Positive Deviance

In every community there are certain individuals (the 'Positive Deviants') whose special practices/strategies/behaviors enable them to find better solutions to prevalent community problems than their neighbors who have access to the same resources. Positive deviance is a community development approach that is tailored to the specific community in which it is used.

Developed by Jerry and Monique Sternin, Positive Deviance is especially useful when used to solve problems requiring social and behavioural change. This approach is being used globally to address problems as diverse as malnutrition, poor educational outcomes and neonatal mortality.

Positive Deviance is about co-creation; not buy-in. It is not a project; it is an asset-building approach working within available resources.

This asset-building approach:


    • enables the community to discover solutions that already exist within the community
    • engages the community in its own discovery process
    • models groups that demonstrate successful practices
    • provides an opportunity to become accustomed to the changes in behaviour needed to achieve these successful practices
    • Bridges the gap between what we know and what we do (i.e. People know if they are physically active, they will be healthier. Yet, active living is not always practiced. Positive Deviance works with the entire community so everyone becomes part of the solution)


There are four steps in Positive Deviance design.


  1. Define the problem and the desired outcome. To do this, continue to ask 'Why?' When working from the solution point-of-view, or backwards from the desired outcome, you unravel a larger number of players and thus engage a much wider network of stakeholders. For example if the focus was on inactive teens, the stakeholders may just be inactive teens and their families. However if the focus is active teens, the stakeholders include schools, health units, parents of active teens, etc.
  2. Determine/identify those who exhibit the desired behaviour
  3. Discover the uncommon positive deviant strategies
  4. Design an opportunity for others in the community to practice these 'Positive Deviant' strategies.


Note: When practicing Positive Deviance, it is important to look at homogeneous groups. What has enabled one group with the same resources to achieve the end outcome? Positive Deviants are the ones who, given the same circumstances, barriers, challenges, etc., still manage to excel or achieve the desired outcome.


For more info see www.positivedeviance.org


Print   Email