Recently I was taken with a blog post from Gurprriet Siingh (@joyandlife) challenging the current fascination with the idea of best practice. Siingh observed that what might be good practice for me may not be best for you. I wrote about this in my own blog.
This week I’ve been reading a number of papers from the 1980s and was impressed by the way in which a number of them seem to address a world not dissimilar to the one we are facing right now – pressure on budgets driving calls for greater productivity and so forth seemed to at the top of the agenda for writers at that time.
I was struck, therefore, by a comment from Anant Neghandi (1983) writing in the Asia Pacific Journal of Management
There is no ‘best’ way of doing things. The principle of equifinality applies to the functioning of social as well as business organisations. Managers may achieve given objectives through various methods.
In part of my work as a media consultant I am regularly invited to provide media ethics training for media practitioners and journalists working in emergent contexts. I wrote in my journal recently of my sudden recognition that I come from a media context currently in ethical crisis. What right do I have to assume that the ethical practice that I represent is by any means good or best practice? Sadly we often do not engage with our partners to identify their ethical frameworks or to ask what it is that concerns them. Rather we respond to their request for assistance by assuming our ethical position and reasoning is, at least theoretically, adequate and that our experiences have equipped us for the training task. We offer a model of practice that we present as best practice even as British newspaper ethical practice is visibly collapsing as each day of the Leveson public inquiry continues.
This comment from nearly thirty years ago challenges the notion that there is a single ‘best practice.’ If Neghandi was correct there is rarely an approach to our practice which we can describe as being in some way, uniquely, the best.
To do so implies that other approaches are to some extent less than the best and this in turn raises the question of what might be good enough. It may be good enough to achieve the task or objectives but it not going to be good practice or even best practice (King, 1995:50). Edge and Richards (1998:569-570) are stronger declaring the concept of best practice to be “an illegitimate importation from an inappropriate paradigm.” Its use, they suggest, has potential to undermine the very improvements in practice it sets out achieve.
I don’t know if Negandhi was suggesting that good enough was sufficient but it seems that there are many excellent practices available in most situations we face. I can encourage good practice amongst journalists and perhaps, together, we can discover ways of knowing what is right, good and proper.
If it is true that we may achieve what is needed by various means then perhaps there are lots of good practices to be noticed, made sense of, applied and become Good Work.
Edge, J & Richards, K (1998). Why Best Practice is Not Good Enough. Tesol Quarterly, 32(3), 569-576
King, I (1995). I Used To Be A Learner … But It’s All Over Now… Journal of Further and Higher Education, 19(2), 49-57
Negandhi, A. R. (1983). Management in the Third World. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 1 (1), 15-25.
This conversation started life in Andrew Steele’s personal blog