Diffusion of Evidence-based Interventions or Practice-based Positive Deviations
Scholars and practitioners of communication and social change are obsessed with more efficiently diffusing evidence-based innovations. While, there is value in doing so, it is important to recognise that evidence-based practice subscribes to the tenets of the classical diffusion of innovations paradigm—a reification of outside-in, expert-driven approaches to solving problems, and a tendency to overlook, marginalise, and reject local solutions. In this article, through a detailed case study analysis of a highly effective malnutrition project in Vietnam that employed the Positive Deviance (PD) approach, we argue that communication for development scholars should go beyond evidence-based practice to favour more practice-based evidence—that is, the enablement of communities to discover the wisdom they already have and then to act on it. PD is an assets-based approach that identifies the deviant and variant practices about what is going right in a community to amplify it, rather than focusing on what is going wrong in a community and fixing it from the outside. In the PD approach, internal change agents present social proof to their peers that complex problems can be solved without additional resources. Given the solutions are generated locally, and distilled through concrete action steps, they are more likely to be owned by potential adopters and be sustained.