a bigger framework (Stake,
2013).Multiple cases may be conducted for several reasons: they extend emergent
theory, fill theoretical categories, provide examples of polar types, or replicate
previously selected cases to discover new theoretical direction (Bonett, 2012; Yin,
2017). In such a research design approach based on Yin’s (2017) methods and
interpretation of the multiple-case study, the case itself may be a person, and is
often used in business and management studies in the scholarly literature. For
example, Brown (2017) studied airport managers; Howard et al. (2019) studied
women entrepreneurs; Komodromos (2014) studied university employees;
Neubert (2016) studied tech firm owners; and Sanders-Muhammad (in press)
studied African-American women managers.
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A qualitative multiple-case study allows for in-depth study of holistic and
meaningful characteristics of real-life events. It can offer an awareness of the
underlying forces that support relationships and answer the questions of how and
why those relationships are sustained (Yin, 2017). When the goal of the study is to
make an original contribution to a theoretical or conceptual framework and provide
a rich, powerful picture of human interaction, a multiple-case study approach is
recommended over a single-case study (Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007). Analysis of
the cases is done using replication logic to offer contrasts between each case and
extend theoretical constructs (Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007). The qualitative
method allows for probing questions using a variety of data sources, contributing to
the originality of the study (Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007; Yin, 2017).
Important themes and practical applications can be identified through the use of
purposive sampling of only 5 to 15 participants, as a larger sample size can
become an obstacle for in-depth investigation (Merriam & Tisdell, 2015; Schram,
2006). The final sample size of a multiple-case study is determined by data
saturation (Eisenhardt, 1989). Triangulation, the method of integrating several data
sources, strengthens the credibility of a study by balancing the strengths and
weaknesses of each approach (Guion et al., 2011). Multiple data collection
methods from multiple sources of evidence can be gathered to provide a study’s
research questions, such as interviews, reflective journaling, and analysis of
archived data such as government reports and media reports on current leadership
and management topics (Guion et al., 2011).
Data Analysis of Multiple-Case Study Research
Analyzing data can be particularly challenging for multiple-case researchers. The
sheer volume of data may overwhelm some novice researchers. Identifying
patterns and themes among triangulated data can prove challenging. However,
the triangulated data is considered robust when a researcher reads, hears, and
observes consistent data across multiple sources of evidence. While there is no
rule, archival data are especially helpful in efforts to address the facts of a case,
or the who, what, where, and when. To address how and why questions, interviews
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and observation data are particularly useful. To illustrate, a researcher can use
blogs and news articles to gain an understanding of which product innovations took
place in an organization as well as the timeline they followed. A researcher can
gain insights through observations and interviews regarding processes and
motivations related to such innovations. By combining archival and primary data,
it is possible to build a more accurate account of the case in its entirety, one that
includes insights into when, how, and why events took place the way they did. For
analyses within and across cases, the data collection emphasis is placed on
archives, interviews, and participant observation (Flick, 2009; Mason, 2002).
Cross-case synthesis is recommended for data analysis to strengthen external
validity, the trustworthiness of data, and provide a more vigorous multiple-case
study research (Merriam & Tisdell, 2015). To identify patterns within the data, the
analytic process includes both within-case and cross-case analyses (for multiple-
case study designs). In later stages of the analysis, related literature is often
introduced to refine constructs and theoretical mechanisms. The rationale for
adopting multiple-case study research lies in the strength of replication logic (Yin,
2017). Concerning literal replication, cases are chosen to predict similar results.
Regarding theoretical replication, cases are chosen to predict results that are in
contrast but based on theoretical reasons. Yin (2017) provides several
recommendations that can be utilized to increase the multiple-case study’s
reliability (e.g., protocol, database).
Applying systematic comparison in a cross-case analysis highlights differences
and similarities as well as how these affect the findings. A researcher analyzes
each case individually to compare the identified mechanisms, resulting in
theoretical conclusions (Vaughan, 1992). As a result, case study research has
different objectives in terms of contributing to theory, including creating theory by
expanding constructs and relationships within distinct settings (e.g., in single case
studies) and advancing theories by comparing similarities and differences among
cases (e.g., in multiple-case studies).
