Best Practices for developing and using Best Practices?
Many organisations have a concern for developing and checking conformity to Best Practice. Bible translation is no exception. Often Best Practice comes about after people notice recurring failures or a variety of good and bad outcomes. It seems to be part of a Western-style obsession with not just coping but striving after excellence or trying to guarantee avoiding damage and danger. (I mention this cultural dynamic because I think Westerners face a real tendency to ethnocentrically assume our own culture is normative for all and then become judgmental and unfairly critical when people from other cultures aren’t driven in the same way we are and thus end up trying to keep us happy, ‘going through the motions’.)
Medicine, aviation, engineering and countless other fields have Best Practice which have grown up over many years. Just as the UK has an unwritten constitution and Nigeria has a written one, some Best Practices are unwritten and some are written. Both are real, but the implications of Best Practice being written vs unwritten are significant. Lack of written Best Practice does not mean there is no conception of Best Practice just as the British lack of a formal written Constitution does not make it an absolute Monarchy nor a rogue and lawless territory where anything goes. Wouldn’t it clear everything up just to write the constitution down? Surely a clear and comprehensive document setting out all our Best Practice would be the best way to ensure good outcomes? It seems obvious and yet oddly I suspect this is not the slam-dunk we might expect.
Having been involved in the development of Best Practice in Nigeria over a few years, and generally approving of the concept, I have been humbled by the realisation that some of us may be able to do all kinds of apparently sophisticated linguistic investigation and analysis, but when it comes to expressing Best Practice clearly and cogently the results are far from satisfactory. This introduces several real dangers: poorly expressed Best Practice not only consumes vast amounts of time and energy and exasperation in its construction, but runs the real danger of encouraging poorer results whilst appearing to offer measurable quality. Quality assurance can be conveniently reduced just to various chiefs of different domains ‘signing off’ on something with the over-optimistic hope that by virtue of their exalted position such chiefs will spot and prevent all problems. At the same time the weight of ensuring best practice compliance can have some clear negative outcomes. Suddenly publishing what we have worked on becomes even more intimidating than it seemed before, always with the risk that whoever pushes to publish something is going to be rebuked for jumping the gun. Thus best practice implementation can easily stifle enthusiasm amongst anyone who cares what others think of their competence.
So I think we have need when developing and using Best Practice guidelines to consider the Best Practice in that very area. Here are some questions I think are important which could easily be overlooked for any best practice:
- What negative consequences might this best practice statement have? (eg. quality of work, worker motivation)
- How can these be mitigated?
- What is the risk or actual damage that this best practice standard is trying to prevent?
- How significant is it? (Likelihood and impact.)
- How do we best handle past non-compliance in this area?
- How do we handle a conflict between compliance and other pressures (worker motivation, funding requirements)?
- How do we identify if this best practice is deficient and needs to be improved?