Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What Is Best Practice?

In this article, Dr. Paul Duignan briefly examines what best practice is. He states that "The use of 'best practice' is currently recommended in a wide range of different sectors for promoting improved programs and interventions by a wide variety of different disciplines and stakeholders." However, Dr. Duignan finds that despite the widespread usage of the term, best practice lacks clarity. This is because there is no concrete and widely accepted definition of best practice. He states it could mean any of the following four things:

1. A practice which practitioners know is feasible to implement because they have implemented it.
2. A practice which practitioners think probably improves outcomes (but they are not making a strong high-level outcomes/impact evaluation attributional claim for it).
3. A practice which independent evaluators (or reviewers) of some sort think probably improves outcomes (but they are not making a strong high-level outcomes/impact evaluation attributional claim for it).
4. A practice for which someone has made a strong high-level outcomes/impact attributional claim (i.e. they have claimed that they have proof that the practice improves high-level outcomes).

Dr. Duignan argues that best practice is a combination of all four definitions, however, according to him, it is mostly like the first definition.

He also goes on to state that people occasionally criticize the use of the term 'best practice' because it suggests that there is only one way of doing things. He claims that those who argue from that point of view sometimes look at it in terms of 'good' rather than 'best' practice and 'practices' rather than just using the singular term 'practice'. This critique, however, is a matter of wording rather than an actual critique of the notion.

The strongest critique that Dr. Duignan points out is that best practice is difficult to transfer to other settings without starting the process over again. Basically, one cannot assume that just because it is a best practice in one setting, that it will be the best practice in another. This is why it all depends upon the context in which it is being applied.

Finally, Dr. Duignan points out that one of the greatest challenges with best practice is actually getting practitioners to implement it once the practice has been identified. Best practice studies are constantly being conducted. However, Duignan states that the findings of these studies "are not systematically taken up by the bulk of practitioners undertaking programs and interventions in an area."


  1. When I read this article, I found it interesting that the author identified four reasons why one would encourage others to use best practices. It could be ignorance on my part, but wouldn't it be prudent to try to use best practices in any situation? I imagine that there would be some inertia on the part of some people that would rather use an easier way of doing something rather than the 'best' way (I do agree that there isn't always one 'best' way of doing anything and that it's important to view the context in which the practice is being applied.

  2. After reading this, the major thing that stuck out to me was: who is Dr. Duignan? Is he considered a subject area expert and what prior work has he done (how reliable is this source - see all the drilling does pay off Kris!)? By following a link to a little blurb about him it looks like he is an authoritative figure on this topic. He possesses as PhD that revolves around "areas of outcomes, performance management, evaluation, outcomes bases contracting...and the use of evidence in decision making". Taking all of this in aggregate, it does seem like he knows what he's talking about!

  3. I agree with Jeff- who is Dr. Duignan? Though he does bring up some interesting points- how exactly do we define best, as the term is clearly a relative one. What I may consider best someone else may consider mediocre, or visa-versa.