Positive Deviance: Definition, Benefits and Examples

What is the Positive Deviance Approach?

Examples of positive deviance

Positive deviationists employ unconventional or creative strategies to get past challenges that affect them and other people in their community. Here are some examples of positive deviance:

What is positive deviance in psychology?

There are individuals in many groups and communities whose conduct or beliefs are different from those of the majority. A psychological strategy known as “positive deviance” looks at the actions of these individuals, also known as “outliers,” in order to enhance the performance of the group as a whole. They are referred to as “positive deviants” if these outliers are more successful than the average member of the group. “Organizational psychologists, sociologists, and management science experts may research the behaviors of positive deviants to boost business productivity, enhance community health and living conditions, or create new employee training programs.

For instance, one hospital within a network of healthcare facilities might have significantly lower post-operative patient complication rates than the network as a whole. That hospital is a positive deviant in the group. The network administrators may employ consultants to go to that hospital, look at the staff’s procedures, and speak with patients and staff to understand why the hospital is so successful in order to reduce post-operative complication rates throughout the hospital network. The findings of their study can assist the consultants in developing an action plan to enhance the performance of the entire group.

Benefits of the positive deviance approach to problem-solving

The following are some benefits of using a positive deviance strategy to address issues that institutions or communities are facing:


Organizations can use the positive deviance approach to address both internal and external issues. By observing the habits and diets of families with well-nourished children in the community and developing resources for other families, for instance, a global medical aid organization might use positive deviance methods to enhance childhood nutrition in a particular community. The same organization might employ the positive deviance strategy to lower infection rates at a number of clinics throughout the neighborhood. In this situation, managers might watch internal staff at productive clinics and then imitate their methods in other places.

Low cost

Positive deviants are community members who have accomplished a task successfully while possessing the same tools and abilities as everyone else. This implies that the majority of their solutions are within everyone in the community’s means of support and skill set. For instance, in order to increase childhood literacy in a community, community organizers might look at the actions of typical families there whose kids are better readers than their contemporaries. These families’ practices may be more reasonably priced and widely available for everyone because they are similar to those of their group.

Community engagement

The community’s involvement is essential to the positive deviance approach in order to identify the issue and possible solutions. Community members may be more open to changing their opinions or behavior as a result than they might be if the solution came from outside the group. For instance, if a school district adopts a positive deviance strategy to raise graduation rates, principals in participating schools may be eager to launch initiatives that have proven effective in institutions similar to their own.


Before implementing it across the board, large organizations might test a positive deviance approach on a smaller group. A manufacturing company with locations across the country, for instance, might conduct a positive deviance test on plants in a single state to increase productivity. The company can alter its procedures or training techniques to increase efficiency in other plants in the state by selecting one facility with higher efficiency than the average plant. The business can then replicate the experiment in other areas if the test is successful in a small group.

What are the steps in positive deviance methods?

Here are five steps that a community could take to use positive deviance techniques to solve a problem:

1. Recognize the problem

Finding the issue to solve or the metric to enhance is the first step in using a positive deviance method. While this approach can be used to solve a variety of issues, it can be particularly useful for issues that are easily quantifiable, meaning they have distinct metrics that can be measured. For instance, a district’s leadership may decide to use this strategy to raise graduation rates in high schools throughout the district, which are simple to track and evaluate over time.

2. Identify positive deviants

The organization then chooses community members who, despite facing the same challenges as other members, have already found a solution to this issue. If a high school in the district has a graduation rate that is significantly higher than the district’s average and shares the same resources as the majority of the other schools, that high school could be considered a positive deviant in the context of the school district example. Frequently, community members offer suggestions for the good deviant, which can boost participation and lead to a better decision.

3. Observe behavior and procedures

A company’s leadership may choose to make the observations themselves or work with a management consulting firm to assess the positive deviants’ behavior or practices. The observers may also travel to other members of the community to learn about customs so they can evaluate the beneficial deviants policies. For instance, the educational system might send officials to the positive deviant high school to observe and document any programs, policies, or practices that deviate from those used by other schools in the area. The high school of choice may offer special initiatives or other types of assistance that encourage students to continue their studies.

