Methodology of the survey and classification of the best practices

From Best Practices WIKI

Adopting an approach based on best practices means evaluating and sharing experiences with those who have carried out similar activities (or resolved similar problems) in the past, defining which of these best practices might be relevant and effective in one’s own context; testing whether they function correctly, integrating them with existing processes and formalizing them in the ambit of one's own organisation.

The methodology of the survey

The process of best practice identification requires the elaboration and use of a specific methodological instrumentation. Through the study and comparison of different realities presenting characteristics of excellence, the Province of Brindisi plans to acquire and exploit suggestions and examples with partners in the “Support and promotion of typical local products” project, and to its main recipients. The work was conducted in more than one phase: from the pin-pointing and comparison of the Best Practices, to the construction and diffusion of the questionnaire through focused interviews, to the analysis of the results through a comparison with the norms in force regarding the promotion of typical products. The initial phase of the work concerned the collection of all the information necessary for the definition of the best practices, their pin-pointing and their comparison (benchmarking). In order to incentivize the set up and carrying out of the promotion of local products it is important to know data and information regarding best practices coming from already operative projects – the difficulties met, success obtained – analyzing the most meaningful cases by similarity in terms of environment or consonance of method. Afterwards, the analysis of successful experiences (at European level) in the promotion of local products has allowed one to proceed above all with the pinpointing of indicators (parameters of reference) on the basis of which it is possible to carry out a Best Practice comparison at local level. In fact, once the national and European examples of Best Practice had been selected, along with the key words needed in the pin-pointing of a Best Practice, a common European model (the questionnaire) was created for the collection of the data, as well as the description and diffusion of these experiences. Specific questionnaires were carried out with Greek and Italian entrepreneurs, in particular those listed below:

  • “Ladopita” Traditional sweet based on olive oil
  • Mandorlato – “Santa Mavra” pastelli
  • “Lefkadìtiki ghì” wine (from Lefkada)
  • Traditional Lefkada salami
  • Consorzio di Torre Guaceto: l’oro del Parco
  • Masseria Ferri
  • Libera Terra
  • Puglia natura
  • Bio & Tipico (Puglia ROP 2000-2006 Meas. 2.2)

Finally, as we will explore in Part 2 and 3 of the present study, on the basis of the results of the interviews[1] and of a comparison of the norms in force in the two countries for obtaining brands and denominations, there emerged considerations and evaluations of a general order regarding costs, timescales and modalities necessary for obtaining as a single company and/or as an association the different forms of protection and promotion of typical products.

What is a Best Practice?

The term best practice[2] falls within the widest process of benchmarking: it is a method of comparison finalised at identifying, understanding and adapting particularly significant practices (recognised as best practice or high performance) that have been put in place by other organisations, with the aim of improving the performance of one’s own activity. “Best practices” does not mean re-inventing, but rather learning from the experiences of others that have proven successful.Other companies or institutions have in all probability encountered the same or a similar problem, and other management offices have been able to try out different methods in resolving it. Having discovered what has been applied, by who and in what way, it is possible to evaluate the best solution adopted and take it on board – personalizing it on the basis of one’s particular difficulties and characteristics. The prerequisite of these wide-ranging qualitative research processes lies in a widespread collection and a continuous exchange of information. It is therefore based on the knowledge of what others do: the methods they follow, difficulties met and solutions put in place, and this is what will be done by this piece of research. In the present study, as will be explored later in more depth, “Best practice” is often the result not only of individual company successes that distinguish themselves in terms of product and process innovation, but also the result of other types of “pilot actions”, or a series of projects considered as a whole. A Best Practice is identified in a case of excellence which, in the context examined, helps make changes, contributes to overcoming obstacles, gives contributions to other actions or sectors and finally can also be reproduced in other contexts.

The pin-pointing of Best Practices and Benchmarking

In order to pin-point Best Practices it is fundamental to define first of all the field in which the terms of comparison are to be put into effect, so as to avoid superficialities and generic comparisons. In the present project, “Support and promotion of typical local products”, the objective of action 2.1 “Study of Best Practices” is that of evaluating aspects linked to the promotion of typical local products, in terms of product quality, marketing, but also of the capacity to integrate one’s products into one’s own territory, respecting the countryside, the society, the economy and the culture of the place, and sustainability in general. In the agro-alimentary scenario the supply of typical agro-alimentary products is often fragmentary, scattered and not always directly correlated to demand. If one doesn’t carefully consider all the aspects of the development process there exists a real prospect of failure, even in a sector like this one which is in continual expansion. Only when seeking to promote the territory as a whole, in the widest sense of the term, is it possible to program and manage a territory with concrete expectations of an activity that continues into the future and which gives full satisfaction to all the subjects involved. Since such principles are becoming more refined and practiced on an ever vaster scale at International level it is important to carry out an evaluation of their use in different contexts. With the benchmarking activity there was carried out a bibliographic-type research activity in order to understand in which other contexts, other than INTERREG, there have been experimented and transferred experiences of “Best practice”. On a more operative level, a desk analysis was carried out in order to pin-point best practices regarding the promotion of typical local products at local, National and European level. The theme of best practices has been frequently associated with innovations introduced in specific areas of local development processes: local sustainability, the strengthening of entrepreneurial competitiveness, the promotion of local products. From this we see examples of initiatives taken under Community initiatives such as Leader plus, Urban, Equal, Interreg, and in the processes of “Agenda 21 Locale”. In particular, in the present study, projects were pin-pointed that were started by producer organizations (Company consortiums etc.) but also directly by Local Action Groups (LAGs) aimed at supporting the promotion of typical local products. In these respects it is therefore connected to the objectives of the Community initiative for Rural Development “Leader plus”, which defined the methodologies used in identifying Best Practices. From the desk analysis it emerges that the majority of projects promote strategies promoting the territory through the promotion of typical products, but also of trades, traditions and culture, and ever more system-orientated – that’s to say, creating synergies between the various sectors, between different institutional subjects and between the available financial resources. One passes, in fact, to the description of more classical instruments, such as the use of a collective brand, the retrieval of traditional recipes linked to typical products, or a network of shops present in the territory, the visibility of which is linked to a common centre of promotion, to a concentration of investments into product and process innovation or to the promotion of the area’s products on the International market. Thanks to the work carried out in the course of 2000-2006 by the European Observatory of Rural Development instituted within the European Commission (Directorate General for Agriculture) some interesting projects of International Co-operation regarding the promotion of local products were selected from the European Database. In particular, the present study considered 37 cases of Best Practice in inter-territorial and transnational projects regarding the “promotion of local projects”. Below there is a table which summarizes the projects mentioned above, with the name of the project’s title, of the partners involved and the website where one can obtain further information. In appendix A there are the reports in English containing the description of the projects and of the elements characterizing the Best Practices.

