Sun | Sep 19, 2021

USAID introduces positive deviance in Jamaica

Published:Tuesday | September 14, 2021 | 12:08 AM

THE UNITED States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Positive Pathways Activity, hosted for the first time two information sessions on positive deviance and its applicability to the Jamaican context, delivered by internationally renowned expert Dr Arvind Singhal.

The sessions were conducted virtually on August 27 and September 1.

According to Dr Singhal, positive deviance is an approach that recognises individuals who have managed to find better solutions to their problems, as opposed to their peers who face the same or similar challenges. “There exist in every community, ordinary people who have found extraordinary solutions to existing problems – against all odds,” he said. These uncommon behaviours and strategies are then promoted among others in the community, in the hope that they will be adopted and result in the transformation of lives for the better.

The positive deviance approach to behavioural change has been successful in over 41 countries in areas such as public health, education, and business. The USAID intends to utilise this approach in its work with youth and parents to prevent youth involvement in crime and violence. The question being asked in these sessions is, how can the positive deviance approach be used to prevent youth violence in Jamaica?

Over 100 persons participated in the sessions. Participants described the positive deviance approach as “amazing”, “an awesome concept” and “a hopeful approach”.

Yvette Boucher Gardner of St James Probation Office said “[positive deviance] can definitely work in the Jamaican context. Especially in communities which are war-torn; we can go in using the community members to find out what families are doing to keep their children out of crime and explore and do those practices”.

Participants also remarked that the presentation has changed the way they view their work and strategies towards preventing community violence. Charlene Coore Desai of UNICEF said, “I love the idea of looking at data differently. As a researcher for many years, it strikes me that too often we have been asking questions in the same way, and these types of questions lead to the same type of analyses and conclusions. I really want to explore how we can ask different types of questions and come up with different types of solutions.”

Heidi Clarke of the Sandals Foundation added, “It has shifted my thinking to look at what is working versus what is not. Looking at what is uncommon and doable. I now want to take this and look at our projects and programmes that are youth-related to address what we have been focusing on and what we should be focusing on. I hope the conversation will keep going and that we can have more exposure to positive deviance.”

Paul Teeple, chief of party for the Positive Pathways Activity, believes that this approach provides an avenue for learning from Jamaicans and sharing their lessons with others to prevent and reduce violence. “We want to harness the energy generated from these discussions to involve a diverse set of stakeholders, to listen, learn and share any knowledge we uncover through this process. This will include finding a Jamaican institution to lead this discovery process, hosting an ongoing online positive deviance forum, and supporting capacity building throughout,” he said.