Positive Deviance

In November 2007, Lisa Kimball and Linda Barker led two workshops on Positive Deviance. Positive Deviance (PD) is a natural change process that comes from within a community or organization. Through PD, isolated examples of success can be studied to benefit an entire organization or community. Using PD, you may discover that solutions to some of the most daunting problems already exist within your organization, hiding in plain sight. They are the uncommon behavior or practices that some people are already using to achieve excellence without extra resources or outside help.

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

Positive Deviance is unlike traditional expert-driven models for social and organizational change. Like the human immune system, individuals and institutions reject what is perceived as "foreign matter." When "experts" provide "best practice" strategies for organizational changes, which are externally identified, and "not invented from within," they face rejection. The Positive Deviance approach provides an antidote to the immune system defense mechanism; the solution and the host share the same "DNA" and the change comes from within. Those in a community or organization are helped to discover the positive deviants in their midst, understand the strategies they employ and then create among themselves a process for enrolling the larger community in the desired change. Change is from inside out. Complexity science is a discipline that is providing important new insights into how living systems self-organize, evolve and adapt as a result of emergent and nonlinear interactive processes.

Lisa is currently a lead consultant on several significant organizational change projects using an approach called "positive deviance."

Lisa is part of a team from The Plexus Institute working on a project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to apply the Positive Deviance approach in six hospitals to prevent Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) infections in healthcare facilities. In addition, this approach has been adopted by the Veterans Administration with an initial group of six hospitals in the US.


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