What can harnessing ‘positive deviance’ methods do for food security?

Article by Katrina J. Lane: “What the researchers identified in Niger, in this case, is known as “positive deviance”. It’s a concept that originated in 1991 during a nutrition program in Vietnam run by Save the Children. Instead of focusing on the population level, project managers studied outliers in the system — children who were healthier than their peers despite sharing similar circumstances, and then looked at what the parents of these children did differently.

Once the beneficial practices were identified — in this case, that included collecting wild foods, such as crab, shrimp, and sweet potato tops for their children — they encouraged mothers to tell other parents. Through this outlier-centric approach, the project was able to reduce malnourishment by 74%.

“The positive deviance approach assumes that in every community there are individuals or groups that develop uncommon behaviors or practices which help them cope better with the challenges they face than their peers,” said Boy.

It’s important to be respectful and acknowledge success stories already present in systems, added Duncan Green, a strategic adviser for Oxfam and a professor in practice in international development at the London School of Economics.

Positive deviance emphasizes the benefit of identifying and amplifying these “deviant behaviors”, as they hold the potential to generate scalable solutions that can benefit the entire community.

It can be broken down into three steps: First, identifying high-performing individuals or groups within a challenging context. Next, an investigative process in the community via in-person interviews, group discussions, and questionnaires to find what their behaviors and practices are. Finally, it means encouraging solutions to be spread throughout the community.

In the final stage, the approach relies on community-generated solutions — which Green explains are more likely to propagate and be engaged with…(More)”.