Combining research and teaching

The Case Centre on Public Leadership develops case studies and draws on lessons of cognitive science and experiential learning to help sharpen the skills needed in governments across the world.

Led by the Centre’s Director, Associate Professor in Public Policy Emily Jones, the team develops case studies that use real-life scenarios to illustrate complex policy ideas and difficult managerial challenges, helping participants develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills in a collaborative classroom setting.

Used as part of the curriculum for students studying for the Blavatnik School’s Master of Public Policy (MPP) and our executive programmes, the case method is increasingly being recognised by governments as a vital tool to train leaders to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex world.

How does it work?

Participants are put in the shoes of public sector leaders who have had to make decisions that are difficult and challenging.

With cases featuring real-life situations – such as crisis management during the Covid-19 pandemic to education reform in Brazil – and decisions by, among others, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the Vatican’s financial regulator, the Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, and Colombia’s Finance Minister, participants are provided with the opportunity to explore solutions to some of the most demanding real-world challenges in government.

Cases also give students a practical way to learn academic theories and to determine how those theories might work out in real life settings.

Our team

The team of experienced case writers includes Associate Director Sarah McAra, Senior Case Writer Oenone Kubie, and Case Writer Jasper Theodor Kauth. The Case Centre team received the 2019 Outstanding Case Writer in the international Case Centre awards, dubbed by the Financial Times ʻthe business school Oscars’.

Our cases

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

Several of our cases are available on The Case Centre distribution platform. Educators who are registered with the site can access free review copies of our cases, teaching notes, and other materials. To inquire about our other cases, please contact us directly at

  • DIKSHA: a transformational bet on educational outcomes in India?

    In late 2021, India’s secretary of school education and literacy, Anita Karwal, needed to decide whether to continue to invest in DIKSHA, India’s government-owned, free-to-use education technology, in the coming fiscal year. DIKSHA, which had been developed in 2017 in partnership with two not-for-profits, was originally designed for teacher training and had low uptake in its first years. Yet over time DIKSHA gained new capabilities, transforming it into an increasingly popular direct-to-student learning platform. Then in 2020, during pandemic-related school closures, DIKSHA witnessed an exponential growth in usage. By late 2021, DIKSHA had seen billions of individual ‘learning sessions’, and many teachers responded positively about the platform and its educational uses. However, high adoption was not matched by high impact in India’s most underserved communities, not least because connecting to DIKSHA required internet access, which a 2021 survey suggested that a quarter of Indian students did not have. Now, with budgets tightening, Karwal had to decide whether to continue to bet scarce resources on DIKSHA or whether there were better uses of the limited public budget to be found.  

    Learning objectives: Designing for equity vs excellence; edtech design and policy; digitisation; delivering with third sector partners 

  • 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.

    Authors: Karthik Ramanna and Vidhya Muthuram.

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

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  • 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.

    Authors: Karthik Ramanna and Vidhya Muthuram

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

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  • 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?

    Authors: Karthik Ramanna and Vidhya Muthuram

    Learning objectives: change management; organisational transformation; stakeholder communication

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  • 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.

    Authors: Karen Croxson and Vidhya Muthuram

    Learning objectives: behavioural economics; market failures; policy nudges

  • The future of taxation: opportunities for the 2020s

    In the forty years to 2019, the level and sources of taxes in OECD countries had remained roughly constant. However, this apparent stability had concealed serious threats to the nature of public finance. First, public expenditures had grown over that same period, particularly following the 2008-09 global financial crisis. Second, traditional sources of taxation, namely taxes on labour income and consumption, which together accounted for about 85% of tax revenue, were coming under threat by a number of emerging technological and social phenomena, including advancements in job-replacing automation; a growing gig economy; greater cross-border e-commerce; an ageing population; and an increasing concentration of wealth. All of these changes suggested the need for a fundamental redesign of the tax system. This note, written for non-tax experts, explores how these phenomena challenge the legacy approaches used to tax labour and capital. It discusses ways to rethink tax systems for the 2020s and beyond, with a particular look at two bold, yet controversial, new policy ideas: an automation tax and a tax on global wealth.

