Speaking in Freddish: Inspiration from Mr. Rogers

We at TMI were deeply inspired by “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” the documentary about the work of Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers, as he was known in his public television show, dedicated his career to communicating with young children. According to the book, “The Good Neighbor: the Life and Work of Fred Rogers,” Mr. Rogers developed a rigorous system for editing his scripts to make sure his words would reach children in the spirit they were intended. We were touched by his process, which reminded us of the care we take in crafting Positive Community Norms messages in a way that does not stigmatize, cause harm, or promote misperceptions. We hope you enjoy this excerpt:

There were nine steps to Freddish translation.

First, state the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand. Example: “It is dangerous to play in the street.”

Second, rephrase in a positive manner, as in “It is good to play where it is safe.”

Third, rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust. As in, “Ask you parents where it is safe to play.”

Fourth, rephrase your ideas to eliminate all elements could be considered prescriptive, directive or instructive. (i.e., “ask): Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.”

Fifth, rephrase any element that suggests certainty. (i.e., “will”) “Your parents CAN tell you where it is safe to play.”

Sixth, rephrase your ideas to eliminate any element that may not apply to All children (as in, having PARENTS): “Your favorite GROWN-UPS can tell you where it is safe to play.”

Seventh, add a simple motivational ideas that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice: “Your favorite GROWN-UPS can tell you where it is SAFE to play. It is good to listen to them.”

Eighth, rephrase your new statement, repeating step one (i.e., GOOD as a personal value judgement): “Your favorite GROWN-UPS can tell you where it is SAFE to play. It is important to try to listen to them.”

Ninth, rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand (i.e., growing): “Your favorite GROWN-UPS can tell you where it is SAFE to play. It is important to try to listen to them. And listening is an important part of growing up.”

For those of us who grew up watching Mr. Rogers, we would never have guessed the work that he put in to making sure his words were kind, comforting, and useful.

ACES and HOPE: A conversation with Dr. Robert Sege

Amanda Decker, host of the Organizing for Change Podcast, sat down with our friend and colleague Dr. Robert Sege to talk about the importance of balancing ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) with HOPE (Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences). Those of you who have come to the Montana Summer Institute during the past few years have had the pleasure of hearing Bob speak about our HOPE work and the amazing ways in which positive experiences impact the brain. Listen to this podcast to hear more of his insights about this important topic. For more information, you can download the HOPE report on the resources page of our website.

Follow the links below to listen to Bob and Amanda’s conversation, and subscribe to the podcast to hear more great insights from people who are changing their communities and the world. 

Listen on iTunes
Listen on Stitcher


OK, Google: Tell me something good


Sometimes it seems that all news is bad news. But while there are lots of difficult, challenging, and even scary things happening in the world right now, they are not the whole story. In the Science of the Positive, we always balance CONCERN with HOPE. The news media, unfortunately, does not do the same. During my three decades of health promotion work, I have learned that no problem, big or small, can be tackled without the energizing power of HOPE. Without it, we can be tempted to throw up our hands, walk away, and give up on a lost cause.

 The folks at Google have cleverly named this the “hope gap,” and they are taking steps to close it using Google Assistant. Just ask your Android phone to tell you something good, and it will reply with a story of positive change happening in the world right now. You can read more about it here, but in the meantime, reflect on what you can do to close “hope gaps” in your neck of the woods.

Spotlight: Organizing for Change Podcast


Amanda Decker works in Avon, Massachusetts, building partnerships to reduce youth substance abuse and promote positive, healthy decisions by young people. She is also the host of her own podcast, Organizing for Change, which shines a spotlight on individuals who are making a difference in their communities. Amanda attended our Summer Institute and came away inspired to feature a leader who works with the Science of the Positive and Positive Community Norms. So she reached out to Nick Adams, a community coordinator and positive change leader who works on our statewide underage drinking project in Minnesota. Nick does an amazing job of explaining the complex, important ways we can improve health and reduce harm using Positive Community Norms. 

