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Taking Chances: Evaluating Risk as a Guide to Better Use of Best Practices


Jeremy L. Hall is an assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Dallas. His research focuses on public policy, economic development, government capacity, and public sector performance. His research has earned awards from the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration and the Southeastern Conference of Public Administration and has appeared in such national journals as Public Administration Review and Economic Development Quarterly.

Edward T. Jennings, Jr., is a professor and director of the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Kentucky. He is the coauthor of From Nation to States: The Small Cities Community Development Block Grant Program, coauthor of Distribution, Utilization, and Innovation in Health Care, and coeditor of The Revitalization of the Public Service and Welfare System Reform: Coordinating Federal, State and Local Public Assistance Programs. He is a past president of the American Society for Public Administration, recipient of the 1998 Jeffrey Pressman Award, and past editor of the Journal of Public Affairs Education. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.


Recent attention to best practices has resulted in a complex array of terminology and a number of compendia of effective practices that may be daunting to public policy makers and administrators seeking solutions to important public problems. This study clarifies these distinctions and builds on them to create a decision tool that will help policy makers as they use best practice information in program adoption or development. Decision makers must know their goals in seeking out best practices. As they evaluate potential practices, they should consider not only the quality of available evidence of effectiveness but also the risk of harm to constituents and the cost per unit of benefit generated. The study applies the rubric to an emerging practice in support services for individuals with disabilities known as Cash and Counseling, demonstrating that the practice is low risk, cost neutral, and improves effectiveness and consumer satisfaction. The tool highlights the judgmental elements of concern in the decision process while providing a means to assess multiple decision dimensions in a coherent fashion.