Learning from Positive DevianceThe Positive Deviance Initiative (PDI), based at Tufts University, has as its mission promoting implementation of solutions to community problems including seemingly intractable problems that build on practices already proving effective for people in the community who are "positive deviants." As explained in a 2004 PDI presentation (ppt), the central idea is that
In every community there are certain individuals whose uncommon practices/behaviors enable them to find better solutions to problems than their neighbors who have access to the same resources.There are six steps (ppt) to the PDI process:
- Define the problem and what a successful outcome would look like. For example: There is a problem of malnourishment among children of poor families in a community. A successful outcome would be achieving good nutrition levels among all children from poor families.
- Determine if there are any individuals or entities in the community who already exhibit the desired behavior or status. For example: It turns out that some children from poor families are well-nourished.
- Discover what uncommon practices or behaviors enable positive deviants to outperform, or find better solutions to the problem, than others in their community. For example: The poor families who are positive deviants use active feeding (as opposed to just leaving food within reach of the children), feed their children uncommon but nutritious foods, and feed them more frequently.
- Design and implement an intervention that enables others in the community to access and practice new behaviors. For example: Create a nutrition program to which parents of malnourished children bring daily contributions of uncommon foods and practice active feeding. (Note that PDI emphasizes actually doing, rather than simply relying on transfer of knowledge.)
- Discern the effectiveness of activities or projects through ongoing monitoring and evaluation. For example: Measure the change in the nutritional status of children in the nutrition program, and the spillover effect on all children in the community over time.
- Disseminate successful processes to other communities where there is a good fit. For example: Create a "Living University" where others wishing to replicate the nutrition program come for hands-on participation.
[The item in the December 12 edition of the New York Times Magazine that introduced me to the Positive Deviance Initiative is here. A Fast Company article describing the experience with malnutrition in Vietnam on which the example used above is based is here.]