Casi Salimos! We Are Off to Peru!

Casi Salimos! We Are Off to Peru!

[the what] On May 30th, 17 other students and I will got on a plane in New York City and flew to Peru for a three week study abroad program in Cusco, Peru. Here is a little preview of the mental preparation required to undertake such an endeavor.

Every time I mention this to family, friends, coworkers, peers, and even acquaintances, the first words out of their mouths are invariably, “You must be so excited!” When this happens, I smile and nod and say something banal about what a “great experience” it will be. What I do not say, however, is that I am terrified. I am nervous and anxious and overwhelmed and just plain scared. As the well-intentioned inquirer smiles at me, waiting for more information about the trip, my brain goes into overdrive. What will I pack? How much money should I bring? What if I don’t get along with my classmates on the trip? What if I lose my passport or my wallet or my luggage? What if I get sick? What have I gotten myself into?!

[so what?] Suddenly, fifteen hours of pre-trip instruction seems woefully inadequate to prepare me for life on another continent. It is at this point in the conversation that I usually freeze up and change the subject. I am ashamed of my fear. I am ashamed that I am not embracing the ambiguity and excitement of a study abroad experience, and I do not want to talk about it.

[now what?] However, today I am doing just that. I am standing up to my fear. I am telling it, “You won’t rule me.” For all of those people who asked me about going to Peru, here is what I should have said.

“I am spending three weeks in Cusco, Peru this summer, and I am excited and nervous. As a group, we will be working on three service projects, learning Spanish, living with host families, and exploring the country and culture. We’ll also be learning about the way that citizens interact with the government and civil society. This will, more likely than not, force us to address the unequal access citizens have to these institutions, and the institutional structures that cause that. I personally hope to look at the way that sustainable development does or does not happen in Cusco, and how this development is or is not compatible with the local culture.

I think it will be important that the people we work with learn from us just as much as we learn from them. This may not be possible all the time, but as a group I know we will work to create real relationships with the people we meet and treat them and not simply write them off because they are different from us or because we leave in a few weeks.

I’ve heard so many wonderful things about the country and the program, and I think it will be a really great experience.”

To any friends or family who are reading this, I hope this makes up, at least a small amount, for how little I have said about Peru so far. To all readers, I hope you continue to follow this blog for updates about our experiences, both positive and negative. If you’re interested, you should also check out our trip hashtag: #binguperu15 on twitter and instagram.

I know that there will be challenges associated with studying abroad, and I know that I cannot possibly prepare for every situation that I will face, but I also know that my 17 classmates and two faculty advisors will be with me every step of the way.

Am I still nervous? Of course, but I am also ready. I am ready to take the leap and relate the experience to the public service values I reflect on as a graduate student in my CCPA coursework. Indeed, I am ready to learn. I am ready this experience. And I am ready for the next person who says, “you must be so excited!” When that happens, I will look that person in the eye and say, without hesitation, “Yes I am!”

Sarah Glose

Preparing Students for Peru: The what, the so what, and the now what of International Service Learning

Preparing Students for International Service Learning in Peru[1]

[the what] This will be the third year that the Peru Service-learning and Spanish Immersion Program is running at Binghamton University. The Peru Program is a collaboration between Binghamton University’s Department of Public Administration in CCPA, Office of International Programs (OIP) and Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), along with one on-site language partner and three service partner organizations in Peru. The Peru Program is an international service-learning program organized around an academic course (titled “Local Development in the Andes”) which begins at Binghamton University prior to leaving the United States. The course, which I teach, provides an opportunity for students of diverse backgrounds and interests to learn about the dynamics of sustainable development with a focus on the Andean Region in Latin America. It situates local sustainable-development practice within its interconnection between environmental issues, economic viability, social equity and cultural identity. The course is designed to help students develop knowledge and skills that enable them to reflect on local development and their own roles in international service. The course provides an opportunity for students of diverse backgrounds and interests to learn about the dynamics of sustainable development with a focus on the Andean Region in Latin America. It situates local sustainable-development practice within its interconnection between environmental issues, economic viability, social equity and cultural identity. In addition, course is designed to help students develop knowledge and skills that enable them to reflect on local development and their own roles in international service.

