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. This blog about using case studies was written by a former MPP student.

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.

Contact us: 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

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

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.

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’

What is unique about learning through case studies?

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.