What Is a “Best Practice”?

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This topic contains 16 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by  Anonymous 9 years, 1 month ago.

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  • #110347

    Steve Ressler

    So I’m looking at preliminary results of the GovLoop User Survey (*Do me a favor and take it – really only 5 minutes*)

    And the #1 reason people come to GovLoop is “Learn Best Practices.” This also comes up over and over when I meet with GovLoopers on what they like on GovLoop and want more of.
    My question is:
    -What is a Best Practice to you?
    -How do you want to learn about best practices? Blogs? Project of Weeks, Datasets like list of U.S. Public Health agencies on social media, reading about top members and their projects
    Would love ideas? I want to focus on this more and get even more best practice info on GovLoop. I’m just looking to define what that is and what it looks like.
  • #110379


    Best practices are ideas or solutions to organizational problems/issues that have been implemented and reviewed upon implementation to determine their effectiveness. They’ve been tried by others and have been deemed to work for that particular organization. Certainly, best practices can’t be implemented in the same way as no two organizations are the same, but you can take the essence of the idea and re-work it for your particular organization.

    My hope is to learn best practices that work in government organizations. Oftentimes, best practices are applied, researched, etc. for the private sector as a means to enhance and move the way the private sector operates. This is not so much true for the public sector, and it would be great to hear from other public sector employees as to what are the things they’ve done in their organizations that have changed the way their organization operates or that have streamlined operations.

  • #110377

    Steve Ressler
  • #110375

    Mark Hammer

    “Best practices” alternate between being an absolute scam, and something useful. All too often what I see touted as a “best practice” finds its validation in the fact that this company or that among the Fortune 500 or 100 used it. In other words, if a company that made a lot of money did it, ergo it was the smart thing to do. I hasten to remind folks that once upon a time Enron and Worldcom and Goldman Sachs were near the top of that list. So what I insist upon as validation of a best practice, is a much closer examination of how it accomplishes what it does, and what the ideal context for its success is. Knowing that a wealthy company used it counts for diddley squat, because they could be filing for bankruptcy protection or doing “the perp walk” tomorrow.

    I also find that, with some notable exceptions (e.g., be organized, be fair and truthful with people, etc.) best practices are not universally applicable, and are often stumbled onto not because the organization was brilliant and possessed of remarkable foresight, but because the naturally-occurring circumstances favoured its development and implementation. Sometimes, an organization’s circumstances are so highly idiosyncratic that it is pointless to try and emulate what they do. Could another organization just pluck that practice and plug it in their own context and expect the same outcome? Doubtful.

    Now, if you want to talk “good practice” or “recommended practice”, that’s another thing, since it makes no promises of miracle cures, and has a bit of reticence or necessary qualificaton built into it.

  • #110373

    Candace Riddle

    Just an FYI. The National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP) is currently working with other organizations in a collaborative effort to develop the Values and Guiding Principles for Public Procurment. The end goal is to establish a set of “recommended practices” for the profession.

    You can view the project and comment here and follow updates on Twitter.

    I’m very interested to hear more opinions on this subject, “best practices”, as well.

  • #110371

    Steve Ressler

    I’m thinking there are a few questions re: best practices:

    What did you do?
    Why did you do it? What business problem solving?
    What did it take to execute? Time/budget/staff
    Any tips for other agencies attempting similar projects?

    Other key ones? Would be good if set 5-8 question list

  • #110369

    Kitty Wooley

    Steve, just realized I’m thinking of this more in terms of sharing lessons learned than best practices, because the real point, to me, is shared learning. There’s a ton of “shelfware” out there that purports to be about best practice and is utterly useless. However, on GovLoop people share all sorts of things they’re learning and that adds a lot of timely value. I think of this in loose terms that allow room for lots of creativity, as “other people talking about things they’ve done, or are doing, that really work, that may be replicable.” The point is to share experience while it’s still fresh and the person’s still thinking about it. The subject could be almost anything, as could the format – I don’t care. Could be a combination of story (what’s happened so far) and tutorial (how others can do it). An example that comes to mind is Andy Krzmarzick’s earlier sharing of his Web 2.0 training work with agencies as he was doing it.

  • #110367


    I’m very interested to learn more about this initiative and will visit the website. Thanks for sharing!

  • #110365

    Steve Ressler

    I love it…not best practices but lessons learned. And timely and real and replicable.

  • #110363


    This is a good site. Glad to have joined GovLoop – certainly been gleaning and learning from others in the field.

  • #110361

    Warren Master

    For me, the best “best practices” are those arrived at inductively (i.e., plucked out of actual use by real managers in real organizations) as opposed to some deductively arrived at, theoretical scheme that no manager has ever tried and “demonstrated” succes with. By analogy, consider the Friday night TV sports cast, in which the sportscaster plays back the best plays (catches, hits, passes, receptions, shots, etc.) of the week. Or similar after-the-fact coverage & analysis of a weekend golf tournament, where now retired master golfers examine the best “reads” and swings in “slo-mo” to explicate the seeming magic and brilliance in the play of those at the top of the leaderboard.
    This is what we need more of in our line of work – offering concrete takeaways that creative public servants (executives, managers, front-line workers, interns, etc.) can tailor to their own agency’s missions and organizational challenges. It’s what we are constantly on the lookout for in soliciting articles for The Public Manager (http://www.thepublicmanager.org) and contributing to and benefitting from GovLoop blogs. – Warren Master, President & Editor-in-Chief, The Public Manager

  • #110359


    I read in a magazine back in the 90s that best practices were just process karaoke. I think there’s a lot of fake best practice parading itself around in the world made up by self-perpetuating committees. Who decides that one way is best? Best for who? Just because they say so?

    I’ve also seen real best practices misused utterly to remove any room for professional judgment or flexibility. Best practices aren’t a recipe for jello. They’re only best practices until they aren’t.

  • #110357

    Kitty Wooley

    “Process karaoke” – I enjoyed that!

  • #110355

    Kitty Wooley

    Warren, well said – we do need more concrete takeaways, and I appreciate your holding a space for them in TPM. Now, if we could just get more busy people to stop once in a while and write down what did and didn’t work, either along the way or at the end of a project.

  • #110353

    John Ressler

    I agree. The term can feel “fake” but at the same time there is something there. There is something very useful when you have a work problem and talk to other offices or divisions about how they are dealing with it successfully.

  • #110351

    tony joyce


    I agree with Kitty that lessons learned is a more useful term than best practices. However in my experience they too tend to be overly sanitized and consequently pretty useless. In particular, the lessons frequently leave out the part about what went wrong. I suspect that there are “corporate interests” at work in the release and publishing process that serve to strip out the reasons, to limit bad news, reduce liability, or avoid any appearance of incompetence.

    We end up with lessons that sound like scripts from Lake Wobegon, where everyone is above average and mistakes are like fish stories of the one that got away.

  • #110349

    Kitty Wooley

    Tony, I love it! You’re calling out a significant issue; some organizational cultures value truthtelling more highly. It’s worthwhile to study how NASA does lessons learned and how the Army does After Action Reviews.

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