“Ownership not buy in” key to long-term success of local project

Hidden Insights, and its “parent”, Positive Deviance, is all about helping people to help themselves by sharing what works. We have been surprised how difficult professionals find it to facilitate communities to do this, and let go of the “fixing” or “rescuing” mindset.  Kerrie Tonks  added the skills learned from her Hidden Insights training to a career in youth work.  By finding helpers and asking what really worked, she was able to nurture the development of a community-based project that has proved highly successful and very resilient, the Huntingdon Grub Hub.

Community members mobilised themselves to solve the problem of fracturing families.  Recently Huntingdon Town Council noted its success, particularly how it has grown, offering new activities, impacting the whole estate of 4,000 people.  They recognised the enthusiasm, commitment and the dedication of its volunteers.
(photo courtesy of Kerrie Tonks)

Because the Grub Hub was designed to mirror what worked locally by the community members, it’s survived changes of local authority sponsors, and austerity.  Each session has been full from its launch five years ago –  because it’s the community’s.  It has thrived, and grown offshoots and collaborations, including Catch a Cuppa and Book Nook.  These now reach over 100 people a week, parents, carers and children, and have “made a significant positive impact” on the deprived estate, according to the local Council minutes.

Kerrie ensured that she had “ownership not buy-in”.  She used the facilitation techniques she had learned so that the community group:

  • Defined the problem they wanted to tackle and framed it in their own terms
  • Named the initiative (and its offshoots), set their own rules and guidelines
  • Negotiated a mutually supportive relationships with agencies and other community and faith groups, so they weren’t “sold fixes and solutions”
  • They focused on growing what already worked, then and there – the families that ate together and talked stayed together and were more likely to be better community members
  • They designed how they helped people and the communications with the community
  • They listened and continued to harvest and grow good ideas and things that work
Kerrie helped to set up Huntingdon Community Action Projects, which is now the official governing body.  The initiative is low cost, and self-funding, with help from local businesses and the town council.  They continue to support the community in a community-centred way.  The solutions may well be what community developers and volunteer organisations already know.  What is different is:
  • the community discovery and definition process to recognise, get consensus and ownership of an issue
  • the chance to build personal connections and create something based on what is known to work on that particular estate
  • starting smaller, focusing on the “how to” – finding existing, practical solutions to one aspect of a wider problem
  • renegotiating relationships with authority and local support agencies
  • “acting their way into a new way of thinking”

Tracey Holliday, the Cambridgeshire Community Development Officer who now looks after HCAP, says that there is nothing else like it in Cambridgeshire.  People feel safe there to discuss difficult issues, and services do not dominate the activities, but are there to help when asked.  Five autistic children feel comfortable to attend.  HCAP enables the community and agencies to work together as equals, and so what happens there meets exactly the needs of the community.

The training that supported its development focused on:

  • Not making assumptions, and learning to listen to what people wanted and needed, challenging where necessary, using evidence and stories
  • Seeing things through others’s eyes
  • Asking the right questions and observing, to find what really worked in that particular context, with those particular people – finding the hidden solutions and wisdom already in the community

Letting go of habit and tradition – constructive rebellion?

Change leaders know that to succeed, they have to enable people to let go of what has been.  This feels scary, and to do this, we sometimes turn to alternative role models.  This can in turn feel really risky for leaders.

In positive deviance, change is created by finding what already works and spreading it.  Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino thinks of “positive deviants” as successful non-conformists.  Her “aha” moment came when she saw a recipe book that challenged the rules of Italian cooking and asked – “why is it that we always cook that dish in this way?”  The book contained recipes such as “the crunchy part of lasagne” that made more of the best bits! Continue reading

New Kinds of Hidden Insights – facilitating strategic choices for Astia

Astia was founded in Silicon Valley in 1999 as a non-profit organization dedicated to identifying and promoting best-in-class women high-growth entrepreneurs.  It is transforming the way businesses are funded in the here and now, providing capital, connections, and guidance that fuel the growth of highly innovative, women-led ventures around the globe.  They have recently had a number of investment successes and want to build on them to further their charitable objectives and build the number of successful women entrepreneurs. Continue reading

Improving health and social care systems – are we forgetting something?

I’m writing this as a patient, parent, potential service user and change professional.  I  wonder anxiously what impact the latest round of NHS and social care reform will deliver, against the current political background.

