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  • Writer's pictureDhaval Kothari, CJL

M&E of the Intangible: Resources on Social Norms

By Dhaval Kothari

Social norms have risen significantly in profile amongst those working on behavior change related to gender, female genital mutilation, public health, child marriage and increasingly corruption. With the increase in attention comes the difficulty of determining how to monitor and evaluate (M&E) change. Unlike behaviors, social norms are intangible and invisible, making simplistic checklists inadequate. M&E of social norms must take into account injunctive norms, descriptive norms and sanctions at a minimum. (To learn more about the components of social norms see pages 25-27 in Understanding Social Norms: A Reference Guide for Policy and Practice.) As a contribution to practitioners and researchers starting to think about M&E of social norms, this post offers a curated list of resources, complete with annotation.

This shortlist is the result of a gray literature review that resulted in 45 documents identified and 7 directly on point, but sector agnostic. The review, conducted in May-June 2020 as part of our ongoing collaboration with Accountability Lab around M&E of social norms, is a component of our Social Norms and Corruption Project where we are developing guidance for anti-corruption practitioners to integrate social norms programming into their practices.

This curated list of published literature (2015-2020) will give you insight into the different tools and methods adopted by various projects focusing on social norms change. This list is intended to help practitioners and organizations use existing wisdom as a starting point to formulate their respective M&E frameworks for social norms change.

Data collection methods

The majority of the data collection methods utilized were quantitative ones, though they differed on the basis of the scale and purpose of the projects. The most common method was longitudinal surveys, which were conducted at baseline and at the end of the project. Single item measures are also being used, which are essentially survey questions that ask about one perceived norm in relation to one assumed reference group. Participants are offered several response options on a Likert scale to indicate the prevalence of a social norm. Vignettes, short stories having fictional characters and hypothetical situations created to encourage participants to express opinions, were used as both quantitative and qualitative measures in a number of projects. As a qualitative measure, vignettes were used to ask open ended questions in focus group discussions.

Resources for Measuring Social Norms: A Practical Guide for Program Implementers by Learning Collaborative to Advance Normative Change, Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health (2019)

This guide not only offers a summary of the existing literature on social norms, but serves as a step by step guide for project implementers trying to change social norms – from exploration to measuring to M&E of social norms. The guide sets out examples of different tools that have been used by practitioners, drawing from a wide range of contexts and sectors.

This publication summarizes different types of quantitative approaches adopted by practitioners and organizations to measure social norms. It is useful as it provides insight into each tool’s shortcomings and strengths in different contexts.

Routine monitoring

To date, our ongoing literature review has found limited literature describing the need for monitoring social norm change and very few examples of the same. Most projects focused on intermittent monitoring that are activity based, which is recording whether an activity was organized or not, number of participants, and number of participants who recalled the key messaging from an activity that was conducted a few months prior. This kind of an approach will miss out on capturing critical steps that marked the commencement of the shift in the social norms, and hence, serves as a missed opportunity for organizations and practitioners to learn. The following resources are some of the very few we found on routine monitoring.

These are formats of outcome and activity tracking tools that have been formulated by Raising Voices, a nonprofit organization based out of Uganda while working on its SASA project. They focus on gender-based violence. This is one of the very few routine monitoring tools that we came across during our review.

This guide provides practitioners with guidance on developing indicators including a list of sample indicators that could be very useful. While the toolkit provided in this guide focuses on – female genital mutilation, child marriage and discipline, the description given on how the indicators were generated serves as a sufficient guidance on how practitioners could adopt a similar approach irrespective of the sector.

Social norms diagnosis tools

In order to formulate M&E tools for measuring social norms, it is absolutely essential to understand the key components of a social norm – descriptive norms versus injunctive norms; positive sanctions versus negative sanctions. This understanding informs decisions about what data to collect and what indicators to use for a monitoring plan. We came across a number of different diagnostic tools during our review that would help practitioners identify key components of the socials norms they are trying to change. We have shortlisted the following two tools on the basis of their flexibility irrespective of the scale and size of the projects.

The Social Norms Analysis Plot framework (SNAP) could be useful at the diagnostic stage to identify key components of a social norm, as well as to detect a shift in social norms. SNAP would be particularly helpful in understanding the strength of a norm and the rigid nature of sanctions attached to a social norm.

Social Norms Exploration Tool by Learning Collaborative to Advance Normative Change, Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health (2020)

The Social Norms Exploration Tool (SNET) is a cost-effective tool that would give practitioners a preliminary understanding of the core components of a social norm in a relatively short period of time, as compared to the other tools. Based on the context and the number of social norms being diagnosed, it has been reported that the entire process can be completed in as little as 8-10 days.

Are we missing anything?

As part of our work in this area we are collaborating with Accountability Lab’s signature program, Integrity Icon, to understand how best to effectively monitor and evaluate change in social norms related to corruption. Our first step has been to initiate this ongoing literature review to ensure that we take stock of what tools and methods have worked and not worked in the past.

If you have used or come across monitoring tools, have worked on a team that has conducted an evaluation to assess social norm change, or if you have come across evaluation reports that assessed social norms change, we would really appreciate if you would be in touch.


About the Author

Dhaval Kothari is the Peacebuilding and M&E Officer at the Corruption, Justice and Legitimacy Program. He recently graduated from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he received his master’s degree in human security and humanitarian studies. Dhaval’s prior work experience includes working with Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Nigeria, founding a non-profit organization focusing on development of children from low-income families and practicing as a litigating lawyer in India. You can contact the author at


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