The data analysis of a multiple-case study begins with writing each case.
Typically, individual cases are “thick” descriptions obtained from delving deep into
International Leadership Journal Summer 2020
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the data related to the phenomenon of interest. Individual case histories are
created with respect to the primary unit(s) of analysis, with a researcher either
folding nested cases into the main case or keeping them separate to analyze them
as distinct cases. The data sources are often triangulated, with a researcher often
blending several kinds of data; these include archival data, interviews,
observations, and even surveys.
The use of cross-case analysis reveals the advantages that can be gained
through multiple-case study research (Yin, 2017). This method of analysis entails
iteration between data and emergent theory. Comparing the collected data with
the literature makes it possible to refine constructs and theoretical mechanisms as
well as contributions. This involves an iterative back-and-forth between the data,
theoretical arguments, and results from existing literature. A researcher can use
this process to enhance the internal validity of the logic underlying the theoretical
relationships that emerge. It further helps to advance a robust, accurate, and often
parsimonious emergent theory with the least assumptions and variables but the
most significant explanatory power.
Conclusion
The use of the multiple-case study design in a dominantly qualitative paradigm can
aid in exploring and understanding the management and leadership process in
novel and meaningful ways. Multiple-case study design can be utilized to study
individual leaders and managers or multiple groups and organizations to provide
rich and detailed data on the context of leadership behaviors and managerial
competencies. The design of a multiple-case study can help a researcher to deeply
explore, identify, and interpret qualities, behaviors, and traits within diverse
samples of leaders and managers (Sadvandi & Halkias, 2019). It is further possible
with the multiple-case study design to understand the context of leadership through
the perceptions of participants, each as a stand-alone case or through groups and
organizations. The rich detail offered by multiple-case study participants is an
added value to our further understanding of a myriad of management themes such
as governance, technology, digital innovation and transformation, talent
International Leadership Journal Summer 2020
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acquisition for competitive advantage, diverse employee groups, managing a black
swan event, doing business in a conflict zone, or driving sustainable
entrepreneurship across a variety of industry sectors. How data coding, theme
identification, and cross-case analysis work within the multiple-case study design
to capture specific management and leadership themes in ongoing scholarly
investigations has been described in detail within this article.
Theory extension achieved through a multiple-case study design rests on three
methodological pillars: a data analysis process of rich and comprehensive data, an
effective research design, and a well-developed research question that directly
aligns with the purpose of the study. Each conceptual construct is grounded in well-
measured and appropriate data from the literature. Rigorous multiple-case study
designs control for theoretical variation that is not of interest and establish both
transferability and generalizability (Stake, 2010). It is essential that a thorough
literature review is presented to identify new and unanswered questions as well as
refine theoretical contributions at the completion of the study. Evaluation of multiple
data sources through a triangulation process determines the credibility of the
evidence of the phenomena through a two-step process. In essence, the data is first
analyzed using thematic analysis and then with a cross-case synthesis (Yin, 2017).
The question of how much to focus on the data, rather than the theory, remains
an issue in writing case-based research. The fact that a researcher must work
within publisher-prescribed spatial constraints translates to a trade-off between
presenting the empirically based data that supports the emergent theoretical
framework and providing a description of that framework. This tension is further
pronounced with multiple-case research given there are more cases, not just one.
The best way to resolve this issue, and keep a balance between “better stories”
and “better theories,” is for a multiple-case researcher to frame their paper with
respect to the theory and then support it with empirical evidence as exhibited by
some of the cases (Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007).
A researcher can make use of figures, tables, and appendices to offer a clear
visual representation of a multiple-case study’s data analysis process (e.g.,
Hannah & Eisenhardt, 2018; McDonald & Gao, 2019). Single-case studies do not
International Leadership Journal Summer 2020
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have as many constraints as multiple-case studies. In this case, a researcher often
frames their paper as the case narrative and follows this with the theory. Although
various written formats can be utilized, it is important for researchers to link
supporting empirical data to individual constructs and present the theoretical logic
underlying relationships. The best multiple-case studies focus on results that are
novel, with discrepant data that present a rival interpretation of the data from the
literature, often driving implications and recommendations emanating from the
study to support theory extension.