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The program continues during a three-week study abroad experience in Cusco, Peru led by myself and Professor Nadia Rubaii, which this years is from May 30-June 21, 2015. While in Peru, students receive formal language instruction tailored to their individual language abilities and interests at an accredited language school in Cusco, Maximo Nivel. Native Spanish speakers have the opportunity to study Quechua, providing additional opportunities for them to more fully experience the cultural exchange and communicate with indigenous communities. Language immersion extends beyond the formal classes to include housing with host families in Cusco, Peru. Students and faculty live with families during their entire stay in Cusco. This living arrangement further facilitates a rich cultural immersion experience.

We have three service partners on the ground:

AbrePuertas. AbrePuertas (OpenDoors), was started by a SUNY alumna and is situated in the district of Coya, Peru, in the Sacred Valley outside of the city of Cusco. The organization works to improve community literacy, empower teens through leadership and public speaking trainings, engage families who may undervalue traditional education, and bolster the value of learning and art. In 2013, faculty and students on the Peru Program provided in-kind donations of project materials and worked on indoor and outdoor infrastructure improvements including: sanding, cleaning, priming, and painting. Additionally, Peru Program participants sketched a mural designed by children from the community in the organization’s common area. The participants and the children worked together to paint the mural. In 2014, Binghamton students helped to resign a youth room through painting and clean up and catalogued library books into the organization’s library system.

Corazón de Dahlia. Corazón de Dahlia (Heart of Dahlia), was started by a Binghamton University alumna. The organization provides afterschool programming for children, a bi-lingual and media library, and an educational toy and game library. In 2013, faculty and students participated in its three-year anniversary celebration. Donations of educational supplies from students were shared with the children and staff in celebration of the partnership. In 2014, Binghamton University student were integrated in the Corazón de Dahlia after school program, helping with homework.

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Municipality of Cusco. The Municipality of Cusco facilitates our work with soup kitchens: Los Comedores Populares. The organization is made up of local women and provides a source of food for families who would otherwise lack an adequate food supply. The students and faculty worked with community members to dig ditches around an adobe building to allow for better water drainage; constructed netting in order to plaster the outer wall; and plastered the inside walls of adobe building to help transition the facility to a more permanent and functional status. In 2014, Binghamton University students and faculty collaborated with a different Comedor to tear down a dilapidated adobe building which served as the kitchen for the Comedor Popular and rebuild it out of ceramic bricks.

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We look forward to the 2015 projects in June which are currently being developed! The ISL program and course will conclude with assignments and reflection once returning to the U.S. in the end of June.

[so what] This year we have 18 students from all across campus, both graduate and undergraduate students. For the next two months we will hear from the 6 CCPA graduate students in program on the CCPA blog, before leaving, during their time in Peru and once they return. My post is setting up this blog series, which promises to be reflective and stimulating!

The Peru Program brings exciting opportunities to CCPA graduate students in particular. The goal of the Peru Program is to provide international exchange and service-learning opportunities which enhance the educational experiences of students at Binghamton University and apply local sustainable-development practices on the ground in Peru with our on-site partner institutions. Sustainable development is not purely an economic or environmental concern demanding technical expertise from the science or engineering professions although those elements are vital. Sustainable development also demands sustainable management practices, and a commitment to the values of sustainability in its broadest forms—financial, environmental, and cultural. In addition to its academic objectives related to local sustainable-development practice, the Peru Program engages student and faculty in international service learning. As a class, students develop and follow standards for ethical practice in international service learning.

