What You Need To Know

The CiviCase component allows for a high degree of customisation to meet the needs of a wide variety of organisations and workflows. It is important to understand CiviCase's underlying principles and assumptions, as well as the elements that can be customised, before you begin to plan and configure the component based on your requirements.

You should also understand that the configuration of CiviCase goes beyond the user interface and requires the production of an XML file to define the activity types allowed, time offsets between them, roles and other elements.

Key  Concepts

CiviCase tracks interactions in two ways: cases and activities.

Activities are single interactions. For example, if a constituent calls to request information and the staff person directs them to a web site, this would be recorded as an activity. Activities have a start and end date, a status and several contacts that they may be associated with: a creator, an assignee and a target.

Cases are used to track more complex interactions or communication processes. Multiple activities can be grouped together into one case, and these activities can be optionally structured in a timeline. A case can be used to track a specific workflow that must be followed, for example: a client fills out an intake form, then has an initial meeting with a staff person, and finally receives a certificate from the organisation for meeting certain goals.

As well as linking activities around a common case, CiviCase identifies the people involved and their role(s) in the case. So while the staus options may be broadly similar, the options for contacts are far more flexible than for activities and the time span is usually less determined at the outset.

Case Types

The Physician Health Program provides support for physicians who are experiencing problems related to emotional health issues, the inappropriate use of alcohol and/or drugs or coping with physical illness. Some of the case types they use are:

  • In-patient Treatment
  • Referral to Counsellor.

For a community services organisation, examples of case types might include:

  • Housing Assistance
  • Job Training
  • Prenatal Counseling. 

Think about the complex tasks that staff in your organisation do on a regular basis and make a list of potential case types.

Case Activities

Activities track specific interactions and tasks within a case. Activities may be scheduled in advance or created ad-hoc, and may involve the case client or constituent, or a third party such as a family member or a professional who is assisting with the case and other case workers. Each organisation needs to determine the level of detail to be recorded, but many organisations find it helpful to include every phone call, meeting or internal discussion in the case story by recording it as an activity.

Activity Types

CiviCRM is preconfigured with a number of activity types including Phone Calls, Meetings, Emails Sent, Interviews and Follow-ups. These may be sufficient for your needs. However many organisations will want to track other specific tasks, and activity types can be added for these.

During the life of each case, some activities will be automatically created, such as:

  • Open Case: created at the same time the case is created. 
  • Follow up: you can use this type when it isn't necessary to define a more specific one (see Activity Data below). 
  • Change Case Type: created every time the type is modified. 
  • Change Case Status: created every time the status is updated. 

For a community services organisation, additional activity types might include:

  • Client Intake
  • Skills Evaluation
  • Review
  • Consultant Referral. 

For each of the case types you identified, create a list of the specific activities involved. Creating new types instead of relying only on Follow-up will make the list of activities easier to read.

Activity Data

A standard set of information can be entered whenever a case activity is recorded in CiviCase:

  • who recorded the activity and who reported the activity
  • when and where the activity will (or did) occur
  • free-form subject and detailed description 
  • time spent on the activity. 

This is sufficient for some types of activities, however it is often useful to collect additional structured data. The Open Case (intake) activity is a common example where you may want to include a set of specific questions about the client and their situation.

Create a list of additional requirements (custom data) for each activity type, including the type of data being recorded (free text, multiple choice, date, etc.) in order to set up the required custom fields. For more information about custom data fields refer to the Custom Fields chapter in the Organising Your Data section. 


CiviCase allows you to define a workplan or an expected sequence of tasks and activities for each type of case. These are called standard timelines, and one is created automatically when a new case is opened.

For really simple cases, the timeline might include only two items:

  • Open Case
  • Follow up. 

Even in this example, the timeline is useful as it allows you to predefine when the people assigned to the case should follow up with the client or constituent.

For more complex processes, the timeline provides a case plan that can help the people involved to stay on track. The timeline lists all the activities which are expected to occur and should be accomplished within a certain timeframe. You can define the expected number of days between the beginning of the case and each of the subsequent activities in the timeline.

If necessary, an activity can also define an offset from another activity. For example: for a Referral to Specialist case, the "facilitate first appointment" activity might be expected to occur within 2 days after the case is opened. "Survey client satisfaction" might be scheduled for 30 days after "facilitate first appointment".

You might also want to define a timeline based on the end date. If a case has to be completed by a specific date, each activity can be defined as needing to happen a number of days before this end date. You then set a negative offset on the timeline. 

Case Roles and Relationships

CiviCase provides three mechanisms for relating people to cases and clients:

  • Case Roles: people directly involved in this case. Examples include Intake Specialist, Case Coordinator, Addiction Counselor, Employment Counselor, etc. You can identify one of these roles as the case manager for a particular case type. 
  • Other Relationships: people related to the client, with relationships that exist beyond the context of a particular case. Examples include Spouse, Sibling, Family Doctor, etc. Generally, use relationships when you want someone to appear on ALL cases for the same client, otherwise use a case role.
  • Case Resources: people and organisations that have involvement with many or all cases in your case management setting. Examples include: regulatory agency contact(s), service provider,  frequent referral contacts, etc.

CiviCRM provides relationship type definitions for most of the standard relationships you might track (e.g. Spouse, Child). However you will probably need to define additional relationship types for your case roles, such as:

  • Case Coordinator
  • Addiction Specialist
  • Job Counsellor.

Make a list of the expected case roles for each type of case you've listed, then determine which role will normally be considered the case manager for that case type.

Key Questions

Think about these questions with regard to your organisation's use of CiviCase: 

  • What case types do you have? The first step in planning your CiviCase configuration is to think about the types of cases your organisation needs to manage. Complex processes which include several activities, span several days or weeks, and involve multiple people are potentially good candidates for case management. Start by listing these processes and defining a case type for each one.
  • What activity types do you need to have in those cases? 
  • Who should activities be assigned to? By default everything might be assigned to a case coordinator who will then reassign to whoever has capacity, or certain activities might require the intervention of a particular individual.
  • Do you have a default timeline and what does it look like?
  • Do activities need to be offset from the start, each other or from the end?
  • What roles do are involved? Are existing relationships adequate, or do you need to create some case specific ones?


Although CiviCase is quite flexible, there are a number of case-management assumptions built-in to the component. These assumptions have been arrived at through an extensive trial and error process and although some of them may seem new or foreign at first, we encourage you to approach them with an open mind.

  • Activities are single tasks or interactions between your organisation and a client or constituent, or between people within your organisation. 
  • Cases involve a sequence of interactions (activities). The record of these activities forms the case story and almost all information about a case should be stored as an activity. 
  • Classifying cases by case type allows you to define work-flows and evaluate results.
  • Cases often have a predictable sequence of activities (a standard timeline). Creating a schedule with the expected timeline helps people working on the case to manage their work, and is a useful way to measure progress.
  • Cases often involve a predictable set of people involved (staff, professionals, etc.). These are case roles. Knowing who is playing what role in a case is helpful, and provides an easy way to communicate case activities to other people who are also working on that case.
  • Organisations may have additional people and/or outside organisations (case resources) who are frequently contacted or involved with most or all cases.