    This case can be downloaded from our publications section.

    Authors: Karthik Ramanna, Sarah McAra and Vidhya Muthuram.

    Learning objectives: tax reform; public finance; transformational change; systems thinking; coalition building

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  • Paying for success? Commissioning outcomes for children’s social care in Essex

    In 2011, Essex County Council’s (ECC) children’s social care service was in serious need of reform, having received multiple ‘inadequate’ ratings from Ofsted, the UK regulator. To improve its effectiveness, ECC hoped to introduce new preventative measures to keep children out of care and at home with their families when it was safe to do so. But amid public-funding cutbacks, ECC had severely limited resources to trial new approaches. In light of these constraints, ECC was considering an alternative funding model called a social impact bond (SIB): private investors would fund a new intervention upfront, and ECC would repay the investors (plus a return) only if the intervention achieved specified, pre-agreed social outcomes. Specifically, a proposal from a social investment organisation suggested that a SIB could fund Multisystemic Therapy (MST), a licensed, evidence-based programme designed in the US to help at-risk youth remain at home with their families. The ECC had to assess the mixed evidence available on the effectiveness of MST, and consider the trade-offs of using a SIB, which had not yet been used in children’s social care nor at the local-authority level.

    Authors: Martin J Williams, Eleanor Carter and Sarah McAra

    Learning objectives: using evidence in public policy decision-making; social impact bonds; outcomes-based commissioning

  • To Huawei or not? The 5G decision in India

    In 2019, India, like many countries around the world, was laying the groundwork for the deployment of 5G mobile telecom technology. 5G, with its high-speed, high-capacity and low-latency potential, was expected to transform the economy and society, with projections suggesting that it would create a cumulative economic impact of $1 trillion in India by 2035. The dominant vendor of 5G technology was China-based Huawei, which, in 2019, offered end-to-end solutions that were cheaper, faster and higher quality than its competition. But several intelligence agencies in the West suspected that Huawei would install ‘backdoors’ into its equipment to allow the Chinese government to conduct espionage activities. India, with its longstanding security concerns vis-à-vis China, was faced with a dilemma: embrace costlier and slower 5G equipment from Huawei’s competitors, potentially setting back its economic targets for 5G, or develop ways to work with Huawei to address the security concerns. Huawei had been instrumental in allowing Indian telecom operators to rapidly expand access to previous-generation mobile and internet services in recent years. And while the US had banned the use of Huawei equipment across its public and private networks, and was strongly encouraging allied countries to do the same, other countries such as the UK had signalled a willingness to continue to do business with Huawei. With time of the essence, Indian Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan had to advise the new government on the way forward.

    Authors: Karthik Ramanna and Sarah McAra

    Learning objectives: public-private partnerships; complex problem solving; regulation of technology

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  • Mining Royalties in Nafasia

    This is a short two-party, single-issue negotiation over setting a mining royalty rate. Students role-play the negotiation as either the representative of the mining company or the government’s minister of mines. Through the simulation, students become familiar with distributive negotiation techniques and learn key elements of negotiation analysis (including BATNA and ZOPA).

    Authors: Emily Jones and Sarah McAra

    Learning objectives: distributive negotiations; public/private negotiations; value-claiming tactics

  • Building Schools in Cássio

    This is a short two-party, multi-issue negotiation over a public-private partnership to build schools in Brazil. Students role-play a negotiation as either the secretary of education or the managing director of a private company. The simulation introduces students to the core features of integrative negotiations, allowing them to differentiate it conceptually from distributive negotiations. The simulation also helps students understand the ‘negotiator’s dilemma’ and learn a range of moves that can be used to create value in a negotiation.

    Authors: Emily Jones and Sarah McAra

    Learning objectives: integrative negotiations; public/private negotiations; value-creation tactics; ‘negotiator’s dilemma’

  • A model public-service organisation? The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York

    Around the globe, red tape, budget cuts, and falling public trust eroded civil servants’ engagement with their work. Issues of low morale and disengagement not only cost governments billions in lost productivity and higher operational costs, but also provoked questions of how to build more effective public-service organisations, particularly as governments were setting up new agencies to tackle complex problems.