[now what?] As I prepare the students to go to Peru I am thinking about the important public service and ISL values of sustainability (the balance between environmental issues, economic viability, social equity and cultural identity), mutuality (a creation of a common vision among stakeholders) and reciprocity (all stakeholders realize the benefits of service). Indeed, one of the most important components to ISL programming is building group cohesion and responsible partnerships. When we take in ethical considerations, the importance of building and maintaining relationships among ourselves and with our partners is at the forefront.

My task now, as we finish the pre-departure coursework, it to make sure individually and as a group, we have built ethical considerations into the coursework to advance student learning objectives and establish the importance of our relationships with our partners. Preparation includes targeted conversations and ensuring readiness for students. Additionally, course content that that asks critical questions specific to the pedagogy of ISL is included in the program in order that students understand the implications and advance their understanding of ethics and reciprocity.

The CCPA blog will provide our CCPA graduate students the opportunity to reflect on their experiences using a what, so what, now what? model[2]. They will reflect on what they are seeing and experiencing; what they bring to the situation; and how is it related to public service and ISL values.

[1]The thousands of conversations and written papers with my collaborators, Professor Nadia Rubaii and CCPA doctoral student/OIP Assistant Director for Study Abroad, Kerry Stamp, very much inform much of this blog post!!

[2] Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
*Editor’s note: This is the first in a series on International Service Learning. Check back for further updates and dispatches from the field throughout the summer.

Susan Appe, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Public Administration
College of Community and Public Affairs
University Downtown Center, Room 341
Binghamton University

Co-Teaching with Bogotá: One PhD student’s experience with 21st century pedagogy

All doctoral students in the PhD program in Community and Public Affairs must spend a semester co-teaching a course with a faculty member in CCPA as a requisite for earning their degree. My experience has been pretty atypical so far, but that is part of the joy of being pioneers in an interdisciplinary doctoral program. I am also a full-time professional staff member in the Office of International Programs where I serve as a study abroad coordinator managing a portfolio of study abroad programs and assist in establishing and fostering international partnerships.

Here are the basics, this spring 2015 semester I am co-teaching a course at Binghamton University, PAFF 520. It is entitled 21st Century Governance and is a required course for the Master of Public Administration degree. The instructor of record is Professor Nadia Rubaii of the Department of Public Administration.

Then things get interesting, Professor Rubaii decided to link up with a former classmate of mine and alumnus of our MPA program, Sebastián Líppez De Castro and his course Tecnologías y Procesos Gubernamentales at La Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Sebastián is the director of the political science major in the Department of Political Science and International Relations. This course meets in both Binghamton and Bogota on Monday mornings and it is completely integrated from the same syllabus to synchronous class meetings to group projects with participants from both universities on the same team (more on this below).

This co-teaching as an outgrowth of a shared research interest discussed between myself and Nadia to begin researching the potential for this course, building a syllabus and course content with our associate in Bogota. We have been working on bringing these ideas to fruition since the early start of the fall 2014 semester. The goal of the course involves the interrelation of three broad 21st century themes: technology, globalization, and diversity. The course taught in Bogota and the course taught in Binghamton are not necessarily the same, but relate to one another through these three themes. From a research perspective, in addition to identifying the similarities and differences demonstrated through course engagement and creative problem solving, a course like this can provide an opportunity for myself as an emerging scholar to create an educational environment where teaching intercultural effectiveness can be viewed as it unfolds in real time.

The course experience itself is truly integrative. Students in both Bogota and Binghamton are using the same syllabus, and all students have access to learn from each instructor as co-instructors. Students at each school have time to meet with their specific instructors regarding campus specific issues at the start of class, and then the classes and instructors come together to provide content and engage students in both locations, with a focus on solving problems through their cultural specific lenses. One of the ways that this is an enriching experience for me as an emerging scholar is that I am able to see the frustrations and questions from the students regarding the breadth of information that they are being exposed to, leading to intellectual growth and an enhanced transnational lens. We as public administrators in the United States approach issues differently than those of other countries, and exposure to this type of critical thinking and problem solving will produce problem solvers who can analyze and create policy for this rapidly interconnected world we live in.

