Do You Know a Positive Deviant?

Do You Know a Positive Deviant?

When a hospital system in Pittsburgh wanted to decrease the incidence of the horrible infection called MRSA, they used a method of community engagement called positive deviance. 

Finding the Solution
PDRather than transfer a best practice from a hospital system in – pick any U.S. city – or pay a consultant firm to come up with a top down approach, leaders sought the solution through an unorthodox path. They reasoned the solution was already there, somewhere in the hospital, hidden in plain sight. They trusted that someone, somewhere in the hospital served patients in such a way that her or his behavior resulted in no incidences of MRSA. 

They found not just one positive deviant, but several. There was the nurse who wasn’t afraid to tell even the most honored doctor to wash her hands. Another positive deviant was the surgical assistant who, unknown to anyone else, had a peculiar and wonderfully safe way to dispose of surgical gowns. 

Seeing Remarkable Outcomes
Applying these in-house solutions resulted in a remarkable decrease in MRSA. The process used was positive deviance, as developed by Jerry and Monique Sternin. Check out the Positive Deviance Initiative website. You will see remarkable outcomes from leaders who trusted that that their organizations already held the answers needed in the most dire of situations. 

Here’s my challenge to you: How might this positive change method be used in your congregation?  

If you're interested in more conversation, contact me at

What impossible challenge do you face in your congregation that might be well served by a little positive deviance?


Tim Shapiro