For city leaders, Bloomberg Harvard case study launches a new era of learning

On the face of it, the latest case study to come out of Harvard University doesn’t look much different than any others the school’s faculty are known for writing and using as teaching tools.

It lays out a specific challenge — in this case, improving educational opportunities in Louisville, Ky. It explores the choices faced by Mayor Greg Fischer and others leading the effort. And it leaves anyone who’s ever worked on a project anything like it thinking about what they would do in Louisville’s situation.

What’s different about this case study is that the text is freely available on the web for anyone who wants it. Perhaps more importantly, it comes with detailed notes to guide those who would use it for instructional purposes. That means professors far from Harvard can teach the Louisville case to their government students. It also means that city practitioners around the world can use the case to lead skills-building conversations with their colleagues in and out of City Hall.

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The Louisville case, “Change at the Speed of Trust,” is the first major openly available resource to come out of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, a collaboration between Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Business School that every year offers executive training to 40 mayors and their senior staff.

This week, the program is convening 80 leaders from ten cities to get better at the art of collaborating across boundaries. Teams of eight people from each city, including representatives from local government, as well as the business, nonprofit, university, and philanthropy sectors, will learn together in classroom discussions and actively workshop a problem from back home. The Louisville case is part of the curriculum for the gathering.

All cases and teaching materials developed through the Bloomberg Harvard program are available for free, which is unusual at Harvard. (The Louisville case and other materials are available here.) “Thanks to the generosity of Michael Bloomberg, these materials are freely downloadable for the whole world,” said Jorrit de Jong, faculty director for the initiative and the lead author of the Louisville case. “It’s quite unique.”

De Jong explained that a big goal of the initiative is to develop custom instructional material — case studies that feature mayors and senior city leaders in situations where their own leadership or organizational capabilities are needed in order to create change. Another goal is to spread the learning beyond the cities whose mayors and senior staff are able to participate in the annual program. Past participants in the Bloomberg Harvard program have asked to use the case studies with their colleagues back home, and asked for guidance on how best to use those materials in a discussion session.

[Read: How mayors lead: Emerging insights from the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative]

That’s where the instructional notes come into play. The Bloomberg Harvard case studies include a “conversation note” intended to help non-academics use the material to train people working in cities. While “teaching notes” to guide professors are common, these conversation notes are a new thing for Harvard.

“The conversation note product opens up a whole new audience,” de Jong said, citing city chiefs of staff, innovation directors, and consultants among those who could use the case studies with their teams. “Someone who’s experienced with group facilitation, but not necessarily an academic or familiar with the broader theory, can lead a conversation that allows a group of people to draw out universal lessons from a particular case.”

The Louisville case study is the first of several expected to arise directly from the experiences of city leaders participating in the Bloomberg Harvard classroom instruction. Louisville’s Greg Fischer was among the program’s first graduates in 2018, and his team partnered with Harvard researchers in telling their story. In this way, the program is building something of a virtuous cycle, as city leaders not only come to learn but also to contribute to the curriculum for other cities to benefit from.

“We know that every mayor in every city government around the world needs this content,” said James Anderson, head of Government Innovation programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “Slots at the Harvard program are limited, so we really do want to reach beyond the confines of the classroom to reach as many people as we can who care about cities and are in a position to lead.”



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