My biggest anxiety is, will I and my friends and family be understood and actually helped, when we interact with the health and social care system?  Can professionals change their behaviour, and win time with patients, to understand and help them help themselves? Continue reading

Leveraging the right “kind” of positive deviance?

Awareness of the term “positive deviance” is rising, as a way of solving tough problems by finding what already works.  It’s been the topic of seminars for health leaders.  It’s been frequently mentioned by Helen Bevan, Chief Transformation Officer, NHS England, as part of a repertoire of approaches to front-line change, and by Jo Bibby in her Health Foundation Blog.  It is the subject of a slide show by Bob Sutton, and gets a brief mention as a possible new option in a recent article about the limitations of quality improvement projects in the NHS by Prof Mary Dixon Woods and Graham P Martin.

There is, however, no available comparison of the various interpretations and applications of “positive deviance,” and some authors mix up the various conceptual frameworks.  This article aims to put this right, and offer tips to leaders for implementation. Continue reading

A checklist for engaging people

Many change models, Hidden Insights included, stress the need for engaging people in change early on.  To do this, we need their active co-operation, and involvement, often in focus groups, large-scale events such as Open Space or World Cafe or just in conversations.  But you’ve got to get them to turn up in a positive frame of mind, ideally ready to volunteer to get involved….

Here’s a checklist, based on experience of implementing successful employee and community projects.  Its parent comes from the successful MRSA reduction project in the USA, recorded in the book, Inviting Everyone, Healing Healthcare Through Positive Deviance, by Arvind Singhal, Prucia Bruscell and Curt Lindberg.  We’ve added some learning of our own. Continue reading

Positive peer pressure and positive deviance

Peer pressure is really powerful.  The trouble is, it can be used for good or bad.  We aim to create positive peer pressure to achieve change, but it’s not always easy. Continue reading

Positive deviants and heroes – two versions of the same thing?

Everyday heroes in a hostile world

There has been a lively twitter conversation about a fascinating interview with Philip Zimbardo, Stanford professor emeritus and author of “the Lucifer Effect“.  He explains that society may condition good people to do bad things, such as join gangs and participate in violence.  This has been demonstrated in his “prison” experiment, and in the famous “electric shock” experiments of Stanley Milgram.  If you put good people in a bad environment, they will do bad things.  Philip helps people learn to be ordinary heroes.

Heroes as positive deviants?

Continue reading

New perspectives – psycho-social evidence for benefits of positive deviance

Jane Lewis and Dr Joanna Wilde ran a very successful workshop for the British Psychological Society in June.  This introduced positive deviance (PD) to a wider audience of accredited occupational and organisational psychologists.

We highlighted the benefits of working in this way at a time when workplaces can feel increasingly pressured and toxic.  True to the principles of positive deviance, it was an interactive session where participants worked on their own cases, mainly linked to staff (and volunteer) engagement, leadership and culture change.  Jane acted as the “expert non-expert” and Joanna commented on the links between our experience and current thinking and theory.  Her review helps to explain why positive deviance does work, and why it is particularly appropriate in the current climate. Continue reading

Sustainable results from hidden solutions

Not business as usual

I read Jane Bozarth’s excellent article on positive deviance (PD) in Learning Solutions Magazine with interest.  She succinctly highlights how PD uncovers hidden solutions and delivers sustainable results.  She points up the differences between PD and business as usual.  She sets out the usual scenario for solving problems:

“Organization has a problem.  Organization brings in “experts” to study the problem, devise a solution, run a pilot (which may mean a training program) and then leave.  Organisation members quickly revert back to old behaviors”.

Jane highlights the possibilities opened up by looking for what works.  A specific tool is the all-important “flip” or “somersault” question:

  • Not “why are staph infections so high across the hospital?” but “why are staph infections lower on the third floor?”
  • Not “why are sales down in regions 6 and 9, but “why are sales up in region 4?”

This helpful introduction highlights how simple the PD concept is, and how there are almost always hidden solutions.   On the face of it, it’s hard to understand why amplifying positive deviance, as practised by the Sternins, isn’t as common as many other improvement initiatives.  It’s about doing more with less, empowering and engaging people.  It spreads behaviours and practices that are already proven to be working, so the only resource needed is the time to find them.  It’s evidence based, teaches a lot about leadership and is fun to do.  What’s not to like? Continue reading