A couple of months ago, I attended a conference on outdoor education, where I went to a session on best practice run by Rachel Moore, who works on developing and promoting best practice in the outdoor recreation and tourism sector. Best practice in the outdoors is very important – literally death is a possibility if you don´t follow best practice in gear and procedures. It got me thinking about best practice in the social justice sectors, particularly thinking about development. The development sector is made up of so many different professions, that while each separate profession has it´s best ways of doing things, it doesn´t mean that they are all used or applied together. In fact, arguably it makes things so complicated that we end up with a big mess.
What is best practice in changing the world? Is there one way, or many ways to make things better?
These questions have really stumped me. This is a third revision of this article because quite frankly, I got lost in trying to answer them. While we have ethics and processes and procedures and best practice ideas, we still have a long way to go in getting things right and transforming the world.
The session with Rachel really dug into what is best practice and how the heck do we know that we are doing it. Here I want to share some of her insights and then below discuss my perspective on how this applies to changing the world.
- There are a number of sources we can look to for best/good practice standards: experts, sector groups, industry developed guidance materials, regulations. While some sectors have strong set procedures and processes, others do not. Rachel pointed out that we cannot have two different groups doing similar work and having completely different standards. This is a sign of a lack of clarity on what is good practice.
- Once we have the information about standards, we need to know how to use it. This means checking if it is a reliable source (Is it current? Who wrote it? Is it supported by the sector?) and check whether it meets legal requirements.
- Keeping up to date is essential. What was best practice in the 1970s isn´t necessarily good practice now. Rachel suggested having a plan to keep up to date. This means regularly engaging with others and checking in with how others are doing things.
There is no one thing called ´best practice´. The contexts we work in and the issues we work on are so diverse – it would be impossible and foolish to be prescriptive about how we should tackle our work. Instead, we need to think about the way that we work and the reflective process that ensures we better match our work with needs. In fact, ‘best practice’ is less of an outcome and more of a process or way of thinking, with the result really being ‘good practice’ – something that doesn’t go below the absolute minimum expectations of our work. Awareness and reflection on our expectations, requirements, and processes is crucial to ensure that we have positive outcomes.
For me, good practice is built from a combination of things: ethics, principles/values, and practices/tools/ways of working.
Ethics form the absolute baseline of what is acceptable, like what the woman referred to as a minimum standard of practice. It is about influence, impact and effects. What ethical framework do you use to guide what is right and wrong in your work? Many sectors have a Code of Ethics, which can be referred to in tricky and grey situations. I´ve put down the framework for one for changemakers here. In my own work with young people, I use this Code of Ethics developed by youth workers in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Principles and values guide us towards best practice. They provide a framework for what is ethical, but also what is best practice – the goals that we are shooting for. I think the Voice Bureau does a beautiful questionnaire to find out your voice values, or here is a list of 400 values just to give you a start. Some of my own values are activism, compassion, and feminism.
Practices and tools are how we do the work. The way that we do the work and the tools we choose to use are influenced by our principles and ethics. Are we choosing tools and approaches because they best fit the situation and the needs?
What’s best practice for you? How do you apply it in your work? What ethical framework do you use when you come up across grey areas? How do you know which tools to use in your work?