    The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) was one public organisation to have seemingly escaped the trends of disengagement. With its reputation for excellence and independence, the SDNY attracted top-tier talent despite relatively low pay, and earnt enduring adoration from its strong alumni network. Its high-calibre employees, who adhered to a deeply shared mission of ‘doing the right thing’, delivered long hours and achieved high success rates in trial. Many SDNY employees went on to secure elite positions in private firms before returning to the public sector. Drawing on the observations and insights of several former SDNY prosecutors, this note explores the maverick practices and norms contributing to the SDNY’s apparent success as a public-service organisation.

    This case can be downloaded from our publications section.

    Authors: Karthik Ramanna, Radhika Kak

    Date: 16 December 2019

    Learning objectives: transforming and building public-service organisations; organisational effectiveness; motivating teams

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  • Berlin Brandenburg International Airport: a symbol of unity and growth?

    In 1991, German officials announced plans to develop the Berlin Brandenburg International Airport (BBI), a new, large airport that would replace the three existing Berlin airports. Not only did officials believe that BBI could support air traffic growth, become an aviation hub, and revitalise the economy, but they also hoped it would represent a new chapter in Berlin’s history: one unified airport for the recently reunited city.

    To achieve their vision, German officials established Berlin Brandenburg Flughafen (BBF) in 1991. The company, jointly owned by the German federal government and the states of Brandenburg and Berlin, was to oversee the planning, development and, eventually, operations of BBI. However, BBF struggled to make progress. Eventually in 1997, hoping to bring in much-needed expertise and capital, BBF decided to privatise. The first attempt at a tender was unsuccessful: just two consortia submitted final bids and the losing consortium sued BBF shortly after the result was announced. The courts ruled that the tender had violated procurement laws, cancelled BBF’s contract, and ordered the company to start the privatisation process again. Now in 2002, a second tender had resulted in just one bid, with a price considerably lower than BBF had anticipated and a number of contentious terms. Facing pressure to make headway with the new airport, BBF needed to decide quickly how to proceed.

    Authors: Karthik Ramanna, Vidhya Muthuram, Greg Hodkinson

    Date: June 2020

    Learning objectives: managing major projects; public-private partnerships; effective procurement strategies

  • Driving change: regulation, reform and Uber’s future in London

    In September 2019, the regulator Transport for London (TfL) was deliberating over the renewal of Uber’s operating licence. Since 2017, Uber had been in a precarious position in London, one of its largest markets, after TfL first decided not to renew its licence due to public safety concerns. Uber appealed and received a probationary licence, and now was awaiting a more permanent verdict.

    The licensing decision was just one flashpoint in an ongoing debate as numerous interest groups actively lobbied politicians and regulators over Uber’s position in London’s longstanding car-hire regulatory regime. The drivers of London’s iconic black cabs argued that TfL let Uber operate between the lines of the otherwise strictly regulated car-hire industry, giving Uber a competitive edge. But Uber – buoyed by its hundreds of thousands of loyal customers – asserted that the app enhanced competition, expanded customer choice and created jobs. On 24 September 2019, TfL announced that it would give Uber a two-month extension as it reviewed additional information. TfL’s Commissioner Mike Brown now had two months to decide if TfL should grant Uber a licence. Meanwhile, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan – up for re-election in May 2020 – had to determine how to navigate the contentious debate.

    Authors: Pepper D Culpepper, Adam Webster and Sarah McAra

    Date: June 2020

    Learning objectives: platform power; interest groups and lobbying; business and government relations; exploring the purpose of law in regulation

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  • COVID-19 at Oxford University Hospitals: Sustaining morale on the eve of a crisis

    Set during the COVID-19 pandemic, this case follows a day in the life of Professor Meghana Pandit, chief medical officer at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH). It is 17 March 2020, and Pandit must prepare the hospital’s four locations and 12,000 employees for the peak of COVID-19 cases projected to hit Oxfordshire in two weeks’ time. On this busy morning of back-to-back meetings, Pandit receives an email from a concerned surgeon: he and his team no longer want to continue certain elective-surgery procedures. They feel that they lack sufficient specialised protective equipment and thus face undue risk of exposure to COVID-19. National health authorities had advised that elective procedures should continue, and maintained that standard protective gear should be sufficient. Yet government guidance was changing rapidly. Not only did this hamper quick and informed decision-making for hospital leaders like Pandit, but it also contributed to confusion, anxiety and distrust among frontline healthcare workers. How should Pandit respond to the surgeon?

