Academic journal article Social Development Issues

Positive Deviance: Employing an Assets-Based Approach to Foster Community Agency and Reduce Chronic Malnutrition in Indigenous Guatemala

Academic journal article Social Development Issues

Positive Deviance: Employing an Assets-Based Approach to Foster Community Agency and Reduce Chronic Malnutrition in Indigenous Guatemala

Article excerpt

Development interventions can yield positive and negative results, as well as intended and unintended outcomes affecting community health and well-being. The normative needs-based approach to development assumes that expertise, introduced from outside a community, is necessary to determine what a community needs and how those needs can be met. In a needs-based approach, populations are assessed according to predetermined criteria identified as the basic requirements for human development, regardless of context. Thus, what is identified to be needed or missing in a given group is determined according to a value system and criteria of basic needs that is often external to the group assessed. Furthermore, by determining "what is missing or wrong," a process is set in motion that presumes that knowledge of wrong and right is solely the domain of the external expert, who holds the only solution and/or intervention to rectify what he or she determines to be wrong. Right and wrong, which normatively follow a modernist paradigm, also remain external to the values of many communities. Thus, the education and practice of the development expert is predicated on the belief that solutions to community development solely exist outside of the community.

In contrast, assets-based approaches assume that all communities possess strengths and assets that can be leveraged for the development of the entire community. In assets-based approaches to development, expertise is located within communities. Hence, communities can best decide for themselves the direction of their own development. This article problematizes the normative needs-based approach to community development and examines the value of an assets-based approach.

The Assets-Based Approach of Positive Deviance

An assets-based approach assesses the strengths and solutions that already lie within the community, employing the community's own value system. Positive deviance is an assets-based approach that can be particularly useful in development contexts. In a positive deviance approach, members of a group are distinguished according to who is thriving with respect to a given criterion for which other members are not thriving (Beggren & Wray, 2002). These positive-deviant group members are then observed in order to identify the specific actions or behaviors facilitating their positive-deviant status (Beggren & Wray, 2002). Once identified, positive deviants are then encouraged to disseminate their successful practices to the group (Beggren & Wray, 2002). Thereby, in a positive deviance approach the solution and expertise lies within the group, and the external expert is present to help identify and facilitate the process of disseminating internal solutions rather than directing the process with external solutions.

Therefore, rather than providing a means to "do" an intervention "to" a community, a positive deviance approach enables a community to do for itself. Community participation is then rendered an organic internal process rather than an imposed external process. Thus, external knowledge, technology, and resources are utilized to the extent that the community determines them as needed beyond their own identified assets. In this context, community participation may be more accurately depicted as a community working with an expert-facilitator who participates with the community on the community's own project, rather than the opposite.

The Context of Indigenous Guatemala

To illustrate the potential of assets-based approaches to community development (also known as assets-based community development, or ABCD), we examine the case example of intractable chronic malnutrition in indigenous Guatemala. After more than sixty years of nutritional interventions and marked research, indigenous Guatemalans still display the poorest values for chronic malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere and the third-highest chronic malnutrition rate (54.5 percent) in the world (UNICEF, 2009); 69. …

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