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By Gary Gunderson

Ninety-five people will gather on April 16-19 on the campus of  the University of Texas El Paso for an UnConference focused on how the intersection of the practices of Positive Deviance and the philosophy of the Leading Causes of Life can turn on the lights for our work to advance the health of our communities.

(Registration information below!)

The participants come from many spots in the world of practice from Afghanistan to Montana to Zuma, including doctors, public health leaders, students, advance practice providers, communicators, clergy, community health workers, educators, economists and the random grown-up. And perhaps you. We don’t know if you are the missing piece or not, but are pretty sure that it is wise to hold open 20 seats for the broader networks and grounded work that you may represent. We may not know to invite you specifically, so please invite yourself.

Everyone coming is busy, many with heavy burdens working in communities that need every scrap of their energy. Why come to something that looks so hopeful and powerful that it seems almost unfair? We believe that in our time of many challenges and dark prospects, we need to hone our skills, tune our minds and strengthen our hearts so that we can lend our influence within our networks and institutions to give life a chance.

We sense a powerful synergy between the hugely practical way that the toolset of Positive Deviance is able to find the key opportunities in otherwise discouraging web of problems. It turns on the data to see the positive outlier so that we can focus on growing the positive systematically and with rigor. It doesn’t look for heroes and heroines to make us feel better, but so we can scale and spread what they have discovered. The philosophy of Leading Causes of Life provides an integrative set of ideas with deep theory that helps us know where to look and how to sustain the vital assets and complex human capacities in any community. Better than magic, it helps us know where and how to work. It seems that the dark and overwhelming challenges of our time are also releasing a deep spring of ideas and practiced for times such as ours. So of course there are many echoes of PD and LCL that will be among us in the room.

This is a crucial time in the networks such as Stakeholder Health and partners such as 100 Million Lives, ReThink Health, Well Being Trust, and the Well Being in the Nation (WIN) Network. Key thought leaders at the National Academies of Sciences Roundtable on Population Health are quietly listening carefully to those moving away from measuring everything by disease indicators, exploring whether we can find similar rigor in working on the positive. This may be true in your thought and work, too.

It is an UnConference, not a bunch of PowerPoints. We will be using Liberating Structures, some of the masters of the art of which are at UTEP. This makes the gathering explosively unpredictable with room for unexpectedly relevant voices and entirely new thoughts. Perhaps yours.

There is a light registration that covers the space and common meals. If you move quickly, you can use the blocked reservations at the campus Hilton.

The space in the UnConference is, we feel, nearly sacred and scarce. So don’t plan on coming for part of it. You won’t know which part to come to!

But if this sounds like you, don’t hesitate. Special things happen in this amazing borderland.

If this sounds like a meeting that would build your capacity to advance the health of a community you love, come on and lend your energy and intelligence to the group. Email Robin Danner at and she’ll give you the details regarding lodging and specific times to be present. We’ll consider you as participating faculty, part of the generative feast. To offset direct logistical cost and session meals, we’ll need $150 cost sharing. If that is a barrier, let us know.