In a recent posting I talked about an intervention for reducing hospital infections.
I noted how that intervention had all the ingredients of a Solution-Focused approach, and that the authors called that approach “Positive Deviance”.
Some of my friends, in the comments, mentioned that “Positive Deviance” is a school of thought of its own.
That is undoubtedly correct.
However, I still think that Positive Deviance and Solution-Focused approaches share the same foundations, allowing for different focus and goals.

For example, in a presentation that describes the Positive Deviance Process and that can be found online here, Positive Deviance is contrasted to traditional Problem Solving approaches in the following way:
– internally fueled (by “people like us”, same culture and resources) vs. externally fueled (by “experts” or internal authority)
– down-up (sic), inside out vs. top-down, outside in
– asset based “what’s right here?” vs. deficit based “what’s wrong here?”
– begins with analyses of demonstrably successful SOLUTIONS vs. begins with analyses of underlying causes of PROBLEM
– bypasses Immune System (solution shares same “DNA” as host) vs. triggers Immune System “defense response”
(slide number 17).
I think most, if not all, Solution-Focused practitioners could use this very same list to explain how their approach is different from a more traditional problem solving approach.

There are, though, differences between the Positive Deviance Process and Solution-Focused approaches, given the different focus:
– the Positive Deviance Process is used for finding outliers (single individuals who do things differently) in a population or in a community. From the Positive Deviance Initiative website, “Positive Deviance (PD) is a development approach that is based on the premise that solutions to community problems already exist within the community.”
– the Solution-Focused approach is mainly used for finding outliers (single behaviors which lead to different outcomes) in a single individual or team. From the Solution Focused Brief Therapy Association website, “because these solutions appear occasionally and already within the person, repeating these successful behaviors is easier than learning a whole new set of solutions that may have worked for someone else”.
In other words, the focus of the Positive Deviance Process is a set of individuals; the focus of Solution-Focused approaches is a set of behaviors within a specific individual or team.

Given the different focus, the skills required are different:
skills for conducting fact-finding interviews: members of the community are interviewed to establish what the norm is and to identify who the “positive deviants” are (i.e. the outliers, individuals who manage to have different outcomes if compared to the norm) for the Positive Deviance Process; once they are identified by other members of the community, they are interviewed to find out what they are doing differently that leads them to different, positive outcomes.
– “skills for not knowing” (De Jong, Berg; 2002) and conversational skills specifically aimed at eliciting exceptions from single individuals regarding the situation viewed as problematic (i.e., times when the person expected the problem but the problem did not occur) for the Solution-Focused practitioners; once exceptions are identified, the person is interviewed to find out what they did differently, or what was different in that specific situation at that specific time, which led to a more desirable outcome.

Notice that the framework of a Solution-Focused conversation and of a Positive Deviance Process are different.
In the Positive Deviance Process the goal is set beforehand and the Process is a tool to meet that goal.
In a Solution-Focused Intervention the goal is to be negotiated with the individual or the team, within the conversation itself.

The key tenet is the same: focusing on solutions rather than problems.
However, while Solution-Focused protocols are born by inductively finding out what works in a conversation with a therapeutic goal, the Positive Deviance Process is born to identify what the outliers do differently within a community of similar individuals tackling problems like the spread of infectious disease, malnutrition, sanitation.

Positive Deviance Process, in focusing on populations, deals with outliers differently from the Solution-Focused approach.
In Positive Deviance Process, a procedure is designed to help other people of the community model the successful behaviors of the outliers (see the “Palmer Method” video here); in Solution-Focused approaches, exceptions are unique to each individuals: there is no “modeling”, no “designing”, just an invitation to do more of what works, more of what leads to even slightly better outcomes – incremental change is the name of the game.
Positive Deviance Process’s aim is to spread best practices found locally to a whole community of similar individuals.
Solution-Focused approaches’ aim is to increase the frequency of useful behaviors exhibited by an individual to a whole set of similar situations.

Note: for a health-care perspective on these very topics, go to HOP (Health-care Organizing People)

5 thoughts on “Solution-Focused approaches & the Positive Deviance Process

  1. Pingback: BriefCoachingSolutions » Blog Archive » Switch: don’t solve problems, copy success!

  2. I’m glad that you took the time to explain the differences between SF and PD. What I’d like to see is some discussion of how to use SF on oneself. I’ve recently heard about something called Asset Based thinking which has some focus on self help. Have you looked into it?

  3. I was wondering if you ever considered changing the structure of your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or 2 pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

  4. Thank you for very much for your comment, Jennifer.
    Apparently, shorter posts are better received, so I will work on that :)
    Regarding the structure of the blog, I will forward your comment to my webmaster… maybe it is time to revamp it.

    Thanks again for taking the time to suggest ways to make this blog better,

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