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Best and current practices research

Best and current practice research involves learning both what works and what doesn't, based on the relevant experience of others. Often, you may find that your business problem has already been dealt with, in whole or in part, by other government agencies, private or non-profit organizations, or academic researchers. Identifying and evaluating these solutions are important early steps in your business case development. An abundance of information and expertise in the IT community, as well as elsewhere in the public sector, can contribute to solving similar problems in other organizations. In particular, there is a great deal to learn from those cases where things did not go as well as expected.

What is it?

A way to find potential solutions. Best and current practice research involves identification and consideration of various approaches to a problem, or the components of a problem, that a project is intended to address.

A method for learning from others' success and failure. Such research may take different forms, but the ultimate goal is to learn from the experience of others so you can avoid "recreating the wheel" or replicating the mistakes of others.

An early project task. This research should be conducted during the business case development process and continued over the life of the project.

What is it good for?

Understanding the problem. By finding out how other organizations tackled a similar problem, you can develop a better understanding of your problem from multiple and varied perspectives. Learn more about how the problems were addressed, and the success factors and advantages and disadvantages of the solutions.

Finding potential solutions that have already been tried. You can identify individuals and organizations that have solved, or tried to solve, problems similar to yours. You can learn from their experiences and gain feedback on your proposed and ongoing project activities.

Identifying methods and resources. Use this tool to identify methods and mechanisms for evaluating a range of solutions, from the IT solutions used by different organizations to how departments are structured to deal with problems, to the strategies used for organizing partnerships across agencies. In addition, current practice research is an effective way of identifying sources of relevant policy, process, and technical expertise and technology. Explore the range and variety of technical solutions.

Investigating other resources. Universities and professional organizations have an array of conferences, journals, books, and published studies that may help you identify relevant current and best practices.

Classifying all parts of the problem. By identifying all relevant components of a problem, you can avoid the trap of "treating the symptoms" of the problem instead of the problem itself.

Some limitations and considerations

Assumptions about others' work. When gathering data about other organizations' solutions, you must make assumptions as to the appropriateness or relevance of their experiences to the problem you're facing.

Reliance on published data and people's memories. In order to get information about current and best practices, you must rely on published reports and the recollections of people involved in those projects. This may limit the kind and amount of information you are able to acquire.

Reluctance to discuss failures. Organizations and individuals are more likely to share stories about their successes than their failures. But both kinds of stories can provide valuable information.

Defining "best" is subjective and anecdotal. What is best for one organization may not be best for another. Defining best practices in any field can help direct discussions about alternatives, but be careful about assuming anything is "best" for everyone, everywhere. Be selective and rigorous in judging whether you should adopt a practice from another organization.

For more information

Center for Technology in Government. (July 2000) Using the Internet to Find Current and Best Practices. Albany: Center for Technology in Government. Available online at

Cortada, J. (1997) Best practices in information technology: How corporations get the most value from exploiting their digital investments. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Eglene, O. (2001) Conducting Best & Current Practices Research: A Starter Kit. Albany: Center for Technology in Government. Available online at

Rocheleau, B. (2000) "Prescriptions for Public-Sector Information Management: A Review, Analysis, and Critique." American Review of Public Administration 30 (4) 414-35.