Case Centre on Public Leadership

Developing real-world case studies to aid learning

Finding solutions to real policy challenges is at the heart of the Blavatnik School’s work, and this approach informs our teaching. Our new Case Centre on Public Leadership develops real-world case studies to aid learning. These form a distinctive element of our flagship Master of Public Policy programme, furthering its strong focus on applied policy. They are also available on request to other organisations that are committed to improving the practice of governance.

From banking reform to healthcare, our cases use real situations to illustrate complex policy challenges. They help students sharpen the analytical, decision-making and implementation skills needed in governments across the world.

Professor Karthik Ramanna, the Case Centre’s director, is a prolific author of case studies. His team of experienced case writers, including Sarah McAra, were awarded 2019 Outstanding Case Writer in the international Case Centre awards, dubbed by the Financial Times ‘the business school Oscars’. Professor Ramanna had previously received the award in 2017.

Use our cases

In line with our mission to improve government and public policy around the world, we are pleased to share our cases with anyone who might wish to use them for training and learning.

Suggest a case

We are constantly developing new cases. If you are shaping policy in government, business and/or non-profit, and managing a scenario that could serve as an interesting topic for a case discussion, we would love to hear from you.

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Recently completed cases
Judicial review of executive action: Judge Rakoff and the US Securities and Exchange Commission

Case study A: Facing imminent collapse during the height of the financial crisis of 2008-09, investment bank Merrill Lynch received a second lease on life as it was acquired by Bank of America. The deal was reportedly encouraged by the US Treasury which sought to avoid major contagion of failing banks. Later it emerged that Bank of America had failed to disclose to its shareholders in advance of their approval vote of the $50 billion purchase that $5.8 billion was being earmarked for Merrill Lynch executive compensation. In the wake of public outrage of bank bailouts and bank executive pay the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brought a formal complaint against Bank of America together with a pre-negotiated $33 million settlement agreement to the court of US federal judge Jed Rakoff for final approval. The US Supreme Court discouraged judges from second-guessing the executive branch of government in granting such approvals but Rakoff questioned whether the settlement amount was proportionate to the scale of the misrepresentation. Moreover, he considered whether justice was being served as Bank of America shareholders, who were the victims of the misrepresentation, were being asked to bear the settlement cost, over the managers who had overseen the acquisition. Rakoff pondered whether to reject the settlement agreement.

Case study B: This case is a supplement and presents Judge Rakoff’s observations and ruling in the case between the US Securities and Exchange Commission and Bank of America.

Learning objectives: common-law adversarial system; judicial activism; jurisdiction; settlement agreements

Of faith and fortunes: reforming the Vatican’s finances

The Vatican Bank was central to the global mission of the Catholic Church, helping move money where it was most needed to meet the Church’s objectives. The bank largely operated outside the global financial regulatory system. This arrangement had historically enabled the Church to operate where others could not, for instance to support the pro-democracy Solidarność (solidarity) movement in communist Poland. In recent years, however, the bank’s culture of secrecy had gained notoriety for enabling financial irregularities. Rene Bruelhart, a Swiss lawyer who had previously helped reform Lichtenstein’s banking system, was appointed in 2012 as director of the Financial Information Authority (the Vatican’s financial regulator) to address the concerns and scandals at the Vatican Bank. As a relative outsider to the tradition-bound Vatican, Bruelhart considered his options. How broadly or narrowly should he define his objectives? How should he pace his reform in a setting that was resistant to external interference? How could he build a constructive dialogue with both internal and external stakeholders?

Learning objectives: change management; organisational transformation; stakeholder communication

Healthcare markets in the United States

In 2017, healthcare in the United States was regulated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA mandated all individuals to have health insurance or pay a penalty. While millions of people across the United States gained health insurance as a result of the ACA, the insurance market in many states was tenuous. Further, many Americans viewed the ACA as an unnecessary government intrusion on individual rights. In the context of a fictional US state, this case explores the factors that contributed to the failure of the healthcare market. It explores new insights derived from behavioural economics to increase consumer choice, boost coverage, and lower overall costs of healthcare.

Learning objectives: behavioural economics; market failures; policy nudges

South Korea’s democracy movement

Set in May 1987, the case describes the political and economic transformation of South Korea. The country was a paradox. Its political institutions and culture had become increasingly repressive, while its economy grew and industrialised at a remarkable pace. The case examines how economic prosperity created pressure for political reform. It also examines the role of social movements in driving political change.

Learning objectives: modernisation theory; economic development

President Trump calling: accept or decline?

On 9 March 2017, Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, returned to his office to see that he had missed a phone call from President Donald Trump. It was highly unusual for the President of the United States to want to speak directly with a US Attorney. Such communication was usually routed through senior intermediaries in the Department of Justice to avoid political influence in law enforcement. In this case, those intermediaries had no knowledge of the reason for President Trump’s phone call. While senior prosecutors like Bharara were political appointees who served at the will of the appointing president, in this case, Bharara was the chief law-enforcement officer in the jurisdiction that covered much of President Trump’s personal and business interests. Bharara wanted to avoid any appearance of impropriety, but he also knew that President Trump was an unorthodox leader who sought to deal directly with subordinates and shake up government bureaucracy. Bharara was keen not to hamper legitimate communications with the new White House. He had to decide whether to return the president’s phone call in violation of Department of Justice norms.

Learning objectives: accountability; executive independence; organisational effectiveness; values-based leadership

About the case method of teaching

In contrast to a conventional classroom environment where experts share their knowledge, the case method requires students to analyse problems, develop alternatives and recommend policies. Cases typically include a narrative based around a policy dilemma, focussed on a key decision by a protagonist, and often have multiple solutions. The case method promotes active listening, empathy and teamwork.