Success Case Method


The Success Case Method (SCM) involves identifying the most and least successful cases in a program and examining them in detail. This approach was developed by Robert Brinkerhoff to assess the impact of organizational interventions, such as training and coaching, though the use of SCM is not limited to this context. It is a useful approach to document stories of impact and to develop an understanding of the factors that enhance or impede impact.

The Success Case Method deliberately looks at the most, and least, successful participants of a program. The purpose is not to examine the average performance - rather, by identifying and examining the extreme cases, it asks: 'When the program works, how well does it work? What is working, and what is not?'. 

An SCM study can be used to answer  any,  or all, of the following questions: 

  • What is really happening?
  • What results, if any, is the program helping to produce?
  • What is the value of the results?
  • How could the initiative be improved?

Brinkerhoff, 2003, p. 6-7

The immediate results of conducting a Success Case Method study include documented stories of impact that can be disseminated to stakeholders, and a better knowledge of factors that enhance or impede business impact. 

There are five key steps in the SCM method (Brinkerhoff, 2003, p.29):

1. Focusing and planning a Success Case study
2. Creating an “impact model” that defines what success should look like
3. Designing and implementing a survey to search for best and worst cases
4. Interviewing and documenting success cases 
5. Communicating findings, conclusions, and recommendations



The success case method: find out quickly what’s working and what’s not - (Brinkerhoff, 2003): This book by Brinkerhoff runs through the entire process of conducting a Success Case Method Study and includes a number of examples of use.

The Success Case Method: A Simple Evaluation Tool to Identify Critical Success Factors and Program Impact: Identification and reporting of critical success factors and program impact in an efficient, yet comprehensive manner is an inherent difficulty facing many evaluators of large-scale evaluations. This paper details how two evaluators encountered such problems in the initial review of a large-scale initiative and then successfully addressed these issues through the application of the Success Case Method in a subsequent evaluation of the same program. (Catherine Bell and Diane McDonald, Paper at Australasian Evaluation Society International Conference, Darwin, 2006).

Learning Evaluation Theory: Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method: A brief, downloadable e-book on using the method. It includes suggestions for pairing the approach with other methods.

Evaluating with the Success Case Method:  This post discusses the author's use of SCM as compared to the Kirkpatrick evaluation model for evaluating learning.


Adding a Time-Series Design Element to the Success Case Method to Improve Methodological Rigor: This method note demonstrates how SCM was modified and extended to a social service context, in which the program evaluated was aimed at reducing chronic homelessness and unemployment.

Peering inside the clock: Using success case method to determine how and why practice-based educational interventions succeed: This study employed Success Case Method to understand how 3 performance improvement CME activities contributed to implementation of tobacco cessation practice guidelines in 9 outpatient practices.


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Brinkerhoff, R. O. (2003). The success case method: find out quickly what’s working and what’s not. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler


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