Follow the links below to listen to their conversation, and subscribe to the podcast to hear more great insights from people who are changing their communities and the world. 

Listen on iTunes
Listen on Stitcher

Guest Post: PCN, Cultural Resource Management and Archaeology

 Map drawn by Samuel de Champlain of Plymouth Harbor in 1605 showing native habitations (PD-US)

Map drawn by Samuel de Champlain of Plymouth Harbor in 1605 showing native habitations (PD-US)

by Jon Patton, Archaeologist

In the fall of 2017, I attended a two-day Science of the Positive Leadership Institute in Easton, Massachusetts. After hearing Dr. Jeff Linkenbach explore the Science of the Positive Framework -- including the Spirit, Science, Action Return model, the role of misperceptions, and the importance of integrating Hope and Concern -- these concepts have become a permanent part my professional tool kit. This may seem seem like a no-brainer for individuals working in public health and safety, but I am an archaeologist.

I now regularly apply the Science of the Positive in the “non-traditional” settings of archaeology, cultural resource management and environmental review and compliance. Even though I am primarily concerned with the material culture of past peoples, I work with living descendant communities and many other individuals, groups and communities. These folks have varying perspectives and perceptions on what the past is, and what interpretations of history and materials culture should be in the present.

The Science of the Positive is about individuals and their communities effecting positive change. Bringing the Science of the Positive framework to the often adversarial realm of construction management, engineering and environmental permitting has allowed me to re-frame my approach to protecting and preserving the cultural resources of Massachusetts. 

I now find myself intentionally using Hope and Concern in day-to-day personal interactions, especially during difficult conversations and meetings. I try to start from a positive place, grounded in shared goals or values, and then spend time unpacking any (mis)perceptions that might be getting in the way. 

The Science of the Positive Cycle of Transformation (Spirit, Science, Action, and Return) is critical to explaining my work. As an archaeologist, I am a social scientist who works primarily with Native American tribal nations and various local, state and federal historic preservation communities in New England and Massachusetts. The goal of cultural resource management and archaeology is to balance cultural resource preservation and protection with modern development. When science comes before spirit, as often happens in construction and engineering, it can result in a negative space where spirit and shared intentions are marginalized. Putting spirit first can help build common ground and understanding in challenging situations that may require compromise. Polarization of the spirit/science distinction sometimes becomes an impediment to the true purpose of the work. The positive spirit must come first and be acknowledged before science can take the lead.

I plan to implement the Seven Core Principles in a more structured way going forward, and to continue to apply the Science of the Positive in new places and spaces in archaeology and environmental planning.


Guest Post: The Stoughton Conversations Project -- Discussions That Matter

Stoughton Header.jpg

by Stephanie Patton, MPH, Prevention Coordinator, OASIS Coalition

In October 2017, the town of  Stoughton, Massachusetts hosted Dr. Jeff Linkenbach for a 2-day Science of the Positive Leadership Institute for 35 local leaders from the government and non-profit worlds. Together we explored the balance between Hope with Concern, the differences between Change and Transformation, and the Transformational Cycle of  Spirit, Science, Action and Return. Our group was one of the first to take the Science of the Positive Transformational Leadership Assessment, and we dove into spirited conversations about our leadership strengths and challenges as we build Stoughton into a healther, stronger community. Participants "graduated" from this Institute with renewed energy, new connections and ideas, and a commitment to continue to work together using the Science of the Positive.

And thus the Stoughton Conversations Project was born! We decided to create regular opportunities for town employees, members of local boards & commissions, and passionate community members to come together and discuss topics of local importance using the Science of the Positive Framework as a guide. Hosted by the OASIS Coalition, the topics are developed by the group and the discussions structured around the Spirit, Science, Action, Return Cycle. We start each meeting by sharing a part of Dr. Linkenbach's Science of the Positive Framework; this serves as a review for those who attended the leadership institute and as an introduction to the framework for new participants.

