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‘Best practice’ and sustainable mobility: a critical realist account

Macmillen, James J. (2010) ‘Best practice’ and sustainable mobility: a critical realist account University of Southampton, School of Geography, Masters Thesis , 189pp.

Record type: Thesis (Masters)


In the last two decades, the notion of ‘best practice’ has become accepted into the
standard lexicon of policy-making. Transport policy has not been exempt from
this trend; ‘best practice’ approaches to the development, implementation and
evaluation of policy interventions are ubiquitous at all scales of governance,
appearing to enjoy both explicit and tacit support from a diverse array of political
actors. Recently, however, dissenting voices in the planning literature have
questioned the core tenets of the ‘best practice’ notion. Chiefly, these critiques
have tended to focus on the apparent naiveté of ‘best practice’ as it relates to the
attendant notion of ‘policy transfer’, highlighting the salience of institutional
heterogeneity as a limitation to spatial policy convergence. Yet, while such
analyses are extremely commendable, they have failed to address: (1) how the
notion of ‘best practice’ is understood, encountered and employed by policy
actors; (2) why the ‘best practice’ notion has proven so popular; and (3) the
broader implications of ‘best practice’ policy learning with regard to a future
transition to sustainable mobility. Grounded in critical realist ontology, this thesis
directly addresses these three concerns through a series of in-depth case studies
with policy actors involved in UK walking and cycling policy. Contrary to
received wisdom, it argues that the notion of ‘best practice’ is characterised by
significant conceptual ambiguity and diverse functionality, attributing this to the
inherent causal powers present in the notion itself and the antagonistic,
intractable policy context in which active travel is presently mired. Recognising
the limits to ‘best practice’ thinking, the thesis concludes with a plea for a
modest ‘rebalancing’ of contemporary policy learning approaches.

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Published date: August 2010
Organisations: University of Southampton


Local EPrints ID: 171965
PURE UUID: f104405e-54db-4e34-8501-2d214fe316b5

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Date deposited: 21 Jan 2011 16:38
Last modified: 18 Jul 2017 12:14

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Author: James J. Macmillen
Thesis advisor: Steven Pinch

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