Monday, March 22, 2010

The Study of Best Practices in Civil Service Reforms


The concept of "best practice" is widely used to distinguish exemplary or improved performance in organizations. James Katorobo defines best practice research (BPR) as "the selective observation of a set of exemplars across different contexts in order to derive more generalizable principles and theories of management". The focus of analyses is on "success stories" in order to discover the chain of practices, or ways of doing things that achieve results. The fundamental objective of BPR is to discover best practices that can be adapted by other organizations where the level of achievement is low.

Civil Service Application

Levels of civil service reform performance differ from country to country: some doing well, others poorly. Whereas focusing on problems and difficulties may encourage negativism and promote organizational paralysis; focusing on success stories and best practices may encourage a positive outlook and promote diffusion of best practices.

Key Concepts

  • Best practice research is typified by a focus on successful cases. It is also typified by the objective of discovering the "causes" of that success, not merely to explain and understand (academic), but to guide action (pragmatic).
  • The concept of "best" implies an ability to evaluate several practices and their impact and to conclude that one or more practices are more successful; that is, these "best" practices lead to more desirable results. Underlying this evaluation is the notion that the practices can be graded on a scale of measurement.
  • For a set of practices to be useful, it should be holistic, or archetypal. A plethora of details can create unmanageable complexity.
  • A generic best practice is one that is applicable irrespective of institutional and structural differences.


Critics of the "best practices" approach often ask why not study the bad cases in order to identify and avoid problems. Alas, focusing exclusively on problems, mistakes and failures provides few lessons on what to do. By focusing on successes, a manager can learn how to overcome problems.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting to see the counter proposal towards looking at the "worst practices" in order to identify problems. Also, my personal problem from this methodology comes from the general nature of best practices. While it's nice that they should be applicable regardless of institution,etc. It seems that many true best practices would be unique formed through a companies understanding of its own unique abilities and characteristics.