Best Practices in Public Management

BestPracticeA recently completed SSHRC-funded research project

This page describes a research project entitled Best Practices in Public Management: History, Theory and Application, funded by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, led by Leslie A. Pal (Carleton University) and Ian D. Clark (University of Toronto). The project ran for three years from 2012 to 2015.

The research outputs can be found at Papers and Monograph. The project also contributed data and analysis for the Atlas of Public Management and a planned monograph with the working title The Pedagogy of Governance: Identifying What Is and Should Be Taught in MPP and MPA Programs.

The primary interest of the project was in the diffusion of policy ideas on public sector reform and practice. In the last twenty years the “public sector” has become a target of continuous reform efforts, driven primarily by financial crises, global competition, and the now accepted principle that strategic advantage comes from an effective and efficient public sector. Moreover, there is a remarkable synchronicity in these reform efforts. Ideas like public-private partnerships, or anti-corruption strategies, become subjects of global conversations among international government organizations (IGOs), governments, NGOs, and think tanks. Ideas spread quickly, and are diffused through dense as well as extensive networks of actors.

This project examined this diffusion process, including an analysis of advice provided by IGOs like the OECD, the World Bank and the UNDP on “best practice.” These organizations are a key source of advice to governments about what allegedly “works,” and moreover, they are crucial nodes in international networks where governmental and non-governmental actors meet, share ideas, and try to diffuse them globally as well as locally.

One should not be naïve about “best practice.” Whether particular practices are really “best” is open to debate. However, these international agencies do attempt to develop standards and norms that are often labeled as best practice, or implied to be. The project gathered advice from the OECD (supplemented with entries from other international agencies) over the past ten years, providing a publicly accessible database (see Advice). The advice is entered as an advisory heading, and organized according by Subjects. Each advisory entry is organized as follows: a Title which gives the topic of the advice; the Summary Advice; the Main Points that indicate the detailed content of that advice, often verbatim from given documents and sources; a Commentary by the research team; the Source from which the advice was taken; and the team member(s) who created the entry. Each teaching topic has a similar organization.

The key Atlas resources for the monograph are the Programs, Courses, and Topics databases, also organized by Subjects.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last updated 17 May 2016.

Image: The TechPanda, at, accessed 15 December 2015.