    Authors: Karthik Ramanna and Sarah McAra

    Date: June 2020

    Learning objectives: leadership in times of crisis; crisis management; preparing organisations for crises; building a resilient organisational culture

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  • ‘Should I really be doing this?’ Misba Khan’s journey to the North Pole

    This case study follows Misba Khan, a 48-year-old, Pakistani-British woman, as she prepares to ski the last degree to the North Pole with the Women’s Euro-Arabian North Pole Expedition (WEANPE). The WEANPE sought to bring together a diverse group of 12 women from across Europe and the Middle East for the challenging Arctic expedition, with the dual aim of fostering cross-cultural dialogue and inspiring other women to forge into new frontiers. The case is set in September 2016 at the first training expedition in Iceland as Misba tries to find her place on the team. Prior to arriving, Misba had invested a good deal of effort in building necessary skills, such as becoming a strong swimmer, but she was still inexperienced in many areas, having never lit a camping stove, nor erected a tent, nor put on a pair of skis. Now, during the expedition, she is thriving at certain aspects of the training but struggling with others. The skiing has pushed her to the edge of her endurance and she has found herself connecting with only one of her teammates, Fatima, as the other teammates are somewhat younger and more experienced than she is. When Misba receives the unexpected news that Fatima was leaving the expedition for good, Misba needed to decide if she would keep going.

    Authors: Karthik Ramanna, Oenone Kubie

    Date: September 2020

    Learning objectives: team leadership; team dynamics; preparing for challenges

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  • Stop and search in London in the summer of Covid

    In the summer of 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown heightened tensions between London’s Metropolitan Police Service (Met) and the communities they policed, the latest data was published on the Met’s use of stop and search. The reports showed that in May alone, during the strict lockdown, the Met had conducted 44,000 searches – an eight-year high – and searched Black Londoners at four times the rate of white Londoners. Stop and search was among the most contentious police powers in the UK. Many police leaders considered it a vital tool for detecting and preventing criminal activity, yet others, including some in the police, worried it was not used fairly, with Black and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals consistently searched at higher rates than their white counterparts. And while this racial disproportionality had endured for decades, it gained renewed visibility in 2020 as Black Lives Matter protests highlighted racial discrimination in policing. Commissioner Cressida Dick, the senior-most officer of the Met responsible for more than 30,000 officers, had to respond to the growing scrutiny around stop and search. This case puts students in her shoes to consider how she can build trust with minority ethnic communities while also maintaining the trust and confidence of the Met – an overwhelmingly white institution – as well as the wider public and multiple political structures.

    Authors: Christopher Stone, Karthik Ramanna, Sarah McAra

    Date: November 2020

    Learning objectives: building trust; public leadership; stakeholder engagement

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  • Education reform in Brazil: An enduring coalition?

    In March 2017, Maria Helena Guimarães de Castro, the executive secretary at the Ministry of Education in Brazil, was preparing to send the final draft of a new national framework for education to the National Council of Education, the body with the deciding vote. The process of drafting the reform had been long and challenging. Even the idea of national educational standards in Brazil was a contentious one, between those who believed standards would reduce the country’s deep educational inequality and those who thought that schools and local governments were best placed to make decisions about teaching. Despite the opposition, pro-standards forces had managed to create and maintain a broad coalition of experts, foundations, and politicians from across the political spectrum, and had shepherded the drafting process through years of extreme political upheaval. However, just as the draft was about to be published, members of the influential evangelical caucus approached the ministry leadership with a list of changes they wanted the ministry to adopt. If Castro refused, the consequences for the president’s legislative agenda could be dire; but if she agreed, she risked alienating many of the framework’s supporters and the fragile coalition might disintegrate. Years of careful negotiation – and the reform itself – were in jeopardy. This case study steps into this dangerous moment for the reform and asks students to weigh up the complex political and ethical issues at stake.

