Case study as a means of evaluating the impact of early years leaders: Steps, paths and routes

Mark Hadfield, Michael Jopling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The paper argues that case study will need to play an increasingly important role in the evaluation of leadership development programmes as both formal and substantive theories of leadership place greater emphasis upon the role played by organizational context on leaders ability to bring about change. Prolonged engagement within a case study provides researchers with opportunities to capture the dynamics between leaders and their organisational contexts. However, adopting a case study approach is no substitute for inadequate theorization of the link between leadership approaches and leadership effects. The paper argues for the use of inclusive and expansive theoretical notions of leadership and its relationship to organisational context. The evaluation used to illustrate these arguments was based on a longitudinal multi-site case study methodology. The case studies ran over a three-year period and tracked the effect of 42 leaders on the quality of provision in some 30 early years settings. Both individual and collective theoires of leadership were used to trace leaders’ steps, paths and routes to improvement. Three overlapping theoretical lenses were used to study the dynamics of these leaders interactions with a key aspect of their organisational contexts - the existing formal and informal leadership structures – and how these affected their attempts to improve the quality of provision of their settings. The analysis, and related findings, were tiered in order to provide progressively more detailed descriptions of the relationships between leaders’ approaches and changes in their settings’ quality of provision. Each layer of analysis operated with a causal logic that became gradually less general and linear and increasingly more ‘local’ and complex.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-176
Number of pages10
JournalEvaluation and Program Planning
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2018


  • Case study methodology
  • Causality
  • Evaluation
  • Leadership development


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