Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

METHOD | Next Practice

John and I have been investigating methodologies lately with a view to modelling our own processes drawn from our experiences and evaluation of our past practice. Our concern is whether our past practice is appropriately addressing or anticipating the future. As part of that exploration, we’ve started to look at emerging ideas around ‘next practice’. I’d written about this for the PlaceBlog in terms of ‘next practice’ as way of thinking and working that has much to offer planning and place. In some cases, ‘next practice’ will disrupt, profoundly evolve or revolutionise ‘good practice’. The one thing we know is that change is constant – requiring creatively empowering methods with a light touch for navigation.

It started with a reading of Jeb Brugmann’s website where he writes “meaningful strategy starts with ‘next practices’ that are tailored to new kinds of problems and that rebuild an organization’s basic ability to act with strategic effect. Although the emerging operating environment is ill-defined and in flux, the following principles appear to be working, in practical fashion, as guides for ‘next practice’ development:

  • Shift practices from emphasis on standardized planning, control, and production to adaptive, real-time ‘solutions management’ systems.
  • Use ‘co-creation’ processes to tailor solutions to heterogeneous groups and situations.
  • Replace top-down and outside-in territorial management with bottom-up and inside-out development of new place-based systems.
  • Scale through adaptive, distributed systems (not fixed, hierarchical ones).
  • Shift focus from stabilizing external supplies, to increasing internal input productivity and primary productivity, i.e., creating self-replenishing systems.”

‘Next practice’ appeals to our appreciation of the anticipatory, creative and evolving, a shift from ‘best practice’ to ways of working that entail an element of risk. In the UK, the Innovation Unit has identified the following characteristics of ‘next practice’:

  • significantly changed methods of service delivery, organisation or structure, which, if shown to be successful, would hold implications for the wider system
  • in advance of hard evidence of effectiveness
  • not (yet) officially sanctioned and therefore maybe entailing some risk
  • consciously designed with an awareness of the strengths and limitations of conventional ‘best’ practice
  • generated by very able, informed practitioners aware of the existing knowledge base
  • informed by critical scanning of the wider environment
  • directed at serious, contemporary problems
  • user focused.

So this kind of approach lends itself to place based or context specific methods that draw heavily on local knowledge and experience. Some of the elements of a ‘next practice’ consulting framework, as The Innovation Unit describes, might involve:

  • Capacity building
  • Critical friendship
  • Leadership development
  • Coaching
  • Integrated working
  • Co-design
  • Brokerage
  • Facilitation
  • Learning and evaluation

The Innovation Unit website sums it up with “Best Practice asks ‘what works?’ Next Practice asks ‘what could work better?'” And I think that means some concerted thinking about what ‘better’ means – in this context we would suggest that better in a mindful way that thinks across environmental, cultural, social and economic impacts. What’s ‘best’ is not universal and we’ve always had a strong appreciation of context based and user focused methods through our work with communities and organisations (and a focus on practitioners) to innovate and reinvent through changing realities.


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