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Learning heuristic or political rhetoric? Sustainable mobility and the functions of ‘best practice’


  • Macmillen, James
  • Stead, Dominic


In recent years, the notion of ‘best practice’ has become accepted into the standard lexicon of transport policy. Best (or ‘good’) practice approaches to the development, implementation, and evaluation of transport interventions regularly appear at all scales of policy-making, and seem to enjoy explicit and implicit support from a diverse array of political actors. Critical reflection on this trend has chiefly focussed on the spatial limits to policy transfer, highlighting the salience of institutional heterogeneity as a limitation to policy convergence. Drawing on a series of in-depth interviews with actors involved in UK walking and cycling policy, this paper explores two fundamental questions relating to best practices as they are directly ‘produced’ and ‘consumed’: firstly, how the notion of best practice is encountered and understood by policy actors and, secondly, why policy actors employ the notion in the course of their professional work. Despite its intuitive appeal, we argue that the notion of best practice in this context is characterised by substantial conceptual ambiguity and diverse functionality. Five distinct reasons why policy actors employ the term best practice emerge from the analysis. These we term heuristic learning, discourse manipulation, self-promotion, affiliative justification and strategic articulation.

Suggested Citation

  • Macmillen, James & Stead, Dominic, 2014. "Learning heuristic or political rhetoric? Sustainable mobility and the functions of ‘best practice’," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(C), pages 79-87.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:trapol:v:35:y:2014:i:c:p:79-87
    DOI: 10.1016/j.tranpol.2014.05.017

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jon Shaw & Danny MacKinnon & Iain Docherty, 2009. "Divergence or convergence? Devolution and transport policy in the United Kingdom," Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 27(3), pages 546-567, June.
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    3. Van Malderen, Laurent & Jourquin, Bart & Thomas, Isabelle & Vanoutrive, Thomas & Verhetsel, Ann & Witlox, Frank, 2012. "On the mobility policies of companies: What are the good practices? The Belgian case," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 21(C), pages 10-19.
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    5. Greg Marsden & Karen Trapenberg Frick & Anthony D May & Elizabeth Deakin, 2012. "Bounded rationality in policy learning amongst cities: lessons from the transport sector," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 44(4), pages 905-920, April.
    6. Marsden, Greg & Stead, Dominic, 2011. "Policy transfer and learning in the field of transport: A review of concepts and evidence," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 492-500, May.
    7. Marsden, G. & Frick, K.T. & May, A.D. & Deakin, E., 2011. "How do cities approach policy innovation and policy learning? A study of 30 policies in Northern Europe and North America," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 501-512, May.
    8. Miller, John S. & Hoel, Lester A., 2002. "The "smart growth" debate: best practices for urban transportation planning," Socio-Economic Planning Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 1-24, March.
    9. Tore Langmyhr, 1999. "Understanding innovation: The case of road pricing," Transport Reviews, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 19(3), pages 255-271, January.
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