Author copy: The promise of positive deviants: bridging divides between scientific research and local practices in smallholder agriculture

Abstract: Positive deviants challenge existing organizational structures and institutional set-ups, and promote alternative approaches to solve seemingly intractable social problems, either playing direct role of a boundary spanner or indirect role as activists. However, these roles of positive deviants have not yet been recognized to its potential in international development because the legacy of deviancy theory lies on negative deviants, such as addicts and criminals. This paper investigates the promise of positive deviants to bridging scientific research and local practices using empirical evidence from community-based participatory research of rice, a crucial subsistence crop in the Chitwan district of Nepal. Non-profit private and public stakeholders worked as boundary spanners, specifically to initiate stakeholder interaction with non-traditional partners, in spite of the lack of enabling environments to do so. Similarly, one of the members of a farmers’ group developed a rice variety from a handful of seeds taken from a scientific experimental plot, initially without the knowledge of participating scientists. This research suggests that positive deviants have ingenuity to innovate, deviating from norms particularly when social and organizational environments limit stakeholder interaction for learning and innovation. This paper concludes that the collective intelligence of positive deviants can sustain or even stimulate innovation permitting people to survive, experiment new ways of doing things and even improve their living conditions under adverse social, political and agro-ecological circumstances.

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