Through these conversations, the OASIS Coalition hopes to build strong community leaders who are able to have productive, difficult discussions. Leaders -- and conversations -- like these are necessary to create a community in which youth and families feel more connected. These conversations also support some of our other goals, including fostering and strengthening community connections, developing local leaders' ability to hear and steer conversations, and supporting the development of personal leadership styles.

Our first Stoughton Conversation was held on November 8, 2017 at the Stoughton Youth Commission. Thirty-one individuals attended. The topic for our first discussion was Hopes and Concerns about the role of social media in Stoughton -- a response to a series of local issues that had "blown up" on Facebook. The conversations were rich and varied. Participants talked about their hopes and concerns, misperceptions that are fueled by Facebook and, finally, how they can hear and steer conversations that unfold on social media.  We’ve since hosted conversation on  "Moving Forward After Community Conflict" and "Stoughton Ideas and Innovations". We believe that these conversations will help our coalition meet our goals and foster community change.  We are grateful to our ongoing work with Dr. Linkenbach to support the development of positive leaders who will grow and support a culture of health in our community.



Guest Post: Creating Communities that Balance Hope and Concern

Blue globe.jpg

Dr. Barbara J. Green is a psychologist, clinical researcher, and community prevention educator. She serves as the Medical Director of the Youth Health Connection program at the South Shore Health System in Weymouth, Massachusetts.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Green last month at a two-day Science of the Positive Institute in Easton, Mass. Dr. Green was inspired to write about some of what she learned at the event for the Youth Health Connection newsletter, and was generous enough to let me share her thoughts here. Enjoy! 

Science of the Positive: Creating Communities that balance Hope and Concern

by Barbara J Green PhD | Nov 2, 2017

Dr. Jeff Linkenbach, Director and Chief Research Scientist at the Montana Institute and author, has developed a theoretical systemic approach to assisting communities to positively harness their focus, effort, attention, energy and initiatives. The end goal is to reduce risk and increase protective factors that are environmentally based and sustainable community by community. Dr. Linkenbach has created a cyclical perspective of change: Spirit, Science, Action and Return. At the core is the understanding that Positive guides us, and and that it is concrete and distinct, that it can dramatically impact community culture and behavior. Fundamental to the process is inspired, passionate leadership that is ready to challenge core assumptions, and to steadily lead the community to move forward in a transformative way.

He begins with a thorough science based foundation which includes the importance of need to have the courage to challenge, to value data and assessments as essential to having a place from which change gets shaped. By changing perceptions, language, messages we can enable communities to have more robust and lasting positive outcomes. Key to this process is the balance between hope and concern. If we engage our communities with messages of hope, while not denying concern, we create momentum for communities to trust that the solutions are within the community and its people. By focusing on positive community norms we allow for pathways that cultivate cultural transformation. We know that fear and negative can actually cause a retreat in community engagement, the opposite of our goal.

To quote Dr. Linkenbach, “ It is time to move beyond health terrorism. If we want health, we must promote health”.

We must help communities write stories that communicate positive messages, that include hope, without excluding concern. Insuring correct perceptions are clearly communicated helps increase willingness to develop healthier, safer behaviors.

Stay tuned for more information on Dr. Linkenbach and his ground breaking work. The combination of science, spirit and positive are incredibly powerful.

I often speak of the goal of “Cultural Sea Change”. Dr. Linkenbach has defined a systemic process for moving toward that goal.

