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Positive deviance

Question # 1 What is positive deviance?

In every community / organization / group, there are individuals

whose exceptional behaviours enable them to get better results than everyone else with the same resources. Without realizing it, these “positive deviants� have discovered the path to success for the entire group if their secrets can be analysed and shared with the rest of the group.

To use the positive deviance method, start with a beginner’s mind. Observe what people do. Listen to what people say.

When you listen to and observe what people do, and how they do what they do, you will see the positive deviants. It will become clear that the deviants have found a better way. Their results will prove it. Analyse and list the behaviours that the deviants have in common. Find out what exactly makes them successful.

From the positive deviance perspective, individual

difference is regarded as a community resource.

The positive deviants tell you what the heart of the company is.

The success of the positive deviance approach rests on its ability to mobilise the community to identify role models, who use uncommon, but successful strategies to tackle common problems.

The positive deviance approach is based on deep respect for community, its members and its culture. The positive deviance approach works by involving people to help solve problems.

People, who discover a positive deviation, spread the word, so other people can learn and develop their own curiosity about it.

Question # 2 What are examples of positive deviance?

In Northern Vietnam in 1990, more than 2/3 of all children between the age of 1 and 4 were malnourished.

“Positive deviant� households were gathering freely available shrimps and crabs from the rice paddies each day and feeding them to the children along with widely accessible greens. These nutrients, along with hand-washing and more frequent feedings each day, were the difference that made the difference.

We asked them if they knew of any children under age 3, who came from poor families but were well nourished. The answer came back: “Có” (pronounced Gah), the Vietnamese word for yes. Then we asked, “You mean it’s possible today in this village for a very poor family to have a well-nourished child?” Again, we got the same answer: “Có, có, có.”

In Egypt, contrary to custom, parents of poor but well nourished children were found to feed their children a diet that included eggs, beans, and green vegetables. Child nutrition programmes that provided opportunities to parents of malnourished children to follow this and other new behaviours, for example hand washing and hygienic food preparation, improved child growth.

A positive deviant school regularly integrated whole grains into the school lunch menu despite barriers such as extra preparation time.

Questions for you

What examples of positive deviants can you think of?

What can you do to become a positive deviant?

Positive deviance  

Research about positive deviance.

Positive deviance  

Research about positive deviance.