    Learning objectives: building and maintaining coalitions; veto-player theory; fostering legitimacy for reform agendas; values-based leadership

  • Tax reform in Colombia: a moment for ‘greatness, consensus and solidarity’?

    In April 2021, Colombian President Ivan Duque’s administration put forward an urgently needed tax-reform package known as the ‘Sustainable Solidarity Bill’. Aiming to raise state revenues, the bill also targeted key areas of weakness in the taxation system: its complexity, inefficiency, and low redistribution. The bill was widely hailed by tax experts as being fair and technically sound. However, before it could be debated in Congress, the bill triggered widespread protests and public criticism, drawing on a general mood of disenchantment with government. Opponents saw the bill as targeting Colombia’s middle class, which was already struggling in light of the pandemic. Of particular concern was the bill’s proposed reform of the country’s VAT regime, notably the removal of VAT exclusions and exemptions from many goods and services, including some in the ‘basic family basket’. While poorer Colombians would receive compensation for their VAT payments, middle-class households would not. The government had to withdraw the bill, and the finance minister resigned. The case study picks up the story in May 2021, when the responsibility of redrafting the taxation reform fell on José Manuel Restrepo, Colombia’s new finance minister. How could he meet the bill’s revenue and fairness objectives whilst placating the middle-class?

    Learning outcomes: tax reform; direct and indirect taxation; the politics of taxation; coalition building

  • Chile’s balancing act: fiscal responsibility and emergency spending during Covid-19

    Over successive governments, Chile had built a strong reputation for fiscal discipline, secured partially through accrual-accounting practices. But recent social unrest and the Covid-19 pandemic had put pressure on the government to relax longstanding rules on spending restraint, notably the country’s ‘structural balance rule’. Finance Minister Ignacio Briones needed to determine how to finance a substantial new Covid-relief package while ensuring the country remained able to respond to future emergencies and without undermining the country’s already weakening commitment to fiscal responsibility. Diving into this setting, the case study allows students to explore both the practice and the politics of government accounting and finance.

    Authors: Karthik Ramanna and Oenone Kubie

    Learning objectives: government accounting; accrual accounting; fiscal policy; fiscal responsibility

  • Civil Service reform in Ghana

    In 2014, Nana Agyekum-Dwamena was named Ghana’s Head of Civil Service, tasked with reforming the 14,000-person institution that was widely considered to be plagued by low motivation, inefficiency, and weak performance. Just a few weeks into the job, he was approached with an opportunity from the World Bank, which provisionally offered to fund a multi-year reform programme that Agyekum-Dwamena could design. In many ways, it was a compelling offer: the Civil Service had extremely limited financial resources, yet improving its performance remained a political priority. However, Agyekum-Dwamena had seen a series of donor-funded reforms fail to deliver since he had joined the civil service in the 1980s. The donor-funded projects often came with high administrative costs, and most had halted when funding ended or a new administration came into office. Agyekum-Dwamena had to decide if he should design a wide-sweeping reform programme to pitch to the development partner, or if he had other levers available for improving performance. For Agyekum-Dwamena, this decision raised a broader question about how he should approach the task of improving the performance of the civil service. The case is accompanied by an epilogue which describes Agyekum-Dwamena’s decision in 2014 and how he approached reform in the years that followed.

    This case is also available in Portuguese.

