Conduct social norms assessment

Despite growing recognition of the need to work on normative change to tackle underlying root causes of violence stemming from social and cultural norms, the issue has remained a relatively under-analyzed and under-measured area of programming. The importance of addressing negative norms and perceptions that are hindering women’s full and meaningful political participation is, however, becoming an increasing concern for election practitioners. By conducting a comprehensive social norms assessment, electoral practitioners can gain valuable insights into the drivers of behaviors that can either contribute to, or hinder, inclusive and peaceful elections. The activity describes the methodology for the conduct of a social norms assessment, while answering to common questions such as who should implement the assessment, what should be looked at, and what the cost centres are.



With its main objective to provide a holistic understanding of the cultural context related to the situation for gender equality, violence and women’s participation in political life, a social norms assessment should form the foundation for evidence-based interventions that aims to transform social norms and foster a more inclusive and non-violent electoral environment. Essentially, it will map out prevailing attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that, in turn, can influence electoral processes. It can help practitioners to, for example, better understand reasons for lack of women’s participation in a specific setting, or to fully grasp historical contexts that can help to explain prevailing negative attitudes against women’s political participation that can lead to violence. As such, the assessment aims to identify both positive and harmful social norms, which will help design gender-responsive electoral programming, projects and interventions. Positive social norms can point to cultural behaviors and practices that champions inclusion and equality, and that might also be helpful for practitioners to tap into or work with when designing programmes.

The below activity describes a methodology for a social norms assessment to map a country’s (or regions, when and if applicable) current landscape of social norms. It is advised to conduct an assessment in a country context, however, if possible and relevant, a mapping of the regional environment can help better situate cultural norms and their origin in the broader landscape they operate in. It is significant to note such an exercise can, nonetheless, require additional costs and staffing as it requires conducting it at larger scale.

Although the assessment intends to map the current setting to support a context-based and tailored approach for any electoral assistance, it is advises that it is coupled with a risk assessment of the political context analysis inform a suitable timeline for implementation, for example, it might be considered relevant to postpone an assessment in times of political turmoil since a gender norms assessment can be considered sensitive as it asks private questions or may question established “truths” in a society on how men and women behave. A social norms mapping might expose sensitive dynamics and therefore needs to be carefully planned for its successful and appropriate implementation.



The methodology for the assessment should be participatory and inclusive, incorporating both quantitative and qualitative research methods to capture a comprehensive understanding of social norms.

Scoping exercise:

  • Conduct a thorough review of existing literature on social norms, gender dynamics, and violence during elections in the specific country, community, or – when applicable – region.
  • Engaging key experts, and community leaders to identify priority areas and research gaps.
  • Identify key themes, knowledge gaps and other relevant insights.

Stakeholder engagement:

  • Engage with key stakeholders, including community leaders, civil society organizations, electoral officials, including from marginalized groups, including women, youth, indigenous peoples and others.
  • Conduct interviews and focus group discussions to gather diverse perspectives on prevailing social norms. Facilitating community dialogues may also better ensure the voices of women from marginalized groups are heard and reflected.


  • Develop a comprehensive survey tool that addresses key indicators of social norms, gender stereotypes, violence and women’s empowerment within the electoral context.
  • Include questions on perceptions of gender roles, expectations, and experiences related to violence during elections.

Sampling strategy:

  • Determine a representative sample, considering demographics, geographic locations, and diverse social groups within the community.
  • Implement stratified sampling to capture variations in social norms across different segments of the population.

Data collection:

  • Administer surveys through face-to-face interviews, online platforms, or a combination of methods.
  • Ensure ethical considerations, including informed consent, participant anonymity, and cultural sensitivity.

Qualitative research:

  • Conduct in-depth interviews and focus group discussions to gather qualitative insights into the nuances of social norms.
    Explore narratives, stories, and experiences that provide context to quantitative findings.


  • Employ statistical analysis for quantitative data, identifying patterns, correlations, and significant trends.

Validation workshops:

  • Organize validation workshops with key stakeholders to present and discuss preliminary findings.
  • Seek feedback on the accuracy and relevance of the assessment results.

Report compilation:

  • Compile a comprehensive report outlining the key findings, including both positive and harmful social norms.
  • Provide insights into the intersections of social norms, gender, and violence in the electoral context.


  • Based on the assessment findings, formulate actionable recommendations for interventions and strategies that will feed into the design of gender-responsive electoral programming.
  • Tailor recommendations to specific stakeholder groups, such as electoral authorities, community leaders, and civil society organizations.


  • Disseminate the findings through diverse channels, including community meetings, workshops, reports, and online platforms.
  • Share the assessment results with key stakeholders, ensuring transparency and inclusivity.

Follow-up and monitoring:

  • Implement follow-up mechanisms to monitor the impact of interventions on social norms over time.
  • Continuously adapt strategies based on feedback and changing social dynamics.



