International Center for Best Practice

In a post last February, I wrote that I was tired of "best practices" and recommended that the concept be replaced with evidence-based practices, defined as programs, strategies or procedures for which there is demonstrable evidence that their use produces desirable performance outputs and outcomes. I wrote that best practices, the way the term is used in court administration, instead should be called “interesting practices,” “intriguing practices,” “promising practices” and, maybe, “practices-you-might- want-to-see-in-person-if-the-weather-is-right.” I worried that the irony was a bit too sharp. I should not have worried.

In his July Bob Behn’s Public Management Report (Vol. 3, No. 11), Bob Behn, a lecturer at Harvard University’s School of Government, takes the irony to another level. If, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” then “best practice” is the refuge of unimaginative ones, writes Behn. Why are public managers so obsessed with something that someone else has labeled “best practice”? Because, writes Behn, if they discover a “best practice,” then they can stop thinking. By adopting a “best practice,” public managers conveniently avoid the hard work of figuring out whether the identified practice actually will work in their organizations. It is the “best” they confidently assure themselves and others. Who will challenge the unnamed management gurus, asks Behn, who have certified the practice as “best”?

A manager need not be too discriminating or too careful worrying whether the practices will provide some “operational nutrition” or merely “institutional heartburn.” He or she can simply choose from a long menu of best practices what is personally appetizing.

Here’s Behn at his ironic best.

You, of course, have heard of it: The International Center for Best Practice. It has charters from the United Nations and the World Bank, and is stocked with Nobel laureates in management. Once a year, they convene in Zurich, Singapore, or Capetown to choose a few, select practices to be officially authenticated as a “Best Practice.” If the head of a public agency can find one of these practices and implement it throughout his or her organization, no one can dispute that he or she is not an au courant public executive.

Anyone interested in charter membership in the International Center for Best Practices in Court Administration (ICBPCA)?

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