By using the help and experience of survivors of domestic abuse Cambridgeshire council has created a lasting shift in community behaviour

Here in Cambridgeshire, we have been using an innovative approach to behaviour change that has achieved a remarkable turnaround in attitudes within the council, the police, and the community towards survivors of domestic violence.

We have done this through a Home Office-funded programme testing a method called "positive deviance" as a tool to support policy on violence against women and girls, and to stimulate community action. Positive deviance works by engaging those not normally involved in community activism, using people who have successfully overcome problems.Inspired by the opportunity to try something new with our partner, we set up two community groups, one in an urban area and one in a rural area.

Positive deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are a few individuals or groups who use new and more efficient ways of tackling difficult issues. We recruited community members who set out to discover how these people had succeeded, in order to develop new ways of combating problems.

The benefits of using this community-led approach were evident from the outset. In total, about 24 survivors of domestic abuse and interested community members responded, showing overwhelming enthusiasm. All were keen to give something back and share their experiences. The process "devictimised" the participants; they were treated as people with hopes and possibilities, and encouraged and challenged. This is one of the greatest achievements of positive deviance.

Relationships in Cambridgeshire developed as local, non-professional team members took on responsibility and started delivering results. They started to see themselves as part of an informal group, not a formal organisation and strong bonds were developed. Group members learned skills such as data collection, interviewing and listening. For the first time commitments were kept and actions followed through by volunteers.

The volunteers worked together to help each other move forward as strong, confident individuals. One said: "I am a different and better person". The groups found better and more creative ways of reaching out to those in abusive relationships, using language and angles not usually found in communications from professional agencies – early results in the rural area enabled contact with 92 potential victims.

It is incredibly powerful to watch a community come together and solve the problems entrenched in their lives that have been affecting them for years. It creates a real and lasting shift in community behaviour.

The Cambridgeshire team enjoyed working with Woodward Lewis, the main UK practitioners of this technique, and we have been impressed by the results achieved by this method. The group in the south of the county is now creating awareness material that differs from the norm, allowing those affected to really identify with it. It is working alongside the police to identify how to get closer to the problem.
The group in the north has also taken on its own life and has formalised its group, employing someone to administer it there. It has become self-sustaining and the lasting positive change is apparent.

Moving forward, Cambridgeshire is looking to work with its key partners on broadening the use of this method. It is essential to widen the discussion to ensure all contributing factors to domestic abuse are gaining the benefits of positive deviance

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/public-leaders-network/blog/2012/mar/29/positive-deviance-tackle-domestic-violence



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