Creating a Positive Deviance Research Collaborative

Authors: Lucia Dura, Mohammad Shafique, and Monique Sternin


Compelling evidence that the Positive Deviance approach achieves superior results in many field-based projects and social interventions increases the need for building a strong foundation for disseminating and furthering the success. Within the last decade, there has been a sharp increase of PD concept based research in many fields. The primary aim of the PD Research Collaborative (PDRC) is to inform future projects, help scale up the PD approach worldwide and set up curricula for training in PD research. While PDRC does not aim to be a research center, we are committed to supporting research, which involve PD conceptions. As the theory of PD evolves and the collective vision matures, the scientific foundation, its concepts and strategies have to be systematized and evaluated to meet the burden of proof with funding entities and broad professional organizations and to amplify the impact of PD.

In the short term, PDRC proposes to inform PD studies conducted by others, establish a broader evidence base, review the efficacy and effectiveness of the PD approach, focusing on PD programming sectors selected by the PDRC members, such as public and global health, health care, education and possibly some frontier sectors such as climate change and population migration. The PDRC will encourage research that assesses and improves the quality of project implementation and diffusion. The PDRC will also develop a mechanism to integrate lessons learned from external studies (dissertations, research) using PD approach for behavior and social change.

The PDRC believes that high quality, user-driven diffusion of the PD approach can be maximized when the following conditions exist:

  • Open sharing of the PD approach in a way that minimizes barriers to usage

  • Successful applications of PD that are measurable and observable

  • A well-trained cadre of PD practitioners and PD trainees

  • Evidence that highlights the effectiveness of the PD approach

  • A community of practice where researchers can share information including unsuccessful applications or moments of "failing foward , reflect on and improve their work  

  • Greater brand name recognition to gain entry to arenas where PD can be most helpful

  • Robust curriculum and training programs

A first step in developing a sound research and evaluation strategy is to bring together individuals or organizations “PD researchers and practitioners” who have or are studying it now, as well as those who have used it in research.

1. Potential tasks for PDRC: 

  • To bring together researchers who have used the PD concept in their research, and enable them to share their lessons learned

  • To document the innovative methods such and tools the researchers have used in their research design and discuss the implications for research, especially the contribution PD research can bring to the fields of behavior and social change

  • To articulate PD Research and Evaluation questions and identify source of funding for PD research

  • To explore and identify potential research media outlets, scientific journals, or international development publications who might be interested in PD research

  • To connect the PD research collaborative with appropriate organizations doing research in behavior and organizational/social change

  • To collect the voices of PD practitioners and to respond on these questions with the aim of continuing to refine the PD methodology

  • To initiate the campaign to bring PD methodology development on the spotlight and engage potential stakeholders

2. Evaluation component of PDRC:

  • Harness existing research resources and PD research expertise.

  • Identify academic institutions interested in doing evaluation work on specific projects.

  • Build a dynamic PD research community of practice, identify professional societies, publishers, journals and media outlets interested in promoting PD.

  • Develop a network of PD evaluators to learn from the experience of doing PD informed project evaluation, exploring specific challenges such as assessing behavior and social change, the role of the PD process in promoting sustainable change, etc.

3. Potential PD Research Questions:

Given the fairly large number of research topics that have used the PD concept and inquiry as a research tool, a review of these papers may be of interest to the PDRC R and the larger research community. Here are some questions that come to mind:

  1. Is the PD process/methodology efficient at solving complex problems that require behavior or/and organizational or social change?

  2. Is the PD process/methodology effective at engaging communities and promoting behavioral and social change? And how? 

  3. How does its effectiveness compare to other asset-based behavior and social change methods? (What is different about the PD approach?)

  4. What are the pros/cons of PD research design and intervention methodology in comparison to currently widely employed methodologies?

  5. How PD studies translate into sound programmatic applications? (such as the case in applying the PD concept  to reduction of childhood malnutrition)

  6. What are some unique patterns about the PD research format?

  7. What is the importance of innovative qualitative methods to explore PD strategies and behaviors? In particular which methods and tools are being used and found appropriate and successful in exploring PD strategies…. 

If you are a researcher who has previously used the PD concept and approach and would like to contribute to the development of PDRC, please fill out this short questionnaire!