Table1.jpg Table2.jpg

With reference on the other hand to the pin-pointing of Best Practices at National level there are many examples coming from the collection of the National Leader+ Network (Inea and Agriconsulting) on the Best Practices pinpointed during 2006 and 2007. In particular, the database of the National Leader+ Network assessed 26 of them just last year – on the different themes that characterise the Community initiative Leader+ (Environment, promotion of agricultural products, etc.). In conclusion, the phase of Best Practice pin-pointing and comparison at European and International level has made it possible, among other things, to construct databases (understood as collections/archives of Best Practices) that can become the prerequisite for the planning of a technology platform allowing on-line access to the best practices. Using the platform (and the databases it includes) it is possible to promote the diffusion of the Best Practice experiences pin-pointed, and allow them to be reproduced in similar situations.

Τhe questionnaire as an instrument for identifying and sharing Best Practices

The analysis of successful experiences (at a European and National level) in the promotion of local products has allowed one to proceed above all with the pinpointing of indicators (parameters of reference) on the basis of which it is possible to carry out a Best Practice comparison at local level. In fact, once the national and European examples of Best Practice had been selected, along with the key words needed in the pin-pointing of a Best Practice, a common European model (the questionnaire) was created for the data collection, the description and the diffusion of these experiences. The questionnaire represents the common intrument with which the examples chosen regarding the promotion of typical local products within the EU are collected and published. It has therefore been divided into different sections. As well as the “Basic information”, which identifies the subjects that have promoted a best practice (personal details), the questionnaire researches the history of the best practice itself. It asks the interviewee to describe the experience of promoting their products, checking, through the use of the questionnaire, the setting up of an action plan and market strategy for the promotion, diffusion and sale not just of local products but of the territory in which they are grown or made; checking whether the subject has made a “network” of all the local resources, if he has “regulated” them and if he has given them a common brand. As well as the description of the product, its characteristics and its market orientation, the questionnaire researches the area of production, and above all the connection with agro-alimentary products, with handcrafted products, with natural resources and with the cultural heritage of the area of reference. The pre-eminent theme covered by this study is the reference to the territorial area as a grouping of resources – physical, environmental, cultural, human, economic and financial, as well as institutional and administrative, specifically in the prospect of an integrated strategy promoting agro-alimentary products. Particular emphasis has been put on the section dedicated to the profile of the pilot action/best practice, and to the reasons which have contributed to it identifying an innovative experience in an example that can be communicated, promoted and exported – in other words a Best Practice to be imitated. This was done together with an indication of the costs involved (in terms of resources, time and difficulties) when embarking on an innovative path in promoting the Best Practice. As mentioned before, from the analysis of the case studies pin-pointed (through the use of benchmarking) it was possible to identify the best practices. Such criteria, closely connected to a Best Practice’s factors of success, are the following:

  • Area-based approach
  • "Bottom-up" approach
  • types of partnership
  • innovation
  • integrated approach
  • creation of a network
  • co-operation between area
  • local financing
  • management

Furthermore, two “new” European criteria were considered:

  • transferability
  • sustainability

The questionnaire, therefore, was compiled by Greek and Italian entrepreneurs identified through interaction with the various partners of the project. On the Greek side the interviews carried out concerned the following products:

  • Ladopita” Traditional sweet based on olive oil
  • Mandorlato – “Santa Mavra” pastelli
  • “Lefkadìtiki ghì” wine (from Lefkada)
  • Traditional Lefkada salami

On the Italian side there were interviewed the promoters of interesting projects aimed at the promotion of agro-alimentary products:

  • Consorzio di Torre Guaceto: l’oro del Parco
  • Masseria Ferri
  • Libera Terra
  • Puglia natura
  • Bio & Tipico (Puglia ROP 2000-2006 Meas. 2.2)

The questionnaires are contained in the Annex entitled “Case Studies”.

  1. The interviews were conducted directly with local producers (5 interviews with Italian entrepreneurs and 5 interviews with Greek Entrepreneurs), with the aim of understanding the critical points.
  2. A misunderstanding that should be immediately cleared up concerns the terms of comparison themselves, which needs to be made not between subjects and processes that make up their own reality, and not even in respect of their direct competitors, which might among other things not represent at all an example to be followed. It is fundamental, rather, to be inspired by methods, criteria and procedures which are generally considered to be a positive model, even when applied to organisations belonging to sectors that are different from one’s own.