You can read more of Dr. Green's writing on her website




Balancing Concern and HOPE: Applying the Science of the Positive to Help Children Thrive

For years, researchers have been discussing the negative health outcomes correlated with ACEs -- Adverse Childhood Experiences. The ACEs study opened up a whole new way to look at the long-term impacts of childhood challenges. However, the Science of the Positive directs us to look for the hope that always exists alongside risk, danger, and concern. I am pleased to announce the release of a report on the evidence for HOPE (Health Outcomes of Positive Experience); HOPE may be the most significant application of the Science of the Positive in research and action to date. The goal of HOPE is to measure how positive experiences might correlate with strengths, protections, resilience and health. The data in the just-released report – including data collected by The Montana Institute on behalf of Prevent Child Abuse America – reinforce the need to promote positive experiences for children and families that foster healthy childhood development. Put in the context of the Science of the Positive Cycle of Transformation, these data:

  1. Establish a spirit of hope and optimism that balances the concern of ACEs;
  2. Demonstrate, through science, the powerful contribution of positive relationships and experiences to the development of healthy children and adults;
  3. Describe actions related to social norms regarding positive parenting practices;.
  4. Reflect upon the positive returns we as a society can expect to see if we support positive childhood environments.

HOPE is a terrific example of how the Science of the Positive can be applied to research and policy planning – and I look forward to sharing the next steps in its development with all of you. You can read the entire article online or join us at the Montana Summer Institute where my friend, fellow scientist, and lead author Dr. Bob Sege will present on this important work. 

 The H.O.P.E. Logic Model

The H.O.P.E. Logic Model

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

 We road ahead leads to continued success with a new cohort of Minnesota communities. 

We road ahead leads to continued success with a new cohort of Minnesota communities. 

This is the view from my temporary office. This week I kicked off a 21-day tour of the ten new Minnesota communities that have joined the statewide effort to reduce underage drinking using the Science of the Positive and Positive Community Norms. Together with Phyllis Bengtson and Al Frederickson of the Minnesota Department of Human Services – Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division, we are meeting with coalition members, educators, law enforcement officers, and community movers and shakers who want to learn more about this effort and how to become a part of it. This is truly one of my favorite parts of this work: introducing people to a new spirit and science of prevention, and watching in awe as they dive in and take action to transform their communities for the better.  

Four Ways to Use "Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope" in Your Life and Work

A guest post by Lilly Irvin-Vitela

…For Personal and Professional Discovery

I first read Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope: Seven Principles of Inspiration for the Courageous Leader in 2012, when Jeff Linkenbach and his team came to Wisconsin to hold an Institute on the Science of the Positive by Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Trust Fund. During the event, participants were given an opportunity to dive into the book, reflect, and discuss the Seven Core Principles of the Science of the Positive.

At the time, I was involved in efforts to improve the quality of early care and education. The truth and positivity I found in Dr. Linkenbach’s book was a dose of medicine to my spirit. People I worked with closely were suffering from the fear, negativity, and mistrust that can accompany change that comes by way of legislative mandate.  I knew I needed to share Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope with them, too. 

Since then, I’ve been weaving the book into my work building community and supporting leaders.  Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope has become a staple in staff meetings, the foundation for a book club, a driver for values-centered strategic planning, a core feature of leadership development efforts, and a go-to gift for social-justice leaders who are dealing with challenges and need a boost.

…As a Staff Meeting Staple

When I was the Executive Director of a statewide early childhood organization in Wisconsin, I started the practice of opening each all-staff meeting with Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope. I chose a different principle as the focal point for each meeting.

Each staff member was given their own copy of the (very affordable) book. They were encouraged to read the chapter on the selected principle beforehand and to respond to the prompts at the end of each chapter. We even included reminders on agendas.

Aware that the staff was working at – and sometimes beyond – capacity, we made it clear that it was okay to read it the chapter with the staff during the meeting and jot down responses then. There was no wrong way to participate. Staff shared their favorite quotes and described why particular statements resonated with them. We then reflected on how each principle related to our individual and collective work, and how these principles were showing up in our efforts to achieve our mission.

When I decided that I was ready to leave the organization, the book became a touchstone during six months of transition planning.  I believe the process was greatly improved because we were so intentionally connecting around shared values. Seeds of Fire created space for us to intentionally connect around shared values and choose a positive approach during a time of significant change.

