For the first time, representatives of nearly all the UK users of positive deviance met together in Westminster for a round-table debate on the value of positive deviance, and learning points from the exercises so far to carry forward into future projects.
The team included Home Office representatives, John Chadwick and Sara Featherstone, Graeme Gordon, Director of Corporate Strategy of Southwark Council, Simon Kerss, Domestic Abuse Partnership Manager from Cambridgeshire County Council, and Ian Lycett, Chief Executive of Gosport Borough Council. They were joined by Steve Johnson, former Chief Executive of Capital Ambition and strategic consultant; Sally Hammond, Associate Director of Policy, Analysis and Research at the Audit Commission, and Esmee Wilcox, Senior Manager for Policy and Implementation at Suffolk County Council. Sadly Steve Broome, Director of Research at the RSA, had a medical emergency and was unable to attend at the last minute.
The team concluded that positive deviance delivers benefits at each stage. It is particularly powerful in helping to bring communities together and to help build empowered teams of “unusual suspects”, such as teen parents and survivors of domestic abuse.
Simon Kerss observed that working on PD projects helped survivors of domestic abuse realise that they had value and personal power – it helped them to move on much more quickly than other methods that the partnership had used. It had completely changed the way the Police dealt with victims and in communications intended to reach out to people in abusive relationships.
Ian Lycett said that the team of young parents who had bonded, then actively worked to get into schools in Gosport to spread the message of what being a young parent meant in reality, had really impressed colleagues and councillors. He also had met Jez Edwards, the mum who helped us create “speed PD” and thought this had real potential to address parenting issues in a safe and adaptable way. He was particularly interested in the fact that it could create community networks that would in some way replace the support that historically would have been provided by extended families.
The Home Office had seen benefits from each of the three pilots, again in bringing in “unusual suspects” and in creating activities that were truly by and for the community. This was endorsed recently by a Home Office peer review team who visited Bishop Creswell Green’s group in Southwark.
The group discussed differences and similarities between PD and other methods of community engagement and empowerment and agreed that although it was difficult to explain in a few words, it did deliver social value in engaging volunteers, reducing dependency and moving people into work and education. Rather than being a programme, like Connected Care, or a process, like Service Co-Design, it was a technique that shared affinities with Appreciative Enquiry, positive psychology and strengths-based lean. It differs, though, from each of these in various ways. Primarily by being very practical and versatile, by being evidence-based, and by focusing on what is hidden but already working, it could add a lot of value to service improvement exercises in leading to quick wins with relatively low resource requirements.
The group noted the paradox between the fact that PD is a methodology that can really help communities to build skills and support each other, reducing demand for services in the longer term, but yet the funding does not seem to be available for prevention-based approaches. The exception might be the Troubled Families Initiative (TFI), where it was agreed that PD could add very useful perspectives and practical community help.
We are working with two Councils, one in London and one outside, to explore the opportunities PD creates to add value to proposed TFI programmes.
We plan to use PD both to create supporting networks in the community for the families and their neighbours, and also to look at the practices that truly work across the range of agencies that are involved. PD will be one key method amongst several, to look at evidence-based development of what works, allow appreciation between agencies of the range of potential interventions and their value in various situations, and to improve communication and reduce duplication. This approach will be tied back to both the key metrics of the TFI itself and also the metrics of the key organisations involved (we’ve counted 40 in the London project so far!).
PD has created a small and select group of users, community members and fans so far – thanks to all of them for their support and encouragement!