This research is supported by the MacArthur Foundation.

What is a social norm?

Social norms are practices that are supported by particular shared beliefs.

  • Are people engaging in a practice because they see others doing so?
  • Are people engaging in the practice because they care about what others think and believe?
  • Do they believe that enough other people in their community or network believe that other people should conform to a certain behaviour?

If the answers to these questions is yes, then a behaviour or collective action is driven by a social norm.

What we do

Investigating social norms provides evidence of drivers of different behaviours. We seek to answer the question: “why do people do what they do?”

Understanding motivations is important because if these are understood, policy approaches and solutions to address collective action problems can be developed.

This is particularly important in places where state presence is weak. In contexts in which institutions are weak or emerging, or where the rule of law is not properly implemented, informal rules and institutions might dominate. In such environments, harmful collective action problems, like corruption or child marriage, can only be effectively tackled if informal rules and institutions are understood as well as the formal ones.

Solutions identified through this approach aim to connect societies and the formal institutions tasked with delivery of public services.

How we do it

This project uses social norms methodology developed by the University of Pennsylvania Social Norms Group to measure drivers of collective behaviour. This requires the design and conduct of a specialised survey. As of 2020, two specialised survey instruments have been designed and conducted in Nigeria, with 9,960 households surveyed.

Why is this important to policymakers?

Diagnosing the cause of a harmful practice is integral to designing policy responses to change that practice: if a practice is social, then attempting to change an individual’s belief will not be enough to induce change in a community’s behaviour.

The social norms approach gives enough specificity to policymakers and others so as to support the formulation of effective, context-specific interventions to combat pernicious practices.

​​​​​​​Social norms and corruption

Towards Collective Action on Corruption in Nigeria: Evidence in Support of Connecting Society and Institutions

There are many different corrupt practices and there are many causes of corruption; among them are shared beliefs. Anti-corruption work has been severely limited by a lack of evidence of what social beliefs and expectations drive corrupt behaviour, what interventions may work to change these drivers and the real impact of numerous interventions that have so far been implemented.

Collective action problems and strengthening accountable governance

Collective action problems persist when combined action necessary to improve a situation or outcome cannot be achieved due to conflicting interests, disunity, or mistaken beliefs about what other people think. Collective action problems occur from a local to a global scale – they can erode institutions and stymie the development of more accountable systems of government.

Corruption is a good example of a collective action problem. If most people would rather live in a more honest, and less corrupt society, why does pervasive corruption persist in so many places?

Our research partners and survey teams

PennSoNG (Penn Social Norms Group) is a not-for-profit, independent and interdisciplinary research group affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, which trains members of governments and partner organizations on how to make use of the group’s influential new theory of social norms, and how to monitor and create social change.

The National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria is the agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria responsible for coordinating, developing and managing the statistical operations of the National Statistical System in the production of official statistics. It is empowered by the Statistics Act 2007 to be the authoritative source and custodian of official statistics in Nigeria.

Survey Teams

  • Adamawa state - Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, Modibbo Adama University of Technology, Yola.
    Supervised by Elizabeth Adebayo, professor of agricultural economics.
  • Benue state – Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Sciences, Benue State University, Makurdi.
    Supervised by Dr Euginia Member George-Genyi, Department of Political Science.
  • Enugu state – Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nigeria, Nsukka
    Supervised by Dr Anthony Ajah, lecturer, Humanities Unit, School of General Studies
  • FCT Abuja – National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria (ACAN)
    Supervised by Rakiya Onize, State Officer, National Bureau of Statistics
  • Lagos – Christopher Kolade Centre for Research in Leadership and Ethics, Lagos Business School, Pan-Atlantic University
    Supervised by Dr Kemi Ogunyemi, senior lecturer, business ethics, managerial anthropology and sustainability management.
  • Rivers – Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Port Harcourt
    Supervised by Dr  Onyige, Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology.
  • Sokoto – Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto
    Supervised by Dr Sulaiman Y. Balarabe Kura, Department of Political Science.

Why does accountable governance matter?

Governance is the decisions, conduct and actions through which institutions, processes and systems are used to manage resources that affect outcomes for citizens or stakeholders. There are a range of similar definitions of governance.

Governance matters because it affects the lives of citizens every day, from whether they can get clean water from a tap, to how they run a business, to whether legal recourse is a viable option.

Accountability is the link that enables those who are affected by the way in which resources are managed, to hold those responsible for the decisions, conduct and actions that determine how those resources are managed to account. Again, there are a range of similar definitions of accountability.

Accountable governance matters because it enables people to scrutinise, feedback on and potentially change the decisions, conduct and actions - or inactions - of those that manage resources that produce outcomes that affect their lives. Without the link to enable scrutiny and feedback, people lack agency over the things that affect them.

Definitions

Definitions of governance

The United Nations Development Programme defines it as:

“the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises the mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences”.

The World Bank defines it as:

“the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country's economic and social resources for development. Good governance is synonymous with sound development management.”

Definitions of accountability

The Institute for Government defines it as:

“a relationship between those responsible for something, and those who have a role in passing judgement on how well that responsibility has been discharged.”

With accountability comes the “liability to ensure that a task is satisfactorily done” - Stephen Keith McGrath, University of Southern Queensland.