…As the Focus of a Book Club

Later, while I served as the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Head Start Association, members expressed interest in staying connected, learning together, and supporting each other outside of our regular meetings. They were hungry for more frequent opportunities to connect in meaningful ways about shared work. We decided to start a statewide book club, and the first book we chose was Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope. It’s honest, strength-based approach and readability made it a great fit for local leaders who were working hard to deliver family and child development services to vulnerable families. Parents, staff, and directors from Head Start and Early Head Start agencies took part. Participants routinely commented about how valuable they found the book and the conversations it started. Many regularly reminded each other of the lessons they learned from the book in their daily work outside of book club. One person even asked if I could share the Seven Core Principles with their entire staff during a difficult time when funding and service delivery were in question. Knowing from my own experiences how powerful the messages in Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope are during challenging times, I readily volunteered to share the principles in strategic conversations with the staff in the besieged organization. I received overwhelmingly positive about the value of focusing on the positive during hard times.

…As a Leadership Development Tool

I had the pleasure of being the lead trainer and co-mentor for two years for an intensive year-long leadership and community development program. Parent leaders were recruited from diverse local early childhood organizations to build their leadership skills and work on a local community development effort of their choosing. Each leadership institute I organized included time to dive into Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope. Parent leaders engaged in powerful personal and professional leadership work as we reflected together on the Seven Core Principles. There was laughter, tears, and even prayers during our powerful conversations about how to be ethical, impactful leaders. Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope became an invitation for each of us to be the best version of ourselves at our leadership institutes, within our own families, and during our community work.

…As a gift that Inspires

Seeds of Fire, Roots of Hope sparks meaningful conversations about the hard and joyful work of transforming communities and ourselves – and can be the catalyst for inspired action. I always have a few extra copies on hand to give to other social justice leaders working when they are feeling stuck or down. It taught me to think differently about the challenges I face in my work, and I know it can do the same for you.

Lilly Irvin-Vitela was born and raised in New Mexico and is the owner and principal consultant at Common Worth, LLC.  Her work gives her the honor and joy of working with people who are committed to accomplishing social justice goals in a relationship-based way.

PCN: Youth Alcohol Prevention That Works

This just in! The Minnesota Department of Human Services has released a report on its 10 year implementation of the Positive Community Norms Framework in 25 school districts around the state. Their conclusion? The title says it all: Youth Alcohol Prevention That Works.

Between 2004 to 2013, in the first cohort of schools, 9th grade aclohol use in the previous 30 days went from 28.6 percent above the state average to 4.8 percent below average.
— Youth Alcohol Prevention That Works

The data shows that the "Positive Community Norms framework, combined with the larget prevention planning and implementation grant programs and community engagement, is making a real, positive impact in the rates of alcohol use." 

From 2010 to 2016, in what was the second group of grantee school districts, the percentage of both middle school and high school students who had ever used alcohol went down significantly.
— Youth Alcohol Prevention That Works

Kudos to the foresight and passion of the leaders at the Minnesota Department of Human Services Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division, and to the incredible work of community coordinators, teachers, and parents around the state who championed this powerful, positive approach. Read the full report here

81 Reasons Why Teens Choose NOT to Drink Alcohol

 Posters from Deer River's "reasons why" campaign.

Posters from Deer River's "reasons why" campaign.

Today’s post comes from friend, colleague, and Positive Community Norms expert Heather Schjenken in Deer River, Minnesota: “Teens today have many reasons why they choose not to drink alcohol. Our youth group decided to highlight them with a “Reasons Why” campaign. The group came up with 81 reasons why they choose not to drink – and shared them with the entire school. What a wonderful way to celebrate positive youth voices!"

The CDC Promotes Positive Norms for Violence Reduction

Ten years ago the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) first invited me to present on The Science of the Positive process and the Positive Community Norms (PCN) framework.  Since then, I have had the honor of serving the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention as a think-tank member, trainer, author, and consultant supporting their emerging work with social norms.  Our aim has been to expand use of the normative strategies to reduce violence and prevent child abuse. 

