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Learning from the experience (2): Case studies as a strategy to teach on public policy

[Editor’s Note: This post is the second of a series of posts produced by Carlos Alza, ordinary lecturer and Public Policy and Public Management Coordinator of the School of Government Government (PUCP – Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú). The series focuses on how developing content to teach on public policy is a capacity building challenge in itself. You can read the first post here]

Realising the difference between facts and problems; strategies and mechanisms; functions and roles; designs and implementations. Understanding how to analyse or formulate public policies, to set management tools, to take decisions and to solve trade-offs. Learning how to use evidence or build it up in order to make better policies. Negotiating, creating coalitions and advocating. All these things are part of the teaching-learning process on the Art of the State.

Improving abilities and knowledge in bureaucrats is -in my opinion and experience- a great opportunity to create governmental institutional capacities. It is not an easy thing, of course. High level education has its own paradoxes. To teach theory well one needs time, which in turn sometimes implies a distance from practice. If you only teach practice you end up nurturing technocracy (lost and far from politics, vague and without clear horizons). Undergraduates face a similar problem. They have willingness and permanent training in theoretical reasoning; nevertheless, they do not have experience or access to bureaucracy. In fact, these situations drive them to a limited understanding of bureaucratization of politics. If you are a bureaucrat studying a postgraduate programme, you have access and information about governmental activity; you are a managerial practitioner; however you seldom have time and energy to study and to convert that experience into useful theory in order to understand the bureaucratic complexity. This situation seems to imply that lecturers cannot teach political processes in depth.  This, of course, is not true.

I previously posted about teaching case and research case studies. Both of them respond to different aims. I am trying to link them in the process of teaching and learning policy processes. Teaching cases have been widely disseminated in the academic world as an educational technology. They allow teachers to understand and discuss policy processes, decision making processes, implementation procedures, strategies that are part of public or private administration. They are usually elaborated by specialists, researchers and academic scholars. Each of them has been built with its own methodological approach; each of them provide lecturers with diverse tools that can be employed them differently while teaching.

Research cases are usually employed for graduate courses, research and academic publications in order to rebuild policy process through narratives which show small pictures of reality. These pictures are analysed under theoretical frameworks selected with the purpose of an understanding and explanation about what governments do. Each of them reveals difficulties and limitations in policy reforms, strategic policy making processes, and negotiations. In sum, they show us the politics of public policy processes.

Our book titled “Learning from Experience. Eight case studies to study public policy and public management” (2014) appears precisely with the aim of being a tool for lecturers and scholars, linking both types of cases. We produced teaching cases from research cases. The linkages among them allow students to produce scientific knowledge about policy processes, rebuilding and analysing facts and events with historiographical approaches guided by theory. They can also learn throughout the research process. It is not as simple as writing fictional cases. We make real world a spring of knowledge, recognising bad, good and smart practices from policy makers, politicians, bureaucrats and civil society.

These cases are useful in the academic world. They may also have an effect in enhancing institutional capacities in the State, creating evidence about real policy making processes rather than showing merely outputs and outcomes. The latter makes efficacy more visible and the former allow us to identify the what-to-do as well as the how-to-do in the governmental arena. This promotes feasible and strong the policy transfer within governmental agencies and peer-learning inside the government which in turn can help it deliver better services to citizens. 

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