In conclusion, the most rigorous multiple-case studies focus on theory extension.
A critical research skill is to understand how to write up extensions of theory from
multiple-case studies that are high-quality and rigorous as well as how to evaluate
this research. Two critical points to remember: (a) rather than attempting to extend
theory through formulaic data analysis schemes, replication is at the heart of
multiple-case theory extension, and (b) the aim of such research is the insight into
a phenomenon, not theory testing. A well-constructed multiple-case study can
provide a reliable theory extension that is internally coherent, accurate, robust, and
parsimonious. Extension studies are useful because they provide replication
evidence, and they can extend the results of prior studies in new and theoretically
important directions (Bonett, 2012).
Today, most organizations exist in volatile economic and social environments
across both developed and developing markets (Neubert, 2018). Today’s leaders
and managers face unforeseen and, at times, unimaginable challenges and are
called upon to provide innovative and sustainable directions by their organizational
stakeholders. The future of local, regional, and global business is uncertain at best.
Case study research is now considered a mainstream methodological approach in
contemporary research. It has a long tradition in the broad area of social science
as well as the fields of organizational strategy, management, and leadership
studies (Dibirov et al., 2015). Exploring management and leadership behaviors and
their contexts using the multiple-case study design provides valuable insight on
how and why these leaders behave as they do across different contexts as they
are called upon to move their organizations forth into the future global economy.
International Leadership Journal Summer 2020
69
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Daphne Halkias, PhD, is a distinguished academic, researcher, and professor of
management and research at the International School of Management Paris; a founding
fellow of the Institute of Coaching; a Harvard Medical School affiliate; a research affiliate
at the Institute for Social Sciences at Cornell University; a senior research fellow at the
Center for Youth and Family Enterprise at the University of Bergamo; and a past research
associate at the Centre for Migration Policy and Society at the University of Oxford. She is
editor of three peer-reviewed journals, including the International Journal of Teaching and
Case Studies. Dr. Halkias is CEO of Executive Coaching Consultants
(executivecoachingconsultants.com), an international consulting firm specializing in
leadership and family business mentoring and research in cross-cultural management,
sustainability, and entrepreneurship. She can be reached at daphne.halkias@ism.edu.
Michael Neubert, PhD, is a professor of management at the International School of
Management Paris, and a visiting professor of management and finance at Universidad
Paraguayo Alemana in San Lorenzo, Paraguay. He teaches international business,
intercultural communication, business in foreign markets, and international finance. Dr.
Neubert’s case study research is widely published in scholarly journals within the areas of
sustainable internationalization of start-up firms and pricing strategies in emerging markets He
is CEO of C2NM (www.c2nm.com), a Swiss consulting firm specializing in the field of
international and intercultural management. He can be reached at michael.neubert@ism.edu.

Supplementary resource (1)

... Therefore, this study applies a multiple case-study research design that allows to find linkages between business strategy theories and patterns in company strategies in the ride-hailing sector. The current business theories and perspective can be enhanced by multiple-case studies that recollect and systematically analyze empirical data to answer qualitative research questions to connect to new types of products and services such as those operating in the shared economy (Halkias & Neubert, 2020). The multiple-case study design allows for a more flexible analysis of patterns across the different case studies of the sample (Yin, 2018;. ...
... Regarding the selection of the cases studied, the cases should have things in common when employing the multicase technique on research (Stake, 2006). Data analysis started with a with-in case analysis using a thematic analysis based on codes developed through a triangulation of the different sources of evidence, followed by a cross-case analysis to identify common themes and patterns (Halkias & Neubert, 2020). ...