The CDC’s new resource on social norms and violence prevention builds on this momentum and promotes norms change as a key strategy for cultivating healthier, safer communities. Here at The Montana Institute we are currently working on projects related to child abuse prevention and the reduction of sexual assault and dating violence on college campuses, and will continue to innovate ways of using the PCN Framework and the PCN Communications Strategy to prevent violence and reduce harm. 

What (Fish) Schools Can Teach Us About Safe Driving

 CREATIVE COMMONS: NOAA Photo Library by Dr. Dwayne Meadows

CREATIVE COMMONS: NOAA Photo Library by Dr. Dwayne Meadows

The children’s riddle, “Why are fish so smart?  Because they swim in schools!” may prove true for improving driving safety.

We have been applying the Science of the Positive to impact traffic safety culture and norms for over two decades. Now, in addition to focusing on reducing impaired driving, increasing seatbelt use, and engaging bystanders to intervene – maybe we need to go fishing!

According to TechCrunch, "Honda is looking to nature to improve the safety of driving, using bio-mimicry of the behavior of a school of fish to inform a new technical concept it’s unveiling at CES called Safe Swarm....Safe Swarm essentially means that cues picked up by one vehicle equipped with connective communication tech can pass along information to others in proximity, far before a driver would be aware of anything. Cars can shuttle their collected knowledge down the line, propagating info about a pile-up potentially miles ahead in near real-time to help make it easier for human drivers to take action to avoid problems before they happen."

This fascinating new technology may require us to rewrite one of the touchstones of the Science of the Positive to say, "The Solutions are in the Community...of Fish!" 

Read more at techcrunch.com



Reflecting on the Past to Prepare for the Future

Reflection is one of the key skills and habits of a transformational leader.  The Transformational Cycle of the Science of the Positive tells us to focus on Spirit first, followed by Science, then Action, and, finally, on the Returns we have achieved. Before you start planning resolutions and the Spirit with which you want to start the New Year, you might benefit by spending some time reflecting on the Returns of the past year. Below are some reflections based on the Seven Core Principles to help you look back before you plan ahead.

Be Positive
We have a choice in how we reflect on our past – and we can choose to be positive. When we reflect on the past with a positive outlook, we grow, learn, and gain energy for the future. “Failures” are simply experiments with outcomes we did not expect. Try to think back over the past year with a positive spirit. Are there positive lessons to be learned from even your most negative experiences?

Be Present
The lessons of our past can become meaningful in the present. We do not want relive the past, but to look at it from the distance of where we are today. By staying present and mindful, we can separate ourselves from our past and see more objectively. Think back over the past year. Did you spend time looking backward or rushing ahead? How can you spend more time in the present moment?

Be Perceptive
If can be helpful to examine our past with the scrutiny of an objective investigator. We could choose ask the questions we have not asked -- or are afraid to. There is much we can learn from our experiences, if we choose to look. What wisdom have you gained over the past year that could be helpful in the future?

Be Purposeful
The purpose of reflection is to learn for present and future action. Reflection can help us refine our purpose, and work towards it with renewed determination. If we start from a place of compassion, we can use reflection to understand and grow. What happens when you think about your past year with an attitude of compassion? How can you use these insights to refine your purpose for next year?

Be Perfected
We reflect on our past with a sense of humility to become more effective in serving others, our families, and our friends. Although we will never reach perfection, we can always learn from what we’ve done in the past, and let us guide us in the future. Keeping that same attitude of compassion, ask yourself where you could have devoted more energy to being perfected over the last year. In what areas did you improve?

Be Proactive
Reflection is proactive work that takes time and energy, but it is worth the investment. It is through this proactive allocation of our most precious resources (focus, time, and energy) that we can learn and grow. Did you take time for reflection over the past year? How could you be more proactive about building time for reflection into your life?

