Bright Spots

I’ve been reading Switch by Chip and Dan Heath and so far I have really enjoyed it.  Chapter 2 explores a theory that they call “Bright Spots”.  While never using the term, this chapter (and much of the rest of the book I have read so far), gives us some great material on what could also be called Asset Based Community Development (ABCD).

Chip and Dan credit this “Bright Spots” practise to Save the Children workers Jerry and Monique Sternin who themselves called their practise “Positive Deviance“… so many names for similar principles all of which highlight the need to look WITHIN the communities own existing strengths for the means to overcome struggles.

Jerry and Monique worked for Save the Children in Vietnam in the 1990s and were given 6 months by the leaders of Vietnam to make significant inroads into malnutrition in children in the country. While a lot of work and research had already been done in this area, very little impact of this work could be seen on the ground.  By employing a Bright Spots/Positive Deviance/ABCD approach Jerry and Monique focused on small indicators of success (mother’s who, despite the statistics, were raising relatively healthy children) and then they empowered them to:
a) understand how they were succeeding (acknowledged and celebrated their assets)
b) to share their (both achievable and grass root) successes with others (empower community lead actions.)

Save the Children supported mothers of better nourished children to set up cooking mentor groups for those who were struggling.  For many it was as simple as adding a few scraps of shrimp and sweet-potato greens.  It was not rocket science and yet this community lead action achieved far more than any expert hailing; “gather ’round everyone. I have studied your problem and have the answer.”  (Locally this could be translated to the success of programs like Family by Family compared to more traditional expert-run parenting courses)

Jerry and Monique has unprecedented success in making headways into child malnutrition in Vietnam using this technique.  But the basic practise is transferable into any kind of community work.  It is very tempting to focus on barriers to change; economic barriers, social and cultural barriers, access barriers… barriers, barriers, barriers.  We go further, faster and with more longevity when we recognised that a community has within it the capacity, resilience, growth and life if we fertilise its assets rather than try to prune its deficits.

This practise (whatever we want to call it) requires us to believe that most people want to love better, healthy and more full lives.  This might sound obvious but sometimes its hard to believe when the going gets stuck and the scepticism sets in.

So my plan is to do two focus blogs soon. One on how we go about acknowledging and celebrating a community’s assets and the other about how we empower community lead action (keeping our hands off the wheel enough) and what sort of fruit we can hope to see out of these practises.

But I would love to hear your thoughts, questions and successes first.  Have you got a great success story of empowering the “bright spots” within your community?  Do you have questions about what this could mean for your community?  Let’s work this out together.

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