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positive deviance

Where are the gaps in the way we campaign?

Duncan Green's picture

The summer is a time for relaxed chats in my Brixton office. This week it was with a seasoned NGO campaigner who’s been on a break and wondering about re-entry into the UK/global development and environment campaign scene at the research-y end. Where are the gaps and potential niches that a bright, reflective, experienced campaigner-turned-researcher could help to fill? Here’s a few that came up, inevitably influenced by How Change Happens and attendant reading.

Implementation Gaps: A lot of successful campaigning targets the gap between policy and practice – what the government or the law has said vs. what is happening in reality. It may not have the intellectual appeal of starting with a clean sheet and saying ‘if I ruled the world, I would do X’, but the chances of getting somewhere are much higher. So how about a guide to IGap campaigning – how to identify them, work out which ones are the most promising, case studies of success, questions to ask etc?

Positive Deviance: I’m getting increasingly obsessed with this as a huge potential addition to the development repertoire. Instead of jumping in and opening a project or campaign, start by looking for the positive outliers that already exist on any given issue. Go and study them, and then use social learning to spread the message. The outsider acts as a facilitator, not a ‘doer/intervenor’. But all the positive deviance examples I’ve seen refer to programming – tackling on-the-ground problems like child malnutrition in Vietnam. What would a PD-based campaign look like? Go out and identify existing positive outliers on tax evasion, respect for human rights, or smallholders in value chains, then build a campaign to scale them up?

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.

Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Governance Reform

Naniette Coleman's picture

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance” by Atul Gawande seems an unlikely place to find governance reform ideas and development inspiration but I found both therein last week.  The book was recommended by a dear colleague who knows of my interest in organizational change.   An accomplished non-fiction writer "Atul Gawande, a 2006 MacArthur Fellow, is a general surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.”    He tackles the “universal struggle to perform well” through the eyes of a surgeon.  Along the way we are introduced to countless examples of organizational seizure, organizational change and the people at the center of these operations.