Be Passionate
Living from our deepest passions can help us cherish our successes and laugh at our mistakes. If we celebrate the goodness that we experience, this energy can sustain us. We must dare to be inspired by growth. What passions sustained you over the past year? What passions have you lost connection with that you could rekindle?  

The Power of a Strength-Based Change Model


Scare tactics, arguably one of the most popular and widely-utilized approaches in prevention history, have been employed for decades to raise awareness about dangerous activities. This strategy ignores the fact that healthy, protective choices are most often the norm. 

As a society, it is like we have cultural cataracts: our vision has been distorted by the media’s “if it bleeds, it leads” focus on the problems and harm caused by the behavior of a small percentage of people (Linkenbach, 2001). Our media obsessively focuses on problems, risk, and danger, fueling ever more exaggerated perceptions of their prevalence. Ironically, this strategy can create the opposite result from the one we seek.  A negative focus creates feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness, emotions that are unlikely to ever create positive change.

It is time to move beyond Health Terrorism. If we want health, we must promote health.
— Dr. Jeff Linkenbach

Fear-based messages are designed to “scare the health” into people by emphasizing the terrible things that might happen (such as death or overdose) if they do not do what the message recommends (such as abstain from drugs and alcohol). The assumption behind fear-based approaches is that awareness of the negative consequences of our actions will result in positive behavior change. Awareness of problems and their risks is critical, but research shows that awareness alone is insufficient to create lasting transformation.

Our work has proven that inflating people’s fears can actually create a backlash against the goal of health promotion by supporting and exaggerating misperceptions of negative community norms (Linkenbach, 2001).  Using fear to motivate people to action can cause just the reverse: people can become paralyzed by a lack of hope. On an individual level, lack of hope can lead to diminished energy, loss of commitment, and overall poor performance. At the organizational or community level, a lack of hope can lead to despair and reduced engagement.  

Fear-based approaches can also foster stigmas that divide the community into different groups. Negative behaviors (or negative health outcomes) are strongly linked to the people portrayed as the wrongdoers. We then begin to view these people as dangerous or bad. This stigmatization leads to poor communication, shaming, and a breakdown of community. Fear-based approaches are also hard to maintain. In order to engage our audience, we must create messages that stand out against the onslaught of media messages we receive each day. At a certain point, negative messages get tuned out because they are too, well, negative! We have seen campaigns that were so graphic that people rejected the messages by literally changing the channel. A core assumption of the Science of the Positive is that the solutions are in the community -- that in every community there is positive, undeniable good that we can discover and amplify. By searching for health -- as opposed to its opposite -- we increase this positive energy and direct it towards that which we want to grow.  

It has been demonstrated that messages that portray health as the normative, expected behavior result in increased health protections and lowered risk (Perkins, Haines & Rice, 2005). Using The Science of the Positive as its guide, Positive Community Norms focuses on the positive, healthy normative attitudes and behaviors we want to grow, transforming our messaging from one of fear to one of hope. There are examples of health and goodness in every community, if we take the time to look for them. We may have to ask different questions and measure healthy behaviors in new ways to uncover these strengths, but they are always there. 

Join Our Remote Training Course!

We have some great training opportunities coming up in the new year. Our next Positive Community Norms Online Implementation Course starts in January -- a fantastic way to get a project up and running with long term support and coaching. And it is never too early to register for the Montana Summer Institute. Bring your family, and plan for intense learning and incredible fun in Big Sky this July!

For Effective Meetings, Put SPIRIT First on the Agenda

SPIRIT First!  Then SCIENCE, to drive ACTION for the best RETURN.  When leaders use the Spirit-Science-Action-Return Cycle of the Science of the Positive to organize agendas, they create meetings with a natural organizational flow that encourages engagement, fosters collaboration, and maximizes effectiveness.