... This study confirms the assumption that multiple-case studies can provide a better understanding of the relationship between business strategy theory and empirical data and analysis to find actual patterns in firm strategies in the shared economy as suggested by recent research by Halkias (Halkias & Neubert, 2020). Challenges to future scholarly research are found in a deepening of the multiplecase study with a more robust quantitative recollection of firm dat and statistical analysis and the inclusion of a larger number of companies active in the ride-hailing sector to gain a broader and more in depth understanding of patterns in business strategies of larger and smaller players from developed and less developed countries and in the sector. ...
Conference Paper
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The paper studies the internationalisation and differentiation strategies applied by global firms operating in the shared economy and the ride-hailing sector in particular. The study adopts a multiple case-study research design based on a qualitative analysis of business strategies of seven leading global ride-hailing firms, selected on the basis of a purposive sampling method. The research concludes that the Global Born Firm and Uppsala models are valuable as theoretical frameworks to analyse the patterns in the internationalisation strategies and concludes that three of the global ride hailing firms follow the GBF model and four firms have strategies with direct similarities with the Uppsala model. The study concludes that the Generic Strategy model can be used to identify differentiation strategies of ride-hailing service firms. Four firms apply a hybrid strategy combining a cost focus with a differentiation in service quality and customer focus, whereas three other companies focus on differentiation by addressing the particular needs of the drivers and customers. All firms seek further differentiation in terms of innovation towards new platform-based services such as delivery, fintech and alternative transport services. The study results are directly relevant to smaller firms and newcomers from developing countries who want to compete and offer alternative options to the small number of global firms. It offers researchers a further insight in the value of internationalisation and differentiation theories in shared economy sectors such as ride-hailing services. Future academic research should focus on a sector-wide quantitative analysis of internationalisation and differentiation patterns to strengthen evidence-based application of business strategies to these services.
... Therefore, this study applies a multiple case-study research design that allows to find linkages between business strategy theories and patterns in company strategies in the ride-hailing sector. The current business theories and perspective can be enhanced by multiple-case studies that recollect and systematically analyze empirical data to answer qualitative research questions to connect to new types of products and services such as those operating in the shared economy (Halkias and Neubert, 2020). The multiple-case study design allows for a more flexible analysis of patterns across the different case studies of the sample (Yin, 2018;. ...
... Regarding the selection of the cases studied, the cases should have things in common when employing the multicase technique on research (Stake, 2006). Data analysis started with a with-in case analysis using a thematic analysis based on codes developed through a triangulation of the different sources of evidence, followed by a cross-case analysis to identify common themes and patterns (Halkias and Neubert, 2020). ...
... This study confirms the assumption that multiple-case studies can provide a better understanding of the relationship between business strategy theory and empirical data and analysis to find actual patterns in firm strategies in the shared economy as suggested by recent research by Halkias (Halkias & Neubert, 2020). These results also provide smaller operators and newcomers in the market of ride-hailing services with relevant business strategy options to choose from when seeking to expand service in their home markets and to select internationalisation into foreign markets. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
This paper aims to identify patterns in internationalization and differentiation models and strategies of global firms operating in the ride-hailing sector. Different from most studies on this topic, the study adopts a multiple case-study research design based on a qualitative analysis of leading global ride-hailing firms. The research finds that the Global Born Firm and Uppsala models are valuable as theoretical frameworks to analyze the patterns in the internationalization strategies and concludes that three of the global ride hailing firms follow the GBF model and four firms have strategies with direct similarities with the Uppsala model. The study also concludes that the Generic Strategy model can be used to identify differentiation strategies of ride-hailing service firms. Four firms apply a hybrid strategy combining a cost focus with a differentiation in service quality and customer focus, whereas three other companies focus on differentiation by addressing the particular needs of the drivers and customers. All firms seek further differentiation in terms of innovation towards new platform-based services such as delivery, fintech and alternative transport services. At theoretical level the study results offers researchers a further insight in the value of internationalization and differentiation theories in shared economy sectors such as ride-hailing services. The findings have practical relevance for smaller firms and newcomers from developing countries who want to compete and offer alternative options to the dominant global firms. Future academic research should be broadened to a sector-wide quantitative analysis of internationalization and differentiation patterns to strengthen evidence-based analysis of business strategies.
