There are various forms of social norms oriented programming, that aim to shift 'individual's perceptions about which attitudes and behaviors are typical or desirable in their community' (Paluck and Ball, 2012; Cialdini and Trost, 1998; as cited in Cooper and Fletcher, 2013).

What are Social Norms?

Social norms are unspoken rules that influence human behavior. It is a collective practice based on the idea that certain behaviors are the most typical and appropriate action. (Bicchieri, 2006; Paluck and Ball, 2012). Click here for a friendly infographic on Social Norms.

What makes up these unspoken rules?

These unspoken rules are shaped by three characteristics:
  1. Empirical expectations: What I think others are doing
  2. Normative expectations: What I think others think I should do
  3. Sanctions: a punishment or reward for exhibiting certain behaviors

(Bicchieri, 2006).


Waiting for your turn

Shaking hands to greet people

Child Marriage

Empirical Expectations

I see other people waiting in line for their turn
I see other people shake hands when they greet each other
I see that everyone marries their children young

Normative Expectations

I think other people think I SHOULD wait in line for my turn
I think other people think I SHOULD shake their hand when I greet them
I think other people think I SHOULD marry my children young


Because it is expected, others will disapprove (yell, curse, get mad) if I jump the line
Because it is expected, others would disapprove (get confused; think I'm rude) if I don't greet them
Because it is expected, others would disapprove (think I'm irresponsible or making poor decisions) if I don't marry my children young

In a review of social norms approaches, Cooper and Fletcher outline three types of interventions for promoting social norms change to reduce discrimination against girls. These are:
  1. Visibility, which may make use of radio TV, Comic Book series, animation etc. that portrays positive practices and alternatives for gender equality and investing in adolescent girls.

  2. Multi-faceted Interventions, which offer a mix of structured critical reflection with adolescents, parents and other key actors; facilitated dialogues with adolescents, households and community actions and declarations for enabling alternatives. This may also include elements of social marketing within the mix.

  3. Collective change, which suggests that agreeing to change in front of a group of people fosters a sense of accountability, which is more likely to uphold that change.

The potentially considered separate from the nonformal nature of social norms, Cooper and Fletcher also discuss: Legal Reforms as a social norms intervention by articulating what people in a community should and should not do via policy change (e.g. with relation to inheritance laws, curriculum reform, compulsory education and criminalizing education.)

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