One of the key goals of this course, which will last far longer than a semester, is that the students are learning to manage interpersonal relationships in the development of a collaborative project with people who live in another country. This develops skills of collaborative leadership that will serve them long after they graduate from Binghamton University and La Javeriana. As a somewhat intended consequence of this course students are being tested with regards to how they handle collaborative efforts with people who may not have the same command of the languages of one another or who grew up with different legal structures and frameworks or who may see the world we live in as fundamentally different. The true beauty of international partnerships is that we learn through our differences how similar we are as human beings.

There have been challenges and opportunities throughout the seven weeks that this course has met, and I am taking it all in along the way. One of these challenges is associated with learning new technology and deciding on the best way to deliver content, along with negotiating bandwidth issues that maintain both the audio and the video elements of the lecture. From a technological perspective, new enhancements in the dissemination of information in a collaborative environment is what has made this course a possibility. Cisco WebEx, an interface recommended by the Center for Teaching and Learning, enables us to meet in a virtual meeting room that becomes the classroom environment. Students can videoconference into the WebEx technology, and once everyone is in virtual meeting room, all of the students can access the lecturer and any PowerPoints that might be being used. We make a slight variation and just have the professors conference into this virtual meeting room with cameras on the students and classroom itself. This recreates, virtually, a single classroom environment. We are one of the first groups of people on the campus to have access to a license, which has been a wonderful opportunity for us as teachers and professionals. It has also helped us gain competencies that will inevitably assist our work as scholars in CCPA and International Affairs. Expansion of its use will make opportunities for increased collaboration an option for any program that would benefit from learning from a transnational and multicultural perspective.

We utilize open source technology for posting course information so that both campuses have equal access to the readings. All of the materials must be able to be accessed by students from both campuses so that there is equal opportunity for both classes to experience the course materials, preferably in both Spanish and English. In addition, the CLT helped us with a list of open source technologies for the students to use for their transnational group work. Another goal of this course/project is to work with the students on their digital fluency. As with any new technology there are some bumps along the way, but I am a firm believer in growth through trial.

As the semester rolls ahead, we will be constantly reflecting on this experience and learning from our students about the direction of these types of international collaborations in the future. Nadia, Sebastian, and I will be presenting at the CLAC (Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum) conference at Denison University this April on our experiences integrating this collaborative online international learning experience with a perspective of cultures and languages on course content. We look forward to looking at the various outcomes of this experience as we move forward in enhancing international partnerships. This has also not only been an amazing teaching opportunity, but will also produce sound and practical research. Most importantly, the essence of this collaborative life experience is the one that no metric can truly measure.

Stephen Louis Capobianco, BA ’11, MPA ’12

Study Abroad Coordinator

Office of International Programs

PhD Student, Community and Public Affairs

College of Community and Public Affairs

Binghamton University

To India and Back In One Week!

Recently I had the honor of being the chief guest at the inaugural session of a two-day international conference on globalization and public administration at Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University (BAMU) in Aurangabad, India. Most of the attendees represented universities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from various states within India and from other countries in the region such as Nepal, Bangladesh, China and Thailand, with one person from Kenya and myself from the United States representing the most distant locations.

The conference, Globalization and Public Administration: Pros and Cons, examined the demand for and the challenges of promoting greater accountability in government and developing a more engaged citizenry. These are issues which are grappled with globally and for which there are no easy or one-size-fits-all answers. The particular emphasis of this conference was on what India can learn from others and what it can teach to the rest of the world. There was much consideration paid to how much is transferable from one culture or context to another, recognizing that policies and programs which are successful in one place may not have the same impact in another area, given differing history, cultural values, political systems, and financial, human and natural resources available in each area.

This was my first trip to India and I made the trip there and back in a week, which is not a schedule I would recommend. I have since had time to sit down and reflect on the experience. Here I focus on how the experience reinforced valuable lessons for all people – students, faculty and community leaders – interested in working internationally.