 The Science of the Positive Cycle of Transformation

The Science of the Positive Cycle of Transformation


Most meeting agendas only contain Science and Action items; that is, they focus only on what needs to get done and who is going to do it. Organizing meetings with the Spirit-Science-Action-Return Cycle creates opportunities for leaders to begin by aligning the group around a common goal and to close with meaningful discussion and reflection that builds energy and purpose for next steps.

Remember that order matters in the Science of the Positive Cycle of Transformation: SPIRIT – SCIENCE – ACTION – RETURN. 

SPIRIT elements should be introduced first to establish the why behind meeting. Leaders model the tone that they want to set for the meeting, such as: being engaged, being willing to work across organizations and systems, being energized by the work and positive about its potential outcomes. Spirit agenda items include:

  • Introductions
  • Ice-breaker discussions or activities
  • Goal or mission statement sharing or development
  • Articulating shared purpose of meeting
  • Current events in the community that are concerning or hopeful
  • Discussing the 7 Core Principles for your group or organization

SCIENCE elements come next. These focus on what we know and what we need to find out. Science agenda items include:

  • New information or data from the field
  • Information, brainstorming, and idea gathering from the group
  • Identifying information gaps and needs
  • Research reports or findings
  • Evaluation reporting

Necessary ACTION elements become clearer after spirit and science are established. Action items cover what we are doing and what we are planning. It is where we make sure we are being effective (as opposed to just busy) by implementing best practices or evidence-based actions. Action agenda items include:

  • Committee reports and task assignments
  • Communication, program, or other planning work
  • Strategic planning
  • Items in need of approval
  • Training opportunities

RETURN allows the group time to reflect and evaluate, focusing on questions such as what have we accomplished and how did we do?  Leaders will take time towards the end of the meeting to share a common laugh (as intentional team building), a story, or to reflect on what energized the group most, and how this energy could be harnessed going forward. Return agenda items include:

  • Structured reflection activity
  • Feedback from clients, others in the field, the media or the community at large
  • Report on accomplishments since previous meeting
  • Setting agenda items for next meeting
  • Scheduling upcoming meeting dates

The words spirit, science, action, and return do not, of course, have to appear in the agenda itself but may serve in the background as a structural framework that maximizes engagement and effectiveness. Give it a try, and leave a comment below to let us know how it works for you. 


PCN Reflections from a High School Principal


Today's post comes to us from Tim Schellhammer, the Principal of Sibley East Senior High School in Arlington, Minnesota. He started at East Sibley when the school was halfway through a five-year Positive Community Norms project focused on reducing underage alcohol use. Below, he shares his reflections on the transformation that occurred in his community through the PCN process.

There is nothing like coalition work.  It is exhausting, frustrating, rewarding, and effective.  It forges bonds and changes communities. The culture of our community has transformed over the past few years – as have I.

I remember driving to my interview at Sibley East Senior High School and passing billboards that said, “3 out of 4 students do not use alcohol in a typical month.”  My initial response was: “What are they doing about the 25% of students who do use alcohol?”  Little did I know that the billboard itself was the answer to my question. In the Positive Community Norms process, accurate information is used to correct people’s misperceptions, their corrected perceptions influence their decision-making, and the result is increased positive attitudes and behaviors in our communities.

I field questions about the campaign quite often in my role as senior high principal.  I hear conversations about how “this is the way it has always been” and “we did it when we were kids.”  The best part about PCN, Science of the Positive, and the professional development I’ve received in just two years is I can fearlessly engage in these conversations, knowing there are so many talking points to share.  Not to fiercely debate and defeat someone else in a drawn-out argument, but to engage them with some really compelling information. 

I ask them, “Do you realize how many students choose not to do this?  Do you realize how many households choose not to allow this?  Do you realize how less likely you are to use substances 2, 3, or 4 if you never use the first one?  Do you realize how less likely your student is to use substances if they know you strongly disagree with it?” I explain that every time we get a student or household to make a good decision, we move from the 75% non-use statistic I saw on my first drive to this community to 80%, then to the 82% we measured at our last survey, and so on. We’re growing the positive!