This activity can be implemented by various entities and organizations, government and non-government – alone or together in collaboration. Civil society actors, think tanks or international organizations might be most likely to commission such an assessment to inform programming and are advised to work with experts – combining local and international expertise – while ensuring outreach to various segments of society considering both urban and rural communities, as well other constituencies, including youth, indigenous groups and disadvantaged populations.

This methodology is designed to fit any electoral programme, including in more sensitive contexts such as recent post-conflict, and also allows certain adaptations if needed. It is constructed to be easily implemented and/or commissioned by any practitioner aiming to ensure informed electoral programming. Preferably, any electoral programme should have gender expertise (sociology, anthropology, and/or related fields) or, when possible, a Gender Expert or Specialist, that can either support the rollout of the assessment or oversee its implementation. These experts should have experience in conducting social research and understanding the complexities of social norms.



The assessment targets a broad set of stakeholders, including men, women and youth and other marginalized groups and communities as interviewees to share insights and viewpoints. The assessment should be tailor made, adapted to local sensitivities and different societal groups to ensure a comprehensive social assessment. The target audience should also encompass policymakers, government officials, civil society organizations, community leaders, and other stakeholders involved in gender equality, social development initiatives and elections.

A social norms assessment may follow a request by the country office or electoral assistance project, usually conducted following a competitive process – either with an individual or group of experts. The group of experts will benefit from close collaboration with local civil society and grassroot communities when it comes to data collection as they tend to have better access to larger constituencies, including women, youth, indigenous populations and other marginalized groups, which is critical when understanding prevailing norms that are guiding people’s behaviors from all walks of life.

Additionally, partnerships for the assessment may include government agencies, local NGOs, academic institutions, community-based organizations, and international development organizations operating at national/local level with expertise in gender equality and social norms







It is difficult to calculate exact cost predicaments for this activity, given that it has many varying components. Any practitioner attempting to undertake this activity should, however, note that costs related to personnel, training, travel, data collection tools, analysis software, stakeholder workshops, and report dissemination need to be taken into account. In certain instances it might be of relevance to task an external actor or company to undertake the main part of the mapping – including interviews and surveys – which will add to the expenses.



The Gender Social Norms Index (UNDP)
The Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI) measures how social beliefs obstruct gender equality in areas like politics, work, and education, and contains data from 75 countries, covering over 80 percent of the world’s population. The trends show that while in some countries there have been improvements, in others, attitudes appear to have worsened in recent years, signaling that progress cannot be taken for granted. he
The 2023 Gender Social Norms Index finds that nearly 9 out of 10 men and women hold fundamental biases against women. The index analyzes attitudes across seven indicators, including access to higher education for women, women’s leadership, political rights, intimate partner violence, reproductive rights, and more,, and illuminate how biased gender social norms impact the livelihoods of women and girls worldwide.
Read more here: 2023 Gender Social Norms Index
2023 UN Women Social Norms, Gender and Development: a review of research and practice
Game-theoretic accounts of social norms: the role of normative expectations

The UNICEF Participatory Research Toolkit for social norms measurement brings together participatory research tools that have been tried and tested, not only within UNICEF, but also academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and United Nations agencies, and further refined through expert consultations. These tools are issue agnostic and can be used be used for a broad range of issues, including issues related to gender socialization.
Read more here:





What are social norms, and how do they matter?

Broadly speaking, social norms can be understood as a set of shared beliefs or unwritten rules about what is considered acceptable or “normal” within a social group or a community. As such, they differ across societies and communities because they are rooted in culture, religion and tradition. For s some they can provide a sense of belonging and social identity, while for others they are seen imposed and restrictive. Naturally, the exact interpretation of certain norms will differ slightly from individual to individual, yet seeing social norms as a set of unwritten rules guiding a society, a community or a group, can help us better understand driving factors of certain behaviors and come up with effective ways to change such.

Gender norms specifically are a subset of social norms that could be defined as “the informal rules and shared social expectations that distinguish expected behavior on the basis of gender”. They exists everywhere in the world, but their impact and extent will vary across countries, and are considered the the root-cause of the undervaluation of women’s capabilities and rights in society that tend to end up constraining women’s choices and opportunities by regulating behaviour and setting the boundaries of what women are expected to do. Such norms also constitute major barriers to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and particularly Sustainable Development Goal 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.

So why do social norms change matter for electoral programming? The simple answer would be because social norms can and do in fact change. Historically, we have witnessed a big shift in how we view women’s role in societies, professional and domestic sphere. But the change is not always straightforward. That is why it is essential for every programme, intervention or project aiming to transform democratic processes towards being more inclusive to both have an in-depth understanding of the prevalent social norms in the constituencies they are working with, as much as a theory of change of how to work on actively transforming social norms into positive behaviors that promotes inclusion and equality.

In this section you will find a methodology for social norms assessment, which includes concrete steps to map a context’s social and cultural norms. The methodology is designed to help electoral practitioners, or anyone working in an electoral programme, to assess the harmful, as well as positive, social norms in the context they are working in.


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