Positive Deviance Terms

Positive DeviAnts:

Individuals, groups, or entities who are the least likely to prevent or overcome a widely shared problem but are successful despite facing the same or worse challenges and barriers. They have access to the same or fewer resources than other colleagues, peers, or entities. However, one is defined as a Positive Deviant only in the context of a specific problem.

PD Concept:

In every community or organization (schools, hospitals, ministries, etc.) there are a few individuals or groups who have overcome or prevented a pervading problem requiring behavior or social change.

PD Approach:

A problem solving, asset-based approach grounded in the fact that communities have assets or resources they haven’t tapped. Led by the community or organization member themselves, the approach enables them to discover then to leverage uncommon but successful behaviors or strategies from within the community to solve a perceived problem that requires behavior and social change. The PD approach brings about sustainable behavioral and social change by identifying solutions already existing in the system.

PD Guiding Principles:

The basic components and ingredients that give the PD approach its name. Including: 

  • Collective endeavor: Community or stakeholders’ ownership of the whole process,

  • Social proof: their discovery of existing solutions (uncommon behaviors & strategies via a PD Inquiry) among their peers-people just like them, by people or groups whose behaviors need to change

  • Networks driven: Use of existing and created new social capital (formal and informal networks),

  • Focus on practice: Development of activities and initiatives that encourage practice of PD inquiry findings

  • Collective involvement in the monitoring of the new activities to promote behavior change, and evaluation of the overall initiative to have sustainable impact on the problem.

PD Methodology:

Five basic steps which serve as the backbone of the approach. The 5 D's are:

  1. Define the problem, its causes and common practices, and articulate desired outcome.

  2. Determine presence of PDs,

  3. Discover their uncommon but successful behaviors & strategies through PD inquiries,

  4. Develop activities based on the inquiry findings

  5. Discern (monitor and evaluate) the results.

The steps are iterative and a basic template to be adapted to the local or social context. In some cases the steps are repeated on an on-going basis throughout the project.

PD Inquiry:

An activity in the methodology whereby the community members, stakeholders or researchers seek to discover demonstrably uncommon successful behaviors and strategies. It can take many forms, most commonly an interview of the “PD” individual and his/her immediate support system (family members, relatives, colleagues, etc.) and observation of a specific situation, or an on-going inquiry by a group of individuals over several months. 

PD Process:

Through skilled facilitation, use of experiential learning tools, and the application of the PD principles, this process transforms the community or organization from focusing on scarcity or need to focusing on assets or existing resources, leading to self-determination, control of outcomes and sustainable behavior and social change. The PD process is iterative, flexible, chaotic and nonlinear.

PD facilitation: 

Through skillful PD facilitation, community members learn to listen and observe differently to discover each other’s strengths.  Throughout the process, families and other stakeholders are listened to, asked questions, observed, and invited to participate in community self-discovery of what is already working for some of its members.

PD Research is often used as a first step in looking at a problem and seeing if Positive Deviants (individuals or groups) exist in the particular context of the problem or as an initial methodology to support or refute the possible application of the PD approach to address a specific issue.

Through data gathering and analysis PD researchers focus on studying those individuals or groups who have successful outcomes despite the odds.  Findings from PD research often result in the development of recommendations and inform Social Behavior Change and Communication (SBCC) strategies to address a specific problem.

Note: Participatory Action Research (PAR)

In participatory action research the participants serve as co-researchers.  The lead researcher is actually a facilitator, as the participants are in control of problem definition, method, data collection, and analysis and interpretation. Participatory action research turns traditional concepts of knowledge and practice on its head, acknowledging that local knowledge is of equal or greater value than expertise.

PD tools: 

Different highly participatory activities that are used during each step of the PD methodology. Among often used tools are Participatory Learning & Action (PLA) tools, Liberating Structures, Appreciative Inquiry and other tools best suited to the particular community involved.