Positive deviance as an approach investigates how some deviant behaviors produce valuable and desired behavioral change, and PD has become more widely disseminated within fields such as public health. Within prevention science, PD is used to inform program implementation by uncovering strategies used by client outliers to achieve desired outcomes. However, so far within social work PD remains an innovative approach that thus far is not well known.
This roundtable session will begin a dialogue about the potential for the PD approach within social work. Presenters will particularly focus on ways PD can be used to reduce racial and economic inequality. For example, two presenters will describe how they used PD to study exceptional police officers to understand what the best officers do to build relationships and handle race-related tensions in African-American communities. While there is increasing research about relationships between law enforcement and African-American communities, it typically focuses on failures in these relationshipslimiting our understanding of what works in communities. Thus, drawing on the PD approach, the presenters sought to discover practices used by positive deviants (i.e., police officers) who have succeeded in building positive relationships and effectively managing racial tensions, so that other police officers and departments can replicate their practices. A third presenter will discuss how the PD approach can be used in studying allostatic load, "the wear and tear on the body" that accumulates as an individual is exposed to repeated or chronic stress over time, noting how wear and tear is unequally distributed and is a special concern for racial minorities and people experiencing poverty. A fourth presenter will discuss how a PD approach can be used to develop and empower a racially diverse social service workforce drawn from positive-deviant former clients. Clients who are particularly engaging, active role models to other clients can be trained in implementing evidence-based peer interventions and then later evaluated to see how their engagement and affect holds up through training and implementation. Our goal is to stimulate conversation that will promote shared understanding of PD for social work to identify and extend emerging areas of scholarship and practice that reduce racial and economic inequality.
Herington, M. J., & van de Fliert, E. (2018). Positive deviance in theory and practice: A conceptual review. Deviant Behavior, 39(5), 664678. https://doi.org/10.1080/01639625.2017.1286194