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Social norms programming

Do you run a program and see that social norms go against people's personal preferences, making behavior change difficult? While social norms evolve naturally over time as societies evolve, the conventional thinking is that it is possible to hasten this shift with social norms programming.

In this work, I follow the guidelines of Unicef/Penn Song's guide to tackling and leveraging social norms. I follow three phases.

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1. Diagnostics 

  • Personal beliefs (what I think)

  • Empirical expectations (what I think others do) 

  • Normative expectations (what I think others expect I do)

  • Social sanctions (praise when norm is followed, socially excluded if norm is not followed) and

  • Exceptions to the norm (under which circumstances is it OK to break the norm).


I study the target group and map their reference group (influencers on the norm).  

2. Interaction Then, with program partners and with target group members in the lead, I design and pilot social interactions (e.g. dialogues, talk shows). These interactions aim to change the social expectations (= new norm) of enough people and their influencers, and to publicise the change by highlighting pioneers. Depending on the context, popular anchors and platforms can help, such as radio/tv hosts, to reach enough people. If norms are strong, influencers are key in this process to support people that wish to initiate change. Close monitoring is important and therefore I often commit to observations and qualitative interviews with participants of the interactions to understand if and how social expectations are changing and what is lacking in the interaction to help them initiate change. Throughout this phase, I build upon formats of interactions that have been tried-and-tested in similar contexts. 


3. Monitoring & Evaluation I evaluate to what extent the interactions have helped to weaken the social norm, people that wish to initiate change feel more supported to do so and to what extent social expectations have changed to help form new social norms. 

Do you want to discuss how social norms programming can help your initiative? Then book a session with me on Social Norms programming. 

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