Case Centre on Public Leadership

Developing real-world case studies to combine research and teaching

Finding solutions to real policy challenges is at the heart of the Blavatnik School’s work, and this approach informs our teaching. Our Case Centre on Public Leadership, founded in 2017, develops real-world case studies to aid in learning, marrying disciplinary research and policy teaching. 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.

Cases form a distinctive element of our flagship Master of Public Policy programme, furthering its strong focus on applied policy. Read more about the value of learning through the case method in this blog post by a former MPP student.

Professor Karthik Ramanna, the Case Centre’s director, is a prolific author of case studies. and his team of experienced case writers includes Sarah McAra and Dr Oenone Kubie. The Case Centre team received the 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.

Bringing the case method to public policy education

Case method teaching is a pedagogy of active learning aimed at developing empathy, collaboration and decision-making skills. In contrast to a conventional classroom environment where experts share deductive knowledge, the case method requires students to analyse problems, consider alternatives and make recommendations.

While the case method has long been popular in law and business schools, it has remained uncommon in schools of public policy. The Case Centre seeks to adapt the case method to the unique context of public-leadership education.

Workshops

On 21–22 June 2021, we will be hosting a two-day workshop in Oxford for faculty at policy schools looking to use cases and the case method to further bridge research and teaching. Find out more about the case method workshop in 2021 and how to apply.

How we teach cases online

Watch how we're teaching cases online during the COVID-19 lockdown.

What is unique about learning through case studies?

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 faculty who wish to use them for training and learning.

Select cases are available for download from the Blavatnik School's publication section and some are available online (see individual cases).

To inquire about using our other cases, please contact us at casecentre@bsg.ox.ac.uk.

Recently completed cases

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

This case is available to download from The Case Centre distribution platform.

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

This case is available to download from The Case Centre distribution platform.

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

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

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.

Authors: Politics of Policymaking faculty team

Learning objectives: modernisation theory; economic development

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

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

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

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

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 health care 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

Suggest a case

We are constantly developing new cases. If you are shaping policy in government, business or non-profit context, and managing a scenario that could serve as an interesting topic for a case discussion, we would love to hear from you. Contact us at casecentre@bsg.ox.ac.uk.

Please read the Case Centre's privacy policy.