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The Value of Networking

This opportunity was made available to me as the result of networking at another conference in Thailand several years back. While sharing a shuttle bus between the hotel and conference site, I had engaged in casual conversation and exchanged business cards with colleagues from India and they mentioned that they would like to invite me to India. This is a common occurrence and I really never expected anything to come of it. I was quite surprised when I received an email more than two years later asking if I would be come to India to make what was essentially the keynote address for the first international conference in Public Administration hosted by this university. While we regularly advise students of the importance of networking, particularly when attending professional conferences and events, this event reinforced that message and demonstrated that you never know who or what will manifest and lead to a future opportunity.

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Flexibility and Intercultural Effectiveness

The conference itself was robust but quite different from anything I had experienced elsewhere. In addition to opening and closing sessions, there were three substantive half day panels that had about 25 papers each, in addition to four key panelists. The job of the panelists was to integrate material from the presentations and papers, as the nature of the conference required a significant amount of synthesis in a short amount of time. This format was a new experience for me, as was the level of formal ceremony associated with recognizing special guests, myself included. My inherent task- and time-orientation was challenged by the structure of the event and I had to regularly remind myself to enjoy the experience and learn from it. At the scheduled starting hour for the opening plenary, the conference organizers, dignitaries and I were being served coffee and tea and discussing Indian and world events and swapping stories in another location on campus. When we did travel to the conference site, we were greeted by a beautiful and colorful Hindu ceremony providing blessings to each of us individually. The conference sessions themselves included exchanges of gifts. Amidst all of this, there was still time for a wealth of interesting presentations and engaging discussions over communal lunches in the courtyard. The experience reminded me of the value of seeing the potential for learning in each new experience and trying to avoid feelings of frustrations or judgment. Setting aside our own cultural expectations of how an academic or professional event is supposed to go, and employing a “go with the flow” method of engagement, will assist you in enjoying yourself and what you are learning.

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Know the Audience

It is always best to know one’s audience before making a high profile presentation. As mentioned earlier, this was my first trip to India and I had only briefly met my host at a previous conference. As such, when I first received the invitation, I asked a lot of questions and was sometimes surprised by the answers. I was intrigued to learn that despite its long history of formal bureaucratic structures associated with British colonial rule and continuing into Indian independence, India has only recently begun to develop public administration and a formal academic discipline with programs at the graduate level. BAMU is one of a handful of universities across this huge country have independent departments of public administration or offering graduate degrees. The NGO which co-hosted the conference – Lokprashasanshastra Vikas Mandal – is working to develop public administration as a scholarly discipline across the country. While many of the presenters focused on the actual practice of public administration and presented research on the implications of globalization for policy design, implementation and evaluation, I chose to speak about the implications of globalization for the teaching of public administration and, more specifically, the implications for pedagogy, because of my research on the needs of the audience. Another aspect of knowing the audience is knowing a bit about the history and culture. Although my time in country was extremely brief (only 3 days), I spent the first day touring sites of cultural and historic significance and incorporated references to key concepts, values and history in my presentation. My talk and paper were very positively received and I attribute this to having developed a message informed by an understanding of my audience.

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It was a whirlwind trip. In the process, I met many interesting people and exchanged many more business cards. Perhaps my next invitation will be to Nepal or Bangledesh. Where will your professional networks take you and how will you use that experience to enhance your intercultural effectiveness and to demonstrate your ability to be responsive to different audiences?

Dr. Nadia Rubaii

Associate Professor of Public Administration

College of Community and Public Affairs at Binghamton University

Debating Effective Philanthropy

This spring, for the sixth straight year, Binghamton students will grapple with how to give money away. It’s a great problem to have, but as students tell me every year, it’s not as easy as it looks. In the undergraduate class, I teach, Philanthropy and Civil Society, students have $10,000 to donate to local organizations, provided to them by the Learning by Giving Foundation. Public administration graduate students, too, will be doing philanthropy, using money they raise through the annual “Party with a Purpose.” It’s all part of the University’s Philanthropy Incubator, which emphasizes the central role that giving time and money plays in community life, and preparing students for lives of active citizenship.

