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 will have three principal outputs: the Atlas of Public Policy and Management and two monographs, with the working titles, Channels of Influence: Canada, the OECD, and Best Practices Advice and The Pedagogy of Governance: Curricular Content of the World's Best MPP and MPA Programs (see outlines by clicking on images above).
The primary interest of the project is 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 probes this diffusion process in detail. The current phase is an analysis of advice provided by IGOs like the OECD, the World Bank and the UNDP (among others), 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.
The project is not 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 will gather as much of this advice as possible from these organizations over the past ten years, providing a publicly accessible database of what that advice has been, how it has evolved, and what its strengths and weaknesses are.
A key Atlas database for the first monograph is the Practice Advice Map, where the advice from the OECD (supplemented with entries from other international agencies) is organized in a hierarchy (the same hierarchy that applies to other components of analysis, such as teaching topics - see Atlas Framework for Analyzing Curricular Content). A key Atlas database for the second monograph is Teaching Topics Map, where topics taught in MPP and MPA programs are organized in the same hierarchy. At the top level are four domains: Tools and Skills; Institutions and Context; Management Functions; and Policy Sectors. Below each of these domains are public management “subjects.” For example, one subject under the Institutions and Context domain is Ethics and Accountability; and under the Management Functions domain, one subject is Public Financial Management. The third level is "topics" where "advisory topics” from international agencies and "teaching topics" from MPP and MPA programs can be organized by subject.
Each advisory topic 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.
If you are interested in becoming involved with the project please contact the principal researchers (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com) or the research coordinator, Ben Eisen (firstname.lastname@example.org).