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The use of theory in science is an ongoing debate in the production of knowledge. Related to qualitative research methods, a variety of approaches have been set forth in the literature using the terms conceptual framework, theoretical framework, paradigm, and epistemology. While these approaches are helpful in their own context, we summarize and distill them in order to build upon the case that a balanced and centered use of the theoretical framework can bolster the qualitative approach. Our project builds on the arguments that epistemology and methodological rigor are essential by adding the notion that the influence of theory permeates almost every aspect of the study—even if the author does not recognize this influence. Compilers of methodological approaches have referred to the use of theory as analogous to a coat closet in which different items can be housed or a lens through which the literature and data in the study are viewed. In this article, we offer an evaluative quadrant for determining the appropriate use of theory in qualitative research and a diagram of the qualitative project that points to the central role of a theoretical framework. We also caution against the overreliance on theory in the event that it begins to limit the ability to see emergent findings in the data.
Chapter
This commentary has several aims. First, it clarifies theorizing from cases by sharpening the insights of Welch and colleagues (Journal of International Business Studies 42 (5): 740–762, 2011) regarding context while also indicating inaccuracies. More importantly, the commentary outlines recent advances in case study methods including greater use of intermediate theorizing (e.g., abduction, elaboration) between theory building and testing. A major point is that the use of case methods is becoming richer and more diverse with both more sophisticated research designs, such as natural experiments that improve causal identification, and more complex causal explanations (e.g., configurations, equifinality). Another point is the movement away from artificial distinctions among inductive methods towards understanding similarities and genuine differences. Assumptions, boundary conditions, inductive methods, and language emerge as important for meeting the challenge of context in international business. Finally, this commentary looks to the future, including the roles of machine learning and big data in expanding how theorizing from cases can occur.
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The literature on case studies, both in the field of international business (IB) and in the social sciences more generally, has tended to focus on the methods of data production and analysis suited to this research strategy. In contrast, in this paper we investigate methods of theorising from case studies. We seek to understand how case researchers theorise, and how future IB research might utilise case studies for theorising. By means of a qualitative content analysis of case studies published in Journal of International Business Studies, Academy of Management Journal and Journal of Management Studies, we construct a typology of theorising from case studies. Two dimensions of the case study, namely causal explanation and contextualisation, form the basis for our typology. We distinguish four methods of theorising – inductive theory-building, interpretive sensemaking, natural experiment and contextualised explanation – only the first of which has been widely used in JIBS in the period that we investigate. On the basis of our own qualitative analysis, we show the limitations of inductive theory-building, and argue that greater utilisation of the other methods of theorising would enhance the case study’s explanatory power and potential for contextualisation. We argue for a more pluralist future for IB research.
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Research Summary Despite a wealth of research on competitive and cooperative strategy, gaps remain with respect to how firms successfully navigate cooperation and competition over time. This is especially true in ecosystems, in which firms depend on one another to collectively provide components and create value for consumers. Through an in‐depth multiple case study of five firms in the U.S. residential solar industry from 2007 to 2014, we induct a theoretical framework that explains how firms navigate nascent ecosystems over time. We identify three strategies, each with a distinct balance of cooperation and competition, as well as unique advantages, disadvantages, and required capabilities. Overall, we contribute to research on ecosystem strategy, crystallize the pivotal role of bottlenecks, and shed light on the dynamic interplay of cooperation and competition. Managerial Summary Competition and cooperation are fundamental to strategy, and often closely intertwined. But how firms navigate and balance cooperation and competition over time, especially in ecosystems where firms depend on one another to deliver value to consumers, is unclear. In this article, we conduct an in‐depth multiple‐case study of five firms in the U.S. residential solar industry to examine how firms can successfully navigate nascent ecosystems over time. We identify three distinct strategies, each with a distinct balance of cooperation and competition, and examine the unique advantages, disadvantages, and required capabilities of each. In doing so, we also contribute novel insights into the evolution of ecosystems and bottlenecks.