In deciding how to give the money away the students’ debates center around one primary question “what is effective philanthropy?” It is a great time to be engaged in this work, because so many people have been debating what it means to do philanthropy well. Stanford Social Innovation Review provides a regular source of articles, blog posts and podcasts; charity rating services, such as Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau/Wise Giving Alliance provide criteria for evaluating giving opportunities (and blog about these issues as well); and the Center for Effective Philanthropy raises questions about what it takes for donors (foundations, in most cases) to do their job well.

In addition, the ethicist Peter Singer and the charity rating organization Give Well have developed a philosophy they call “effective altruism,” which encourages giving based on rigorous evaluation and other quantifiable measures of effectiveness.   Lastly, the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has regularly used his column to get us to think about philanthropy, has published a new book (with Sheryl WuDunn) on this topic, A Path Appears, (PBS debuted a new series this week based on the book). I like the book and am using it in my class this semester. It provides a valuable overview of many big themes in contemporary philanthropy. I credit Kristof, too, for introducing me to one last source of information about philanthropy, another book I use in my class The Power of Half, which tells the story of a family’s decision to sell their home and use half the proceeds for international philanthropy.

So, what is effective philanthropy? Is there a single answer? I like the sources I listed above because they ask good questions about our philanthropic choices, and they have led me to think about philanthropy differently. All good. Here’s what I worry about, though: The debates about effective philanthropy rarely lead to Binghamton or to Upstate New York, for that matter.

The effective altruism movement recommends that we limit our giving to organizations with rigorously demonstrated results in which the impact of individual donations is quantifiable and assessed as making a difference. For Give Well, at present, that means four organizations…in the world. Kristof & WuDunn take a broader view, and also embrace the importance of giving to organizations that can show meaningful results (which I agree are VERY important). They highlight the work of social entrepreneurs many of whom do great work; in many cases, high-profile organizations led by people with high social capital, extensive social networks and schooled at Ivy League institutions. My concern is that these profiles are not representative of those who are making a difference in our community.

While Give Well’s rigorous standards and Kristof and WuDunn’s book provide valuable ways for us to reflect on our giving choices they rarely include the kind of small, workmanlike organizations that build the Binghamton community (and other small communities around the country). These organizations are led by dedicated, professional staff, and too often in Kristof & WuDunn’s book they are dismissed as well-intended but lacking in professional skills. That critique is over-stated, and MPA programs like ours are helping to add skilled professionals to the local nonprofit sector.

Our local nonprofit organizations are essential elements in building civil society, creating bonds of social capital. They reflect what the economist Lester Salamon calls “individual initiative in the public good.” Without them our community would be considerably poorer. Further, my research (with Professor Kristina Lambright) looks at the challenges small nonprofit organizations face in quantifying the results of their work (see examples here and here). Nearly all human service organizations in the six counties in South Central New York we studied embrace some forms of performance measurement, which means they can tell us something about the results of their work. Performance measurement is imperfect but improving.

The lesson for me is that there is no one perfect donation, no one way to make the right giving decision. For me, effective philanthropy must start with the valuable role nonprofit organizations play in places like Broome County, and be followed by information—information about performance, the experience of the people the organization is trying to help, what we know about community needs and the best ways to address particular social problems.

So, as we start another semester of philanthropy at Binghamton University, I say to our students, have at it. Show us all how you make good giving decisions. And after you graduate, do more and change the world.

David Campbell, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Chair
Department of Public Administration
College of Community and Public Affairs
Binghamton University

When Life Gives You Lemons….

We have all heard (and probably used) the phrase “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Let’s consider how that might that apply in a teaching context. In an earlier blog post, I mentioned that I spent the spring 2014 semester as a Fulbright Scholar at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia. One of my responsibilities was to teach a Seminar in Public Management as part of the Especialización en Gobierno y Gestion Publica Territoriales (specialization in Local Government and Public Management). In Colombia, “especializaciones” are common graduate level degree programs that are similar to executive education programs in the U.S. in that they are designed for mid-career professionals and the classes are held in intensive weekend formats. In my case, my students included 25 local government professionals from all parts of the country and we met Thursday, Friday and Saturday one weekend in March and another weekend in April.

