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Best practices for talking about best practices

Last week I conducted a "Building Extension's Public Value" train-the-trainer webcast for Clemson University Extension. During the training, I made up a couple of public value messages that included phrases such as "best management practices" and "beneficial practices." As in: Participants in our program adopt best management practices for...

Among people with whom we share expertise, "best practices" can be shorthand for a set of behaviors or approaches that we are all familiar with. If you tell a group of Master Gardeners that participants in a program "adopted best management practices" for pest control, those MGs probably have a good idea of what the program participants are doing. The rest of us? Not so much. In fact, during the training, I tried to think of a specific practice to replace "best management practices" in a Master Gardener public value message. Being neither a MG nor an entomologist--I came up blank.

All of this is to encourage you, when you are writing public value messages, to review a draft message for shorthand language, such as the phrases above. Can you replace vague language with something more concrete? Can you replace "beneficial practices" with "built and maintained raingardens" or "stored food at a safe temperature" or "read to their preschool children every day"?

What do you think are Extension's best practices for talking about best practices?


Great post Laura. It can be so jarring when we're forced out of our comfortable communication routines by someone asking um... what exactly do you MEAN?

One strategy for the best practices question is to focus on goals and consequences. That means when discussing a specific "best practice," focus on the specific value of that practice by emphasizing what it accomplishes and what can be lost by not using it.

The fact that somebody called it "best" may mean less than what it can do for me.

As for a better term for the general category of "best practices," I come up empty. As valuable as it is, it's an odd term.

Thanks again for the post.

Eli, good idea about identifying the objective that the "best practice" helps you achieve. For example, one could say that program participants adopt pest management practices that improve biodiversity. I still wonder if some stakeholders will respond better when we specifically identify the practices. It probably depends on the stakeholder and the circumstances. Some people will want to know exactly what behavior changes lead to the outcomes we report; others just want to know about the outcomes.

Specific, easy-to-understand examples help people understand what you are talking about, and help them remember it later. It helps me, anyway! I agree that in some cases people will want to know the results of the work and not care how you got there. When I read your example "program participants adopt pest management practices that improve biodiversity" -- I still want to know what improving biodiversity does! How does this tie into concepts with which I'm familiar? But it's good to be able to articulate both with specific examples, and adjust depending on the needs of your audience.

I default to "best practices" when I want to convey that things will be done the smartest way we know, but when I don't want to take the time and effort to boil down the complexity into a simple and specific explanation. So I use the phrase best practices against best practices.