Anyone who serves on a citizens board, volunteers at a house of worship, or does anything to help other people has experienced frustration. They have a problem that needs to be solved, but they just can’t seem to find a solution. People can quickly become frustrated if their partnership isn’t productive. If you’ve been stuck in a late-night meeting spinning your wheels, you know what it’s like.
A concept that began in healthcare circles decades ago may be helpful for tackling problems in other settings. The term is positive deviance, and it’s relatively simple – where some have failed at a project or task, others will find a way to succeed, even with similar circumstances and resources. These people or groups may be referred to as positive deviants. The challenge is in finding such behaviors and reproducing them for other applications.
We have witnessed and participated in the dialogue between community, politicians, government, nonprofits and other stakeholders when a well-meaning economic development initiative came to a community they care for. Old East Durham is a community undergoing rapid transformation, with issues of displacement and gentrification widely acknowledged. Economic benefits for the members of the community whose profiles in material poverty were used to justify the initiative very much remain an open question.
We are aware that the portrayal in this article of politicians, government officials and nonprofits is somewhat flattened and that these stakeholders, individually and collectively, have additional incentives, but the incentives we focus on exist, dominate, and are ignored at great peril to the community.Continue Reading