An introductory seminar in Public Management, particularly one with practitioners, is often taught using the case method. The case method is a proven pedagogical approach which allows students to apply theoretical constructs to a situation drawn from real-life experiences to evaluate how decisions were made, to consider what could have been done differently or better, to examine how competing models or theories would suggest different responses, and to generate new theories. The case method helps bring material to life and makes learning more relevant and meaningful. Cases challenge learners with problems set in complex, real-world situations in which there is no one correct answer. In contrast to the more traditional and still widely-used lecture, the case method shifts students from the role of passive recipient of information to active and engaged participant in learning.

The case method was first developed in the fields of law, medicine and business in the late 1800s and early 1900s. By the 1930s and 40s it spread to public administration and currently there is no shortage of cases for courses in our discipline. There are books filled with cases as well websites based a prestigious universities across the United States that house cases designed specifically for public affairs education, including those based at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the Electronic Hallway developed by the Evans School at University of Washington, the multi-media cases found in the Hubert Project based at the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota, and a collection of cases based at the Rutgers University Newark’s School of Public Affairs. There is plenty of options to select cases tailored to the particular type of organization, size of jurisdiction or policy issue relevant to the course one is teaching. But of the more than 2,500 cases available from these various sites, only a handful are set in Latin America and none are set in Colombia. Even among the nearly 700 cases within the within the Centro International de Casos (CIC) compiled and maintained by the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM, for its initials in Spanish) in Mexico, only 23 take place in South America, and only 19 cases deal with Colombia.


The full potential of the case method requires cases that students can relate to and which present problems and allow the application of theory to practical situations that are realistic and relevant. My lemons came in the form of the lack of relevant cases that would allow for a meaningful application of theories and development of decision making skills relevant to the public management realities of local government leaders in Colombia. So, what is a professor to do? I could have used cases drawn from United States or other contexts and made the best of them. I could have abandoned the case method and used some other pedagogy. Or I could make lemonade.

Making Lemonade

Making lemonade was disguised in the form of writing cases….that is, students writing their own cases. Let’s be clear, case writing is not a simple nor quick task. A case must include sufficient details about the issues at hand, organizational setting, community characteristics, key individuals, governing policies, etc. It must be written in an engaging style that captures the readers’ attention and encourages reflection on decisions and outcomes. It also should not be so narrowly focused as to be useful only for a specific course or at one point in time.

I designed the class so that students would work in teams of 5 to identify an appropriate local government example, conduct research, and prepare a case that could be incorporated into our discussions and learning. The students rose to the occasion and prepared cases dealing with policies unique to Colombia (regarding responding to adolescent criminal activity, preparing youth to assume leadership roles in a post-conflict reconciliation period, enhancing representation of Afro-Colombians in the national legislature, implementing regional planning, and improving accountability in the spending of royalties transferred to local governments). Each case was based on the experiences of a particular municipality and they spanned the diverse geographic and demographic landscape of Colombia.

Thirst-Quenching Lemonade

Not only did this experience allow me and the students to realize the usual benefits of the case method, it also generated some new cases to help address the original problem of too few cases for teaching public administration in Colombia. As part of their assignment for the class, the student groups were also tasked with writing an Instructor’s Guide to accompany their case so that it could be used in the future by other professors in other classes and at other universities. Those goals were part of my instructional plan (or my recipe for lemonade, if you will). But even better than those anticipated benefits, the students reported that the process of working in teams and conducting the research to write the cases contributed immensely to their appreciation of the value of their peers’ diverse experiences and perspectives, and helped to better appreciate how to apply public management theories to their own process of working together. Despite challenges along the way, the students were overwhelmingly positive in their assessment of the individual and collective value of the process.

