New research programme reveals how positive deviance in schools can improve education for all

26 January 2022
Students in a classroom, Ghana

26 January 2022,  Florence/Zurich — Why do some schools do better than others despite operating under similar – sometimes very difficult – conditions? How can others benefit from their local innovations? To answer these questions, UNICEF has established the Data Must Speak (DMS) Positive Deviance Research programme, which is currently active in 13 countries.

With 9 out of 10 children in low-income countries unable to read by age 10, the DMS Positive Deviance research identifies promising existing grassroot solutions to education challenges and works hand-in-hand with local partners to scale these solutions and improve learning for every child.

The UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein national committee, and the Jacobs Foundation are pleased to announce a new partnership to expand the Data Must Speak (DMS) Positive Deviance Research into an additional three countries across Africa and Latin America: Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana. The partnership aims to strengthen cross-country analysis and uptake of local solutions.

“Empowering our partners in-country to identify local positive deviance schools in an evidence-based manner, replicate and share them with peers is a truly new way of addressing the learning crisis through global education initiatives,” said Nora Marketos, Co-Lead Learning Schools, Jacobs Foundation.

The Data Must Speak research sheds light on untapped existing practices and behaviors of grassroot-level stakeholders such as teachers, head-teachers, and communities who are important change-agents in education.

Leveraging UNICEF’s cross-country presence, the most promising solutions and effective approaches to adapting and scaling them can be shared and implemented across borders.

“Co-creating the Data Must Speak research with Ministries of Education and other relevant in-country stakeholders from the onset is crucial so that findings are used for improving learning outcomes for the most vulnerable children,” said Renaud Comba, Data Must Speak Research Manager at UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti.

The Data Must Speak research leverages the positive deviance framework in conjunction with innovative research methodologies such as behavioural insights, implementation research, and scaling science to provide evidence-based answers, for every child.

First reports with relevant findings will be published mid-year 2022 on the Data Must Speak research project.

Media contacts

Kathleen Sullivan
UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti
Tel: +39 055 2033 222
Alexandra Guentzer
Chief Communications Officer
Jacobs Foundation
Tel: + 41 (0) 79 821 74 29

About UNICEF Innocenti

UNICEF Innocenti is UNICEF’s dedicated research centre. It undertakes research on emerging or current issues in order to inform the strategic directions, policies and programmes of UNICEF and its partners, shape global debates on child rights and development, and inform the global research and policy agenda for all children, and particularly for the most vulnerable. 

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UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

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About the Jacobs Foundation

Headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, the Jacobs Foundation is one of the world’s leading foundations in the field of child and youth development. Established by entrepreneur Klaus J. Jacobs and his family in 1989, the Foundation’s current endowment is valued at approximately CHF 7 billion. As an internationally active organization, the Jacobs Foundation commits an average annual budget of CHF 55 million to support research and programs in the fields of learning and education, visit