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Book review: The Power of Positive Deviance

Duncan Green's picture

Another contribution to the ‘Power, Politics and Positive Deviance’, conference which took place February 8, 2016 at La Trobe University, Melbourne.

I finally got round to reading The Power of Positive Deviance, in which management guru Richard Pascale teams up with the two key practitioners – the Sternins (Jerry and Monique) – to analyse over 20 years of experience in developing the Positive Deviance (PD) approach, building on their pioneering experience working on malnutrition in Vietnam in the early 1990s. Since then, PD approaches have spread and morphed in 50 countries North and South and been used on everything from reducing gang violence in inner city New Jersey to trying to reducing sex trafficking of girls in rural Indonesia.

The starting point of PD is to ‘look for outliers who succeed against the odds’ – the families that don’t cut their daughters in Egypt, or the kids that are not malnourished in Vietnam’s poorest villages. On any issue, there is always a distribution of results, and PD involves identifying and investigating the outliers.

But it also matters who is doing the looking. The community must make the discovery itself – it’s no use external ‘experts’ coming in, spotting PD and turning it into a toolkit. Whether it is US hospital staff taking responsibility for tackling MRSA, or poor villagers selling their daughters in Indonesia, this gets round the defensive ‘immune defence response’ that solutions peddled by experts aren’t relevant.

Robustly wrong? New methods for cleaning survey data on incomes: Guest post by Martin Ravallion

Survey responses to questions on incomes (and other potentially sensitive topics) are likely to contain errors, which could go in either direction and be found at all levels of income. There is probably also non-random selection in terms of who agrees to be interviewed, implying that we get the weights wrong too (as used to "gross-up" the sample estimates to the population).