Participatory research toolkit for measuring social norms (December 2020) – Global


Participatory research methods enable and encourage participants to discuss complex and sensitive topics in an engaging way that can complement traditional research methods. In this participatory research toolkit for measuring social norms, nine participatory tools are presented and an explanation of what each measures is given.

Examples of how they have been used are also included and instructions for their use are given. Finally, suggestions are given for the analysis of the data produced by the qualitative measurement tools of social norms (see Figure 1).


This toolkit is a practical “how-to” document for researchers, program planners, program implementers and evaluation experts, and aims to strengthen their efforts related to social norms. By including examples from a variety of social and behavior change initiatives that have successfully incorporated these methods into measuring social norms, this toolkit illustrates the usefulness and capabilities of each tool (see Figure 2).


Anyone can use this toolkit, regardless of their level of experience with qualitative and participatory research methods. Specifically, program planners, implementers, evaluators, donors, and researchers who focus on social norms and other related factors (e.g., attitudes, behaviors, and social networks) will benefit from the use of this toolkit.

Data collected using these tools can stand alone or can be used to validate quantitative data and allow for a more holistic interpretation of results. Participatory research tools facilitate and engage intended beneficiaries of social norms programming throughout the program cycle (see Figure 3)


This toolkit can be used in different ways. We suggest you start with four steps to adapt this toolkit to your needs (see Figure 4).

Once you commit to using the tools described here, create a mechanism to ensure that the information generated is accessible and understandable to all key stakeholders, including program participants, so they can use the results to improve community programmatic efforts.


The use of participatory methods – alone or in combination with other quantitative or qualitative research efforts – is ideal for examining social norms, offering several advantages over traditional research methods (see Figure 5).

These tools have been integrated into community-based interventions as program activities that serve a dual purpose of achieving program goals while providing behavioral surveillance data to assess program implementation. This toolkit does not go into detail on how to disseminate and use the information collected through participatory methods. Systematically monitoring behaviors over time means we don’t have to wait to see if change starts to happen. If behaviors are starting to change, then we know that our social and behavior change efforts are working and that we are heading in the right direction (towards our expected medium-term outcomes). However, if behaviors do not change, then it is possible to revisit and revise interventions. This creates a feedback loop, where information can be used to adjust our approaches, activities, channels, and even messaging, so that the program as a whole is better positioned to achieve intended goals. The use of participatory methods also allows community members to be involved in the research process; these activities are therefore part of an empowerment process, through which community members acquire knowledge and skills for knowledge co-creation that are often transferable to other contexts and issues.

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