Using social norms theory for health promotion in low-income countries

Beniamino Cislaghi and Lori Heise Health Promotion International, 2018; Read the full paper online

Social norms can greatly influence people’s health-related choices and behaviours. In the last few years, scholars and practitioners working in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have increasingly been trying to harness the influence of social norms to improve people’s health globally. However, the literature informing social norm interventions in LMICs lacks a framework to understand how norms interact with other factors that sustain harmful practices and behaviours. This gap has led to short-sighted interventions that target social norms exclusively without a wider awareness of how other institutional, material, individual and social factors affect the harmful practice. Emphasizing norms to the exclusion of other factors might ultimately discredit norms-based strategies, not because they are flawed but because they alone are not sufficient to shift behaviour. 

This paper shares a framework (already adopted by some practitioners) that locates norm-based strategies within the wider array of factors that must be considered when designing prevention programmes in LMICs.

Related resources

Norms Learning Report 1: Measuring Social Norms

Norms Learning Report 2: Theory in support of better practice

STRIVE Learning Lab: The influence of social norms on child marriage and intimate partner violence in Karnataka, India

Report: Honour and prestige: The influence of social norms on violence against women

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