    Authors: Martin J Williams and Sarah McAra

    Learning objectives: civil service reform; performance management; public management; state-donor relations; political economy of public sector reform

  • Confronting corruption in Paraguay’s housing ministry

    Soledad Núñez was appointed as the housing minister of Paraguay in October 2014. At age 31 and with no experience in public administration, she was now in charge of SENAVITAT, the housing ministry reputed for being one of the most corrupt and ineffective public institutions in the country. For years, the ministry had failed to achieve its housing targets and the country’s housing deficit was spiralling. Núñez knew that as a new minister, she would make powerful enemies, and her appointment would be opposed by many within the political establishment. But she was determined to reform the ministry and fight the system of corruption that gripped it. This case study follows Núñez during her difficult first year in office, during which time she created new regulations and processes, committed to transparency, and improved the reputation of the organisation, all while increasing the delivery of homes sixfold. In her efforts to reduce corruption, she had also dismissed Director of Administration Rufino González Flores, a popular and high-ranking official after an investigation found he had been involved in a fraudulent disbursement of almost US$4 million. But now, in December 2015, González had returned to SENAVITAT with a court order reinstating him – and some members of the organisation were celebrating his return. Núñez was shocked: she had worked hard to change the ministry’s culture, but González’s return threatened to undo her progress. Núñez knew she would need to act quickly if she was to maintain control over the situation.

    This case is also available in Portuguese and Spanish.

    Authors: Anna Petherick, Christopher Stone and Oenone Kubie

    Learning objectives: organisational culture; leadership and ethics; corruption; power and influence

  • Priscilla Ankut at the Kaduna State Peace Commission

    Considered the hub of Nigeria’s North-West region, Kaduna straddled the country’s north/south divide along ethnic, religious, and political groups. The state had experienced periods of violence since the 1980s, which often stemmed from religious and ethnic differences and were reinforced by perceived social and economic disparities. In the 2010s, conflict had intensified, particularly with the rise of criminal gangs and the depletion of natural resources. In 2017, in a new approach to promote peace and prevent conflict, the state established the Kaduna State Peace Commission (KSPC). Priscilla Ankut, a Kaduna native with a background in international development, became its first chief executive. She initially made progress building bridges across historically hostile groups, but by 2021, increasingly felt that her work was more palliative than structural. Moreover, violence had worsened over the period, and the death toll was rising. Then in August 2021, Ankut was presented with a new career opportunity that made her reconsider her role: an offer for a high-level job at the African Union. She had to decide if she should remain at the commission, where progress, at times, seemed counter-productive in the face of rising conflict or take the new job and let someone else take charge.

    Authors: Anna Petherick, Christopher Stone and Oenone Kubie

    Learning objectives: power and influence; organisational design; leadership in times of crisis; peace building

  • Allegations and interrogations: Alberto Mora & the case against torture at Guantanamo Bay

    In January 2003, Alberto Mora, the general counsel of the United States Navy, was faced with a grave dilemma. In late 2002, Mora had become aware of allegations of physical abuse and degrading treatment of detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre. Mora was deeply disturbed by these reports. Beyond his own moral concerns, Mora believed that such mistreatment of prisoners went against what he saw as US values and violated international and domestic human rights laws. Furthermore, Mora feared that if such news reached the public, the credibility of the US government, its foreign relations, and US military strategy would suffer greatly. Initially, Mora had believed the policy to be the result of mistakes made in the rushed post-9/11 climate. But now in January 2003, he was reading a memo by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, one of the most senior lawyers in the executive branch, defending the policy. Reading the memo, Mora realised that the policy had been approved at the highest levels of the US government. If he persisted in trying to end the interrogations, he risked dismissal and could potentially harm the careers of those supporting him. Yet, he also felt that he could not turn a blind eye to the abuses – he had a duty to act, and he would need the strongest case possible.

    Authors: Federica D’Alessandra, Dapo Akande, Naomi Ducat and Oenone Kubie

    Learning outcomes: international and domestic human rights law; value-based leadership; the relationship between law and policy

  • The migrant crisis in Boa Vista, Brazil

    Since 2016, Boa Vista, a small municipality in Brazil’s remote north, had seen a massive rise of immigration from Venezuela. As of 2018, public services were overloaded, political polarisation was widening, and a measles outbreak, which started in an immigrant community, was spreading quickly throughout the city. The mayor, Teresa Surita, had attempted to integrate Venezuelans into the city, primarily using schools as a vehicle to build understanding across communities. But as the locals became more anxious and agitated, the mayor had to decide if she should recalibrate her strategy.

