Yesterday I blogged about a study of insolvency regimes. The study noted that many countries have adopted insolvency laws that are not now implemented. The problem is often a poor fit between norms implicit in the new laws and norms in place in the reforming country. This problem of fit is something I see a lot. It plagues development, in my opinion, and is a particular problem for those working on governance. Good governance solutions often come in the form of formal best practice processes that appear to make the difference between governments that work in the developed world and governments that do not work in developing countries. The solutions frequently don't work in the same way in developing countries, however. I was discussing this in class today and one of the great students said that when we talk about best practice we should be talking about what the practice is, what its content looks like, how it emerged, what its underlying norms look like, etc.etc. An insolvency law is best practice if it is used in a specific way, by specific users who see the world in a specific way. As the student said, we shouldn't talk about the law alone being the best practice...it is the full package that makes the practice work. I couldn't agree more. The problem is that most research notes that those who replicate such practices don't really know what the full package is. So they gravitate to what they see, and replicate that...on its own...without a theorized understanding of what can make it function. So, we find privatized firms failing in contexts that don't support them, internal audit laws flailing because countries with the laws lack accountants to do the audits, and insolvency laws lacking influence because legal capacities are too weak to give them life. The questions this raises for governance are many: How much of the good governance agenda is made up of best practice ideas? How many of these ideas have been effectively unbundled or theorized (so we know what makes them matter)? How often do we introduce best practice good governance solutions into contexts where they do not fit? Do we even know what criteria need to be met for a new practice to fit into a context?