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The concept of best practices captures the hope that systematic comparative evaluation of different programs, or program components, will yield conclusions about which are most effective and therefore “best.” Once identified, information about such best practices would be disseminated so that others could adopt them. Philanthropic foundations and government agencies have been especially interested in supporting identification and dissemination of best practices.

Although the idea is attractive, substantial difficulties exist in identifying a practice as “best.” Comparisons can be difficult when programs have different goals, serve populations with varying degrees of need, and include different elements in implementation. Thus, it is important to be quite specific in asserting a “best practice”: best for whom, under what conditions, for what purposes, in what context, with what ...

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