Comparing Your Program Against the Best: Using "Best Practices" in Evaluations
Whether you are the head of a large corporation, the owner of a small bagel shop, or in charge of a non-profit organization you always want to know if there are better ways to do the job. What are other people doing in your field? Is there published information on how to cook better bagels? These are just some of the questions that lead to using a Best Practices approach within a program evaluation.
Often when a program is operating, it will need to include key components if it is to be successful. How do we know what these key components are? We generally look to the research literature that has investigated many, many programs to see what are the necessary components, say, to a teen pregnancy program or a gang violence prevention program or a program to reduce school dropouts rates.
What are Best Practices?
This phrase refers to any information that is available through library, internet or other sources on a particular topic or program. Best Practices can be like a literature review, in that you are finding what type of bagels other companies provide, or perhaps how they make the bagels. Again, people want to know how to do things better. As an evaluator, you can identify what has been said on a subject and provide that information to help organizations improve themselves.
Best Practices does not have to be a scholarly paper or a boring summary of the information. Use the information as a helpful guide , and remember who your audience is. Model programs on how to prevent coastline damage in California may help a group in Maine with a similar problem.
Best practices can be done on a variety of topics.
Specific community attributes, such as the presence of a high minority population, can be included or even highlighted as a part of Best Practices (for example, what are the best practices in youth programs that have been successful with Southeast Asian youth).
Best Practices can be used to show success elsewhere, and how to repeat the success within your program.
Best Practices for a Teen Coalition > Research what makes a good coalition
Find Examples of similar coalitions within that geographic area, discuss what they do
Practices for a Grant > Research what other programs that received this funding are doing
Find any related information through library or Internet searching
NOTE : There are many important aspects of using Best Practices within program evaluation. Keep in mind, you as an evaluator are providing your client/organization/agency with a service that they themselves may not have the time to do.
Like the entire process of program evaluation, remember who your audience is and how they can best use information about Best Practices. Use color, graphics, useful images, or anything that will add to the effect on your audience.
To sum up Best Practices: Find out what works for what situations, and how to use those recommendations as your guidelines.
by John B. Cook