Best Practice vs. Quality Practice: Sorting Practice Along a Continuum of Excellence

Summary – It’s all about practice – but what do we call a practice when we uncover one we like? Is it a “Best Practice” simply because it seems to be working?    If everything we like is “best” then nothing is.

Do words matter? Does what we call things really matter?

Using a label to describe or qualify what we or others are doing really does matter. And language fails us if every good idea we come across is referred to as a “Best Practice.”

Defining Practice: The “How-To” of a Desired Goal

Practice – on which I believe we should base all policy, regulation and investment – is simply defined as the methods, processes or defined approaches and activities that are applied to address a particular issue or challenge.

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Examples of challenges in the youth workforce development field might include practices that address one of the following questions.

  • How do we better recruit and support young people in our programs?

  • How do we better engage systems-involved youth and young adults in opportunities across systems and programs and ensure their success?

  • How can we better structure opportunities and services to address issues of race and class as well as access and equity for the youth we seek to support?

  • What’s working in other places that we can learn from and apply to the challenges we face in our community?


Precise Definitions Promote Consistency, Replicability and Relevance

Words Matter

There is a disturbing trend to ignore definitional standards in the way we talk about and describe our work. People have become lax with defined indicators of excellence, and that hurts our ability to understand what makes an approach successful, and to select the right practices to promote, replicate or amplify in our communities to address a particular issue.

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As we discover good ideas and uncover proven approaches, it’s important for us to follow these guidelines.

  • Describe practices consistently.
  • Apply a set of standards and quantifiable desired outcomes that help us understand the efficacy of a particular practice.
  • Evaluate a particular practice against these standards and expectations to determine where it is on the road from good to better and best (and remember that road conditions change).
  • Adjust the practice based on the results of regular assessment, reflection and evaluation.

To be able to learn from the approaches and processes that have demonstrated promise or success in addressing a particular issue or challenge, we need a better set of labels that help us sort and understand where these methods currently are in the process of moving along a continuum towards, or away from, being the best.

Best is the Highest Summit, Not a Participation Trophy nor a Marketing Term

But is it a Best Practice simply because it seems to be working?

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Best Practice is used all too frequently to describe:

  • a process or approach that seems to be working

  • a new approach people want to have others adopt or be recognized for doing

  • an approach that is a really, really good idea that everyone is excited about

  • approaches being examined for inclusion in local programming

In reality, there are very few definable best practices, especially in the social services arena.  (the socioeconomic, cultural and political variables involved in getting to a social services best is another conversation entirely) Words matter, and unfortunately “Best Practice” has devolved so that it no longer has meaning.

Webster’s defines best practice as: a procedure that has been shown by research and experience to produce optimal results and that is established or proposed as a standard suitable for widespread adoption.

A best practice is just that.  The best.  Born out of the Total Quality Management movement of the 1990’s, a best practice is one that has been s been measured and compared to all other practices addressing a particular issue and has demonstrated, through observation, data and experience, that it is the best. Period.

If it’s not “Best” How do I describe a practice by some scale that defines its degree of excellence?

So….what do we call other strategies and approaches that are good ideas that bear consideration for replication, application or recognition?

Over the years, we at New Ways to Work have sought to uncover good ideas and approaches in youth workforce development and career readiness programming, and recommend replication or application of these ideas and approaches to others seeking to address a common issue or challenge.

We have found it helpful to apply the following labels and attendant definitions for different types of practices to help us better understand where it sits on the path towards excellence and how it might be applied in another setting.

pyramid from emerging to best
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    Best Practice: A Practice that has been accepted as superior to any and all others because it produces results that are superior to those achieved by any other means. It has been compared to other practices and produces measurable impacts and can point to data that demonstrate it to be the best.
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    Quality Practice: A Practice that has demonstrated effectiveness, withstood the test of time and produced measurable, desirable results. We know that it’s working and we have data that tells us so.
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    Promising Practice: A Practice that has every indication of being effective through observations of early implementation and early results. It appears to be working and we have good reason to think it will be successful.
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    Emerging Practice: A Practice that is believed will be effective based on prior experience, an understanding of the field, as well as the process that developed the practice. It is a really, really good idea that we believe will work.

A Review of What the Fast-Food Industry’s Adoption of AI Means for Youth Entering The Workforce

Summary – Fast food chains are a classic provider of first-time jobs for youth.  This makes the trend of replacing these roles with artificial intelligence a great concern for economic development and social services professionals working with at-risk youth.

With the onslaught of issues, pre- and post- pandemic, It’s difficult for me to pinpoint the most important issue facing young people entering the workforce.  There are just so many barriers between youth and economic and professional success, I find it to be dizzying.

CNN’s article on February 26, 2021 “McDonald’s and other chains are giving their drive-thrus the Jetsons treatment” – talks about how McDonald’s and other drive-thrus are deploying new tech, instead of people, to speed up their ordering process.

This seemingly innocuous article about my favorite fast-food chain strikes many chords:

  • the expansion of artificial intelligence technology
  • the displacement of low-skilled workers
  • the decreasing availability of entry-level positions for young people
  • constant pushing for more and greater corporate profits
  • a continued need for advanced skill training
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Remember Your First Job? I Sure Do! What Will That Experience Look Like for Future Young People?

It has been well documented that the increasing use of artificial intelligence in business solutions is going to change the workplace forever.  If an artificial intelligence is taking my drive thru order, what will happen to those first-time jobs for young people?

It’s not all bad.  Technology itself is awesome.  This change will have many positive impacts and opportunities for new jobs and new job functions.  The introduction of AI will be a boon, or at least not a problem, for those individuals:

  • with high skill levels
  • innate adaptability
  • early exposure to these technologies
black teen looking at code

These folks will likely do extremely well.  But what about the others?  I’m left wondering  about the poor kids in schools and neighborhoods with limited personal and educational resources?  Will the saturation of advanced technologies in what have traditionally been low-tech and entry-level industries take away the few remaining opportunities that low-income and at-risk youth have counted on when entering the workforce?  I am greatly concerned about the impact that these great advances will have on current and future generations of this already disadvantaged segment of youth.

Lower-income youth may lose their introductory workforce opportunity and their path toward prosperity

My concern for the further disenfranchisement of those young people and others who are not afforded the opportunities to be trained in these technological fields, or those who use traditional entry level jobs as their on-ramp for a career, is a preventable worry that we all should share.  How many of us started our work career journey with an entry level position at McDonalds or similar place of work?  The need for lower-skilled workers will be ultimately reduced, as stated in the article:

illustration of teens in fast food worker outfit

Will fast food chains and other corporate giants invest in technology and invest in young adult workers?  Any possible equitable future of our economy depends on it.  We cannot just take for granted that corporations will make these investments on their own.  Especially when it would be counterintuitive to greater profits.

“Daron Acemoglu, an economist and professor at MIT, pointed out that as automation proceeds over time it reduces the need for low-skilled and moderately-skilled workers, who typically do not have college degrees. Ideally, he said, companies will use these workers for other tasks.”

Technological Advancement Itself Isn’t The Problem, But Including The Current Workforce In Industrial Plans For Innovation Can’t Be Optional.

We all applaud and use the advancements of technology, including me.  I tapped this commentary out on my MacBook, I posted it on the New Ways’ website and then I promoted it on multiple social media platforms using my iPhone.  Technological advancement isn’t the problem.  However, embracing industrial advancements without leaving behind the workers who depend on that industry is, and should be, a large concern for everyone.  When I say “everyone” I don’t just mean the corporations and the youth workers.  I mean everyone.