First best practices are the worst practices

I do not remember well when I first came across with the 'best practices' concept. Maybe during my Ph.D or soon after starting working at Bangor. But back then I was already puzzled by it. What are 'best practices'? How and why are they considered to be 'best practices'? What are the the 'bad practices'?

Time went on but the fuzzyness remained: best practices this, best practices that, until I started to ignore the 'best' and simply reading them as 'practices'. The 'best' bit simply becoming another oddity of the English language. A non-threatening euphemism if you may.

I can no longer maintain such a relaxed view about the 'best practices' concept though. The reason for that being that it tends to ingrain early 'practices' as being the best way to get something done, as it happened in the UK with the cack handed approach to finish the dialogue stage on the competitive dialogue as quickly as possible and have in depth negotiations with the preferred bidder. Madness.

The issue of 'best practices' is particularly acute in public procurement. First, they're everywhere and any organisation loves to beat the drum that whatever it does is 'best practices', especially if no one else has claimed 'best practices' on that area before. It is like the wild west where you have to be the first to stake your claim which then stays unchallenged, leading to paralysis in the evolution of practices in a given area. Madness, once again.

Second, we do not really have appropriate measurement mechanisms in place. How do we now if a 'best practice' is a good practice at all? Empirical research in procurement remains limited and experimentalist research a pipe dream. Can we imagine if medical research (itself fraught with problems) simply adopted a 'best practices' claims approach instead of the scientific method? We are in the medieval bloodletting stage of applied/practical procurement research.

By definition decisions that may constitute 'best practices' involve choices and hierarchies of value. For something to be done in a way, other options have been discarded, leading to trade offs. However, when we read about 'best practices' we don't get to see or know what was not done and what trade offs the decisions entail. If you are not willing to talk about the downsides or trade offs you are not providing all the information necessary. In a field like public procurement which moves significant amounts of money this can be sub-optimal to say the least. First best practices are the worst practices.

How do we go about and change the state of affairs? I'm an experimentalist at heart and although I have resisted being drawn into it, the vortex pull is becoming ever stronger. As such, I'm *finally* starting to work in this area and putting some plans in place to work on this in the near future.

Links I Liked [Public Procurement]

1. A new PPP interview is up, this time with Piotr Bogdanowicz from Warsaw University. As with the previous episode we discussed at length the issues surrounding cross-border interest in contracts not covered by the Directives. Previous episodes can be found here and also on iTunes.

2. The Welsh NHS is still using Windows XP. It is not as if they did not have time to upgrade the systems...Does the Welsh NHS have a licensing agreement with Microsoft for new security patches? Central Government decided not to renew its in April.

3. Is smart ticketing innovative procurement? In this day and age I do not think so, although some are still hiding failure behind the idea that it is.

4. The cloud is coming to local councils. There is plenty of scope for digitalisation of services inside local councils, although I am not so sure if local mandarins will appreciate the loss of power, control and budget associated with the move.

5. Are procurement "best practices" just..."practice"? I have long held that view and that proper applied research needs to be done to separate the wheat from the chaff. But that requires knowledge, costs time and money and it is so much easy just to parrot a few ideas with the "best practice" label slapped on them.