Best Practice vs Next Practice


Having had my interest piqued at Gillian Heald’s presentation the other night I’ve been reading a little more about the Next Practice model of school reform being promoted and used by the Innovation Unit in the UK.

I came across a presentation on the application of Next Practice methodology to system reform at the 2007 given by Valerie Hannon, Director of Strategy for The Innovation Unit, and David Jackson that they gave at a meeting of the American Educational Research Association, recently held in Chicago. (PDF download).

The following quote explains well the difference between Next Practice and Best Practice which we tend to hear so much about):

There is a lot of research focused on best practice, but I focus on Next Practice. Next Practice by definition has three problems: firstly it is future-oriented; secondly, no single institution or company is an exemplar of everything that you think will happen; and third, next practice is about amplifying weak signals, connecting the dots. Next Practice is disciplined imagination.???
CK Prahalad, University of Michigan

One of the biggest issues I’ve found in a lot of the work I’ve been involved with over the past 15 years or more is the interpretation of “best practice” as providing a formula for achieving some sort of educational nirvana. I’ve seen this in the references made to the MoE’s “Best Evidence Synthesis” – which tends to get bandied about as if it now provides a list of ingredients which, if you manage to combine them all, will give you the ideal (perfect?) solution. I’m certainly not decrying the work of the BES – there’s huge value in what is identified in it – it’s just that there’s more to creating a future-focused learning environment than putting these things in place. At worst, the best-practice approach leads to “doing things right rather than doing the right things. As cited in the presentation; Best Practice asks “What is working?”, while Next Practice asks “What could work – more powerfully?”

The other thing that appeals to me is the strong links I see between the Next Practice approach and the Appreciative Inquiry methodology which I’m very attracted to. I’m sure we’re going to see more of this in the NZ context over the coming months/years.

6 thoughts on “Best Practice vs Next Practice

  1. Derek

    I too have an interest in the development of Next practice. Last year I was fortunate to travel on a Chruchill Fellowshop that took me to Ontario (Toronto) where there is some interesting work being done with Appreciative Inquiry. I also travelled to England, Scotland and Germany. Whilst in England I visited the Innovations Unit and met with Valerie Hannon, as well as having the opportunity to meet with David Jackson at the Networked Learning Community of NCSL. A report of my Fellowship can e found at my blog (

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