Positive Deviance and Murphy

“Positive deviance (PD) is an approach to behavioral and social change based on the observation that in any community, there are people whose uncommon but successful behaviors or strategies enable them to find better solutions to a problem than their peers, despite facing similar challenges and having no extra resources or knowledge than their peers. These individuals are referred to as positive deviants.[1][2][3]”

Positive deviance….. From Wikipedia.

Sarah Knutson has a teleconference on Friday nights.   This past Friday we talked about positive deviance.   It is an important idea with a lot of research behind it and if you haven’t heard of it I hope you will take some time and look into it.

It is closely related to peer support.   From one perspective you could almost even  say peer support is an example of positive deviance.  It is also a concept that relates directly to some of the claims implicit in the Murphy Bill.

It is based on a simple observation.   In any particular set of circumstances,  in any context some people are doing better and some people are doing worse even though the resources they have access to are roughly the same.  The people doing better have something to teach the people having more difficulty and what they have to teach them matters.   Lived experience has a value.  Success, no matter the degree,  is important knowledge.

Teaching and learning is an essential process of life and in virtually every area those having difficulty or lacking knowledge learn from those who don’t.   Teachers teach students,  coaches teach players,  the experienced teach those still novice.   We learn how to do life better. Peer support is not simply a novel idea.   It is based on a central human process and the simple truth that success can teach success.   All of us have things we need to learn to be more successful in some part of life.   All of us have something to teach other people.   All of us need knowledge that counts but all of us also have knowledge that counts.

Positive deviance is often introduced by telling the story of how it was used to fight childhood malnutrition in Vietnam. (That story is told in the Wikipedia article.)  Briefly they found that although conditions were horrible and roughly the same in all villages some kids were doing better than others.  They found out those kids were being fed differently than the kids doing poorly.   They identified how and enlisted those parents to teach other parents what they were doing.  Then they sent those who had learned,  those positive deviants,  into other villages to spread the word and it worked and worked resoundingly.   Sound like peer support to anyone else other than me?

The Murphy Bill in some ways is about the answer to one simple question.   Who has the knowledge that matters?   Their answer is psychiatrists or anyone who has medical knowledge.   Positive Deviance would answer that question differently.   Professionals may or may not knowledge that matters.   They probably have less than those who say theirs is the only knowledge and more than those who say they have no knowledge that matters but (and this is crucial) they in no way even begin to have the only knowledge that matters.   In Vietnam nutritionists I am sure had knowledge that matters but the knowledge that made a difference was that of the people who had learned to cope with hunger and starvation.

Peer supporters are positive deviants.   What Murphy gives the short end of the stick to is that in virtually every area of life it is the positive deviants in any circumstances that may well have the knowledge that makes the most difference.

A good question.  Who has the knowledge that matters and does anyone have the only knowledge that matters?   And how frequently, how well,  how successfully do we make sure those in need have access to the knowledge or experiences likely to make a difference in their lives.


3 thoughts on “Positive Deviance and Murphy”

  1. I hope Rep. Murphy reads this blog, but I also think he’s very, VERY informed about the concept of “positive deviance”. That’s why he threw even more effort into gutting PAIMI and SAMHSA than he did into gutting HIPAA. Psychiatry is just like every other cult – it CANNOT survive unless it keeps all the “nonbelievers” away from its brainwashed minions.

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