Dam under construction in Sri Lanka. © Lakshman Nadaraja/World Bank
© Lakshman Nadaraja/World Bank

Data and indicators

Understanding whether, how far, and why gender norms are changing generally requires a combination of qualitative and quantitative data. As ALIGN’s guide to quantitative measurement of gendered social norms points out, it is usually advisable to first undertake qualitative formative research, so that quantitative data collection can be more precise and tailored. This summary for Plan International provides a succinct overview of key considerations in measuring gender and social norms.

Proxy measures of norm change 

As measurement of social norms is relatively recent, many studies have used proxy measures that give some indication of norms and changes in them. Most commonly these are measures of attitudes and behaviour. (See the qualitative and mixed methods, and quantitative tools pages for examples of tools that use these measures). Measuring change in the building blocks of norm change can also provide windows on norm change processes. These include:

Building block/Indicator Why examine this?
Knowledge  Knowledge – for example, of the consequences of the law or of a particular practice  - can spur changes in attitudes, behaviour and norms
Attitudes or beliefs Attitude/belief questions can explore both individuals’ values and what they believe is common in their community or reference group
Self-efficacy These measures reveal people’s sense of their power to change their own behaviour, to speak up or act in ways that challenge prevailing norms
Intended behaviour For infrequent or one-time practices (e.g. Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C)), measures of intentions can help understand respondents’ willingness to behave in ways that challenge existing norms
Actual behaviour Self-reported or observed changes in actual behaviour help understand whether norms are changing, and/or whether people are behaving in ways that challenge existing norms

This LINEA webinar outlines ways of constructing quantitative proxy measures of norms.

Change in any of these indicators could suggest that norms are changing. If there is evidence of change in several of these indicators, the case that norms are changing is stronger. A study of community health promotion and women’s empowerment shows how different evaluations can combine various proxy and direct indicators to assess how far norms are changing as a result of interventions. However, any of these building blocks could change without norms actually shifting. Therefore, in recent years researchers and practitioners have invested in developing more direct measures of norm change.

Direct measures of norms

Much of the recent work on gender and social norms measurement has focused on developing relatively light-touch direct measures of norms. Drawing on social norms theory, these approaches directly explore:

  • descriptive norms or empirical expectations (beliefs about what most people do in a given locality) 
  • injunctive norms or normative expectations (beliefs about what most people think is appropriate behaviour)
  • the key reference groups who influence particular norms
  • the strength of a particular norm
  • the sanctions for violating a norm.

The following pages provide examples of tools and questions that can help explore these different aspects of norms.