Lemons –> Lemonade –>Thirst Quenched. All in all, a great learning and teaching experience.

Nadia Rubaii, ’85, MA ’87, PhD ‘91

Associate Professor of Public Administration

Building Capacity for Strategic Plan Implementation

Strategic planning has become commonplace and is generally accepted as necessary for an organization to be successful. The goals set during this process may be appropriate given the external environment, the needs of the community, and the needs of the organizations. But does the organization have the capacity to implement the strategic plan? This question is particularly relevant to small nonprofits and government agencies that have limited financial and human resources.

What does “capacity” mean in this context? The most basic definition of capacity is the ability to perform an activity. We can think about capacity at many levels from the individual to the organizational to the community and beyond. To some extent, these levels are nested. The capacity of a community is dependent in part on the capacities of the organizations within it, and the capacity of an organization is dependent in part on the capacities of the individuals within it. Therefore the relevant capacities for strategic planning are both individual and organizational.

When we think about organizational capacity, we tend to think about capacity in aggregate terms— financial capacity or number of employees. While these are important numbers, many elements of strategic plans require specific capacities at the level of the individual, such as the ability to craft a social media campaign or analyze data for community needs assessment. Specific capacities at the organizational level include having the databases necessary to collect and store the types of data needed to track progress and identify needs. Whether or not an organization has these capacities is not reflected in aggregate numbers.

In my work with organizations, I have found that those that incorporate a knowledge audit into their strategic planning process are better able to identify the capacities needed to accomplish their mission-oriented goals. Furthermore, they are able to incorporate any necessary capacity building into their strategic plans.

So what is a knowledge audit? A knowledge audit is a comparison of the types of knowledge that an organization needs in order to accomplish its mission-oriented goals to an inventory of the types of knowledge that an organization actually possesses. Knowledge is a broad term in itself, but a knowledge audit extends beyond existing knowledge and includes the ability to create, store, and disseminate knowledge and the data and information needed to create that knowledge.

Knowledge is generally divided into two types—explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge can be easily transferred, stored, and replicated because it can be written down or captured by audio or visual means. Types of explicit knowledge are documents (including policy and procedure manuals, books, policy briefs) and skills and methods (such as the ability to calculate statistics or develop a social media campaign). Skills and methods are considered explicit knowledge because they can be taught or learned in a classroom setting or from a book or manual.

Tacit knowledge on the other hand is the knowing by doing. Think about riding a bike. How did you learn to do that? Did you read a book or manual or take a class? Could you write a book or manual that someone could read to learn how to ride a bike? Probably not. The best way to learn to ride a bike is to get on and try, and fail, and try some more until you get it right. Cooking is similar. You can read a recipe book (a form of explicit knowledge), but that’s no guarantee that you will be able to cook. If you can cook, you either learned by the trial and error mode, or you might have learned from a family member with whom you cooked side-by-side.

I mentioned earlier that a knowledge audit assesses not only knowledge but the data and information needed to create knowledge and an organization’s ability to store and disseminate it. It is important for organizations to have a good understanding of the types of data that they collect, how to convert that data into information, and to have the appropriate information technology to assist with these processes.

Through the process of conducting a knowledge audit, many of the organizations with which I have worked on strategic plans have identified a number of knowledge deficiencies that may not have been addressed in the strategic plan without the audit. These deficiencies then get worked into the strategic plan as strategic goals (as opposed to the mission-oriented goals mentioned above). Common strategies involve improvements to information technology, the development of social media expertise, and the need to develop or contact out for data analysis skills.

This process provides a bridge between strategic planning and performance management. Ultimately, an organization needs to be able to do more than plan for performance, it needs to manage all aspects of performance from budgeting, to performance measurement, to personnel evaluations, in such a way that they are directed toward the organization’s strategic vision.

For more information on incorporating a knowledge audit into your strategic plan, you may contact Pamela Mischen at