Good practice in development and humanitarian cooperation of SDC

June 26, 2012 | bit-wartung | Methods & Tools |


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Michèle Marin“Good practice” or even “best practice” are ubiquitous terms in international cooperation, commonly designating one of the keys to successful development work. In SDC, particular network-structures for learning in thematic domains have been conceived to continuously “develop Good Technical Practice”. Yet, what does this mean at all? With today’s article the SDC Knowledge and Learning processes division introduces a new electronic working aid, meant as practical guidance for new SDC-staff, as resourcekit for more experienced ones.

By Michèle Marin

“Good practice” or even “best practice” are ubiquitous terms in international cooperation and the running issue of any Learning Organisation. In SDC, particular network-structures have been conceived to “develop Good Practice” in selected technical areas (e.g. Water, Gender, financial management etc.). Commonly designating one of the keys to successful development work, it is yet hard to seize what the notion implies. Often used in relation with technical competence in a particular thematic area, e.g. the “how to do” in agriculture, it can equally designate more general procedural and methodological quality of interventions.

In fact, the buzz word hides quite a story – let me illustrate it by one…

…The Story of the Chowdhuries or What good practice is all about

“Find out what works well and apply it. Learn from others, share your experience. Make sure the necessary capacities are built and know-how handed over in good times.”

This  epilogue of  the story in the audio-comic above summarizes what we understand by Good Practice in the context of organisational learning and knowledge management.

The story further illustrates that developing Good Practice is not a once-and-for-all activity, but – more technically speaking – a continuous learning loop backed up by organizational measures, where technical skillfulness and methodological and procedural quality go hand in hand. In this sense, developing Good Practice can be translated into 4 core elements or tasks, as depicted in the graphics.GFP Grafi final

Imagine the four elements  as complementary “stations” to be implemented in a balanced way. Each of the stations covers a variety of sub-tasks (“steps”). Let me summarize them below:

Identify and Adapt “Good Practice”
Finding out what works and why naturally go hand in hand with adjusting one’s own practice. There never is a point “zero” in “Good Practice”; action precedes reflection. Identifying and adapting “Good Practice” can be described as 5-step procedure:

  • learn from our own experience;
  • learn from others
  • raise research results;
  • infuse innovation and scaling-up;
  • formulate sector policies.

Perform “Good Practice” in operations
The main objective for working on “Good Practice” is quality performance in operations, strategic partnerships, and policy dialogue. This means that experiences, international state of the art, and organizational priorities are to be reflected in what the organization does.
Working according to “Good Practice” includes:

  • using/applying sector analysis instruments;
  • basing interventions on sector impact models;
  • using process and product standards for planning, steering, and reporting;
  • securing competence in action;  
  • translating operational experience into partner dialogue and policy influencing.

Anchor “Good Practice” in the organisation
Sound organisational support is required to ensure that “Good Practice” enhances cooperation quality in the long run. The following 4 steps help anchoring “Good Practice” in the organization:

  • create and nurture exchange venues;
  • include reflection- and learning steps in business processes;
  • secure knowledge with staff changes;
  • document relevant experience and make it accessible

Form “Good Practice” through Staff
“Good Practice” is threatened by both, skills-erosion and “copy-pasting”: staff not being able to do what their predecessors were able to do, or staff mechanically applying transferred recipes. Practice must go hand in hand with shared reflection in order to grow good and better. Staff needs to be sensitized and empowered to make the grade. “Form Good Practice through staff” implies 4 steps:

  • secure individual learning and sharing tasks;
  • develop participatory learning- and advisory skills
  • strengthen e-communication and e-collaboration skills;
  • support capacity development with partners.

Developing Good Practice in SDC: The working aid

GFP screenSDC has a rich experience in implementing the diverse steps above. Yet, orientation is not evident: What has proved effective and why? What practical tools are there?

Striving to promote organisational learning in general, and give guidance to SDC networks in particular, K&LP division has condensed institutional and operational knowhow and developed a methodological working aid. For each station and step above it provides explanatory text, methodological recommendations and tools, illustrated by examples.
The audio-comic presented above provides a soft entry point to the issue ( also downloadable as full comic strip)

The Working on Good Technical practice in SDC provides for multiple usage, as
–        an introduction and guide to learn about the Good Practice-Loop in SDC;
–        a resourcekit when in search of recommendations to particular step.
–        a virtual workbook to elaborate particular steps hands on, e.g. in network-groups, on the integrated Wiki-like working space (“logbook”)

Have a closer look at it:


Comments to“Good practice in development and humanitarian cooperation of SDC”

  1. I like the SDC approach to good practice as it is very systematic. But it misses one crucial point: not all problems can be solved by applying good practice.

    Problems can be situated in the domains of the simple, complicated, complex, or chaotic. A framework developed by David Snowden of Cognitive Edge, called the Cynefin framework, can help us categorize problems into these four domains (

    Problems in the simple domain can be solved by what we call best practice. Cause and effect are clear to everyone and solutions are usually obvious. If we have a flat tyre on the bike we need to fix the hole and pump it up.

    Problems in the complicated domain need more analytical effort or expertise to be solved, cause and effect relations are more intricate and more than one solution is possible. This is the domain of good practice. The example in the comic clearly lies in the complex domain, as multiple solutions are possible and the perspective on the problem is relevant.

    But many development challenges are situated in the domain of the complex. Especially problems involving the work in social systems like communities, markets, or government-citizen systems are highly complex. Cause and effect relationships are only apparent in hindsight, reactions on interventions cannot be predicted. Good practice does not work here. Solutions cannot be copied from one context into the other. Appropriate practice has to emerge in every case.

    Let’s not talk about the chaotic domain right now …

    So we need to be very cautious if we talk about good practice. First we need to identify what kind of problem we want to solve with the practice. Applying good practice in complex environments can be disastrous. See for example recent studies that show that micro-credit has in many countries left the poor and especially women worse off then before – a classical case of applying good practice (it worked in Bangladesh …) to new contexts. Adapting a solution to the new context as proposed in the post above is not enough. Complex contexts need new solutions that emerge in the actual place.


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