Working Paper
Explaining Positive Deviance in Public Sector Reforms in Development

Public sector reforms are commonplace in developing countries. Much of the literature about these reforms reflects on their failures. This paper asks about the successes and investigates which of two competing theories best explain why some reforms exhibit such positive deviance. These theories are called ‘solution- and leader-driven change’ and ‘problem-driven iterative adaptation’. They are used to analyse data emerging from a case survey involving thirty cases from Princeton University’s Innovations for Successful Society programme. The bulk of evidence from this study supports a problem-driven iterative adaptation explanation, but there is reason to believe that solution- and leader-driven change hypotheses also have value. It seems that problem-driven iterative adaptation and solution- and leader-driven change are two viable paths through which positive deviance can emerge; although problem-driven iterative adaptation seems to provide the wider path for more positive deviance.