"You are saying that within virtually every group there are individuals whose behavior enables them to get better-than-average results and that these individuals have discovered pathways to success for the rest of the group. “That's contrary to a particularly potent and usually unquestioned assumption in the field of education - and perhaps in other fields as well – that the solution to problems must come from the outside because those on the inside either don't know enough to improve things or don't have the will to do the hard work of change.”The long lead-in is from a conversation published in 2004 between Dennis Sparks director of the US teachers' National Staff Development Council and the late Jerry Sternin, originator of "positive deviance," the antidote to authoritarian problem-solving.That year, Sternin and his wife Monique's work at Tufts University, Massachusetts, was being noticed for its usefulness in Vietnam in efforts by Save the Children and others to rescue the rural infant population from chronic malnutrition."Experts told us that malnutrition was caused by food distribution patterns, illiteracy, poor sanitation, the role of women in society, and so on," he told Sparks’s Journal of Staff Development. But it turned out that in the lives of the “positive deviants” in those communities, none of the cultural factors made much impact. They and their families were relatively well nourished because they went against the grain of local custom by allowing their children to eat seafood.The positive deviance view of the value of peripatetic scientific expertise (similar in some respects to the one inherent in “operating systems” such as Communities that Care) is that it should be an illuminating, facilitating force on the side of emergent properties. By investigating unusual success, it brings to the light what is already known locally but unrecognized. UNICEF, Peace Corps, USAID, and the World Bank among others, have used it in their attempts to escape the post-colonial dilemmas that still bedevil their work.Sternin told Sparks: "My experience in over 12 years of working with this particular approach and more than 30 years of experience in the development field is that improvement may occur when an external agent brings new resources and ideas to a community. But as soon as that external agent leaves, the problem returns because the recipients were essentially passive. This is why best-practices approaches usually fail."Such problems are all too familiar to prevention science, witness the increasingly complicated arguments about fidelity and Type 2 translational research.In the context of "positive deviance" projects, the paradoxes are similar: to empower a community and disable the authoritarian prejudices of the expert, you probably need … an expert trigger. Jerry Sternin died towards the end of last year just as his Tufts Positive Deviance Initiative was being funded well enough by the Ford Foundation to be able to extend its activity. One result of that posthumous expansion has been to bring positive deviance theory to the UK, where it is being trialled by Woodward Lewis, a consultancy working widely across the public service sector and specializing in team building.Their engagement with a community safety partnership in Gosport, Hampshire, which earned coverage in The Guardian, last week, is looking for the "positive deviants" among families whose innate good practice may provide some answer to the antisocial behavior problems of the wider populationIf they do it by the book, partner Jane Lewis’s team will determine - meaning identifying individuals in the community who already exhibit the desired behavior or status - and discover - learning the unique practices or behaviors that enable positive deviants to outperform or find better solutions to problems than others.