4. Implement an action plan

The organization’s leaders can make plans to assist other community members once they have identified what makes the positive deviant unique. For instance, the school system administration might develop a model for the program to be used at other schools if they learn that the positive deviant high school uses a unique mentorship program to assist at-risk students in meeting graduation requirements. In order to help the school staff replicate the program’s success, they might also request that representatives from other institutions send observers to observe the mentorship program in person.

5. Assess project success

The organization’s leaders may assess the effectiveness of the solutions after changing the community’s policies or behavior after a predetermined amount of time. If the project’s outcomes reveal whether the community can achieve widespread success as a result of the positive deviants’ actions, For instance, the district administrators might track graduation rates at schools with mentorship programs and compare them to graduation rates at other schools after creating a mentorship program at half of the district’s high schools. The administration might make the mentorship program a district-wide requirement if there is a noticeable improvement.

Practical applications of positive deviance

The following are some fields where psychologists, sociologists, and managers might apply the positive deviance approach to resolve issues, enhance performance, and achieve growth objectives:


The positive deviance approach could aid government organizations in addressing issues with public health and safety, increasing the public’s use of agency resources, and streamlining departmental procedures. Depending on the agency’s objectives and the community it works with, a positive deviance approach may be used in a particular way. For instance, a public health organization may discover that local health initiatives and the construction of a network of walking trails have significantly lowered the rate of heart disease in a particular community compared to the towns nearby. The organization might use this information to advocate for regional park funding.


Retail chain management teams may employ positive deviance techniques to raise sales, productivity, or average customer ratings. The chain’s corporate leadership may send observers to observe the staff and managers at a specific store if it performs better than average on any metric. To maintain their anonymity and obtain a true picture of the customer experience in the store, they might go as secret shoppers. The customer service representative’s observations might assist the chain’s corporate leadership development team in changing customer service regulations or developing new employee training courses.

Nonprofit work

This strategy might be used by nonprofit organizations to enhance the quality of life for people in local communities around the globe. The positive deviance model can assist activists in collaborating with local communities to create approachable solutions to problems such as hunger, malnutrition, and drought. A global aid organization might, for instance, identify a farmer in a certain area whose methods have led to a higher crop yield than the majority of the farms in the area. The group can assist the area in increasing food production by adopting the farmer’s techniques.

Health care

Positive deviance techniques can significantly better people’s lives in the field of health care. Medical researchers and practitioners can create new treatment plans by comprehending the factors that are most important to patient survival. The positive deviance approach can assist hospitals in reducing disease transmission and assist researchers in better understanding specific illnesses. For instance, a hospital with low rates of infection from a particular type of bacteria due to a special decontamination procedure may serve as a model for other facilities.


A positive deviance approach in education can assist institutions in disseminating information and putting in place initiatives that will help students succeed. These initiatives may seek to raise reading proficiency, reduce absenteeism, promote parent involvement in extracurricular activities, or boost staff retention rates. Public schools have district groups, so individual schools can gain from the knowledge and assets of other community members. Administrators may write about the procedure and submit it for publication in an academic journal after a school district uses the positive deviance approach to successfully solve a problem. This way, other districts can follow their lead.


What is an example of positive deviance?

The practice of shaving one’s head during the St. Patrick’s Day celebration is an example of positive deviation. Baldrick’s Foundation.

What is meant by positive deviance?

Positive Deviance is based on the observation that some people or groups in every community have unusual behaviors and approaches that help them come up with better solutions to problems than their peers.

Is positive deviance good?

Positive deviance is the observation that, in most settings, a small number of at-risk people engage in unusual, advantageous behaviors and, as a result, fare better than their neighbors who face comparable risks.

What are 4 positive effects of deviance?

By using social control to uphold its values, deviation clarifies norms; society defines, modifies, and reaffirms norms. Deviance can be a temporary safety valve. Deviance increases unity within a society or group. Deviance promotes needed social change.

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