The following article is divided into three episodes and aims at reviewing the methodology used and some insights based on my experience during the compulsory case-study ‘David Cameron in the face of the Brexit’, which is attended by final year Master graduates. The course still runs at the School of Public Affairs at Sciences Po and consequently some of the findings are part of an ‘ongoing work’. The aim is to briefly present some ideas observed before (episode 1), during (episode 2) and after (episode 3) the actual time in class with students, as well as providing some brief introduction to the more global teaching method of the ‘case-study’.
Case-studies are one of the teaching methods currently in vogue. Professor Anne Mesny’s work at the specialised Centre de Cas at HEC Montréal is a good starting point, in particular her ‘Guide de production de cas pédagogiques’ (Mesny, 2012) and the ‘Guide de production des notes pédagogiques’ (Mesny, 2011). In Mesny’s own words, “a case-study is a rich description of a real management situation with the objective to trigger specific learnings outcomes among the students, in particular in the fields of management, as well as fostering the ‘judgement’ ability and the ‘critical capacity’ of participants”. Case-studies offered in the 2017’s curriculum at Sciences Po followed that same ‘practical’ essence, for instance: ‘Covering Egg Freezing Cost for female employees and work life balance policies’, ‘The fusion of the tax and treasury administration in France’, ‘The Orelsan Affair: case-study involving freedom of speech, illegal incitement to violence, and the fight against sexism’ or ‘Regulating the sharing economy: Uber in Paris’. The common denominator between all those topics is to emphasize two core pedagogical skills: engagement and problem-solving. On one side, it is considered that the student needs to feel engaged and immersed by the content taught, while on the other we seek a pro-active attitude that goes well beyond the intellectual transmission of a given knowledge. This second element means, in practice, that the class is encouraged to use almost exclusively real-life situations to develop students’ problem-solving competencies. On a more general basis, both elements are also indicative of a global tendency in the post-graduate education, which is increasingly focused on ‘life-long learning’ and on guaranteeing a successful transition between formal education and the job-market. The downside of such methods is that management and problem-solving is a process and a practice, more than a science. In that sense the lecturer is very rarely faced with a unique or straightforward answer to the problem presented to the class. The main struggle for the practitioner teaching a case-study is, thus, to find fair and clear evaluation grids that go beyond intuition, originality or familiarity with the topic. We will come back to this point in the third section.
The teaching of case-studies at Sciences Po is particularly structured and practitioners follow a common pedagogical guide written by Esther Rogan (2016). Each case-study starts with a precise and in-depth work of investigation by the teacher (usually 30-40 pages) in order to provide to the class a neutral and descriptive overview of the political or social process that will constitute the case-study itself. The topic I personally explore with students is linked with my professional experience at the London School of Economics during the years leading to Brexit, and in particular the role played by David Cameron between 2010 and the day just before the Referendum. Regarding this first stage of the teaching process two main considerations proved to be significant in my own experience.
Case-studies prove easier to discuss in class if they have a clear start and a clear end. Almost any management decision (both in politics or any other field) could be traced back as far as wanted. For example, a political crisis could be explained in function of the decisions of past governments, or even through historical considerations. The more the discussion builds on real-life situations, the higher is the risk of mixing arguments that have been solidly constructed from the deterministic and basic ones. In that sense giving a precise start to the case-study allows the instructor to narrow the process that will be re-played by students and the type of arguments they will mobilise – much more connected with the decision-making process instead of their own prejudices or previous knowledge about the topic. On the other end, plenty of crucial political decisions produce outcomes beyond the moment that such decision was taken. While sometimes it proves stimulating for students to imagine and reflect on those ‘future’ consequences, in terms of evaluation it proves much easier if the case-study does not rely too much on the ‘unknowns’ or on ‘unfolding’ events. While there must be some room for innovative thinking among the class, the case-study itself provides the best possible reality-check to evaluate the feasibility of some management proposals. In my own case, for example, even if I examine an unfolding event (Brexit) I decided on purpose that the case-study will end the day before the Referendum – avoiding the temptation to use current developments in Britain to explain in retrospective what happened in 2016.
The second consideration that proves helpful is to decide at a very early stage which agents of the decision-making process will be examined. In the field of business management for example, a decision involving the bankruptcy of a company could be explored from many different angles (the Board, the employees, civil society, the government…). If students know from the start which role(s) will be analysed and discussed during the class the capacity to judge such exchange proves to be more transparent and effective. On a more practical note, it might be useful to provide weekly readings from newspapers describing and summarising the position of all those different decision-makers. Again, for the case-study on Brexit the spotlight was given to David Cameron and the government’s decisions, with the objective to avoid too much dissemination.
Dídac GUTIERREZ-PERIS, Teacher at Sciences Po and EU Research Director at Viavoice (Paris).
Mesny, A. (2011), Guide de production des notes pédagogiques, Revue internationale de cas en gestion (RICG), Ref. 7 99 2011 001, HEC Montréal.
Mesny, A. (2012), Guide de production de cas pédagogiques, Revue internationale de cas en gestion (RICG), Ref. 99 2012 001, HEC Montréal.
Rogan, E. (2016), ‘Études de Cas, Guide pratique pour les enseignants’, École d’Affaires Publiques, Sciences Po, internal document, unpublished.
Website ‘Development of Skills’, European Commission, https://goo.gl/NnxpXu [last accessed 27.06.18].