skip to Main Content

Building Capacity through Deviance

There’s an interesting post by Tina Rosenberg, When Deviants Do Good, in the Times Opinionator about how a positive deviance model has been used to improve local nutrition levels in certain parts of the world. I couldn’t help but make the connection that many of the same principles that apply to building a village’s capacity to be positively self-sustaining also apply to organizational change.

According to Rosenberg, this how the positive deviance approach works:

  1. “Outsiders (i.e. consultants) don’t bring in ideas to change a community’s culture. Instead, they ask the community to look for its own members who are having success. Those local ideas, by definition, are affordable and locally acceptable — at least to some people in the community. Since they spring from a community’s DNA, the community is less likely to feel threatened by these ideas and more likely to adopt them.
  2. The focus is not a community’s problems, but its strengths.
  3. Outsiders don’t design a communication or training strategy to teach the idea. Outsiders can bring people in the community into one room, but local people design a way to spread the new behaviors.
  4. Local leaders are not the ones who come up with solutions. That is the job of everyone on the front line dealing with the problem. The leaders’ job is to facilitate the process of finding and spreading these solutions. Outsiders don’t monitor success. They show people in the community how to do that. “If they see that things are getting better, that’s further incentive to continue the new behavior.'”

I love it! This is precisely the way organizational leaders–in this humble consultant’s opinion–should approach organizational change. Yes, bring me or other consultants in to help stimulate and facilitate the process (shameless plug) but any consultant worth our salt should be helping you build capacity using your own DNA and strengths.


DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is an invited speaker, equity, diversity and inclusion strategy consultant and author with more than twenty years of experience working with people from around the world to on personal effectiveness and building workforce capacity.

Back To Top