    Authors: Karthik Ramanna and Sarah McAra

    Learning outcomes: asymmetric capabilities; managing shifting expectations

  • ‘Sign here’: politics and integrity in public administration

    As the senior most civil servant in the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Mountain State, Jay Adan was required to approve any new recruits hired in the interior ministry. When he received a list of candidates recommended for vacant posts in the Mountain State Emergency Services, one of his ministry’s departments, he suspected that the recruitment had not been meritocratic. His personal investigation suggested that the candidates chosen were unqualified, and that more candidates were being recruited than the number of actual vacancies. Patronage was a rampant issue in the region, and political leaders frequently used recruitment cycles to garner support among voters before elections. Adan believed it was likely that the minister of internal affairs was interfering with the recruitment to recommend individuals from his key constituencies in time for elections. Adan considered it unethical to approve a corrupt process, but explicitly rejecting the list could cost him his career and jeopardise the important projects he was working on. Running out of time and options, Adan needed to decide what to do.

    Authors: Thomas Simpson, Christopher Stone, Vibhuti Gour and Oenone Kubie

    Learning outcomes: navigating moral and ethical dilemmas in public service; working in corrupt systems; corruption in public administration

  • Defending democracy: cybersecurity and the 2020 US elections

    This case study focuses on the controversial decisions faced by Chris Krebs, Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), during the United States’ controversial 2020 presidential election. Despite CISA’s years of work to ensure high levels of security in electoral processes around the country, the election was among the most contested in the country’s history. Krebs was faced with the difficult choice of openly opposing President Donald Trump, by whom he had been appointed and who was rejecting the outcome of the election, and politicising his uniquely nonpartisan organisation, or remaining quiet about the political debate and potentially harming his and CISA’s credibility.

    Authors: Ciaran Martin and Sarah McAra

    Learning outcomes: managing a technical public organisation amidst polarised politics; assessing scope of responsibility and aircover

  • FSO Safer: negotiating to avoid disaste

    Off the coast of Yemen, in the Red Sea, an enormous oil tanker sat rusting in 2022. The Floating Storage and Offloading Unit (FSO) Safer contained 1.1 million barrels of oil. However, due to the ongoing Yemen civil war between Ansar Allah (also known as the Houthis) and the Saudi-backed, internationally recognised government of Yemen, the tanker had not been maintained since 2015. With the rotting hull deteriorating every day, an oil spill from the Safer was widely considered both inevitable and imminent unless prompt action is taken. The consequences of such a spill would be dire: devastating the ecology of the Red Sea region, disrupting global trade by potentially blocking the Suez Canal for months, and greatly exacerbating the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Although the disaster seemed relatively easy to prevent from a technical perspective, political barriers had restricted progress for years and talks between Ansar Allah and the UN broke down completely in 2019. This multi-issue, multi-party negotiation simulation for groups of 6-12 players picks up the story in early 2022 when a change of UN leadership, as well as other developments in the region, had opened the door for new negotiations.

    Authors: Emily Jones and Oenone Kubie

    Learning outcomes: multi-issue, multi-party negotiations; negotiating in high-conflict settings; building trust; creating durable agreements

  • Tackling undernutrition in Ethiopia through the Seqota Declaration

    In 2015, the Ethiopian government signed the Seqota Declaration, a high-level political commitment to end stunting in Ethiopian children under two by 2030. The country’s existing nutrition programme was failing to deliver on promises of collaboration across the various federal ministries and local-government levels involved and, as a result, the different sectors were sometimes even working at cross purposes. The implementation of the Seqota Declaration was intended to address this lack of collaboration and be multisectoral, although the Programme Delivery Unit was housed at the Ministry of Health and several other sectors believed Health was continuing to dominate the nutrition landscape. Then, just a year into the 15-year programme, one senior minister stopped attending the fortnightly meetings. With limited resources available for implementing the declaration and with the different sectors having many issues vying for their time, this case study asks students to consider how to ensure political buy-in for this supposedly multisectoral endeavour.

    This case study is also available in Portuguese.

    Authors: Karthik Ramanna and Oenone Kubie

    Learning outcomes: Multisectoral policy design and implementation; managing peers; nutrition policy challenges; horizontal and vertical coordination