I am going to kick-off the discussion with some insights from MSA's most recent work
How do you actually identify social norms?
In all the research that we have conducted, we have found it invaluable to break down the research phases into two: an early exploration phase, and an investigation phase (as also argued by Cislaghi and Heise, 2016).
We never jump straight into the investigation phase with a set of pre-identified norms, but we use the exploration phase to learn about the target group, develop a general understanding of the factors that shape their behaviors and decision-making process, and we use this time to identify which of these factors might be social norms. We have found that, although there is a plethora of information on women financial inclusion and the factors that might be influencing it, the exploration phase is necessary to develop the skills and knowledge of the research team, and it often uncovers additional norms that had not been identified during the desk review, or helps prioritise those norms that are more prevalent and strong across the target population.
If you were to conduct a qualitative study, how long would this generally take, and how many resources would be involved?
From our experience, in-depth qualitative research of this type requires two rounds of fieldwork (one for the exploration phase, one for the investigation phase), of approximately two weeks each. From methodology design to report writing can take up to 6 months. In 5 studies that we have recently conducted, we have spoken to an average of 80 respondents per study (in both KIIs and FGDs). We tend to reach saturation when we speak to 6-7 respondents.
Are there any lessons learnt from your research that you would like to share with the community?
Yes! So many, but let me pick three
The value of a great researcher
While methodologies and toolkits can be packaged and applied to most research, what makes the biggest impact to the success of a study are the skills of the local lead researcher. Given the sensitivity of many of the topics discussed, it’s extremely important to find someone who can effectively build trust with the interviewee, and approach the subjects that are harder to talk about. These are skills that are harder to teach, so make sure that you work with someone who already has the ability to develop this human connection with the interviewee
Female interviewers can work best with male interviewees
While we were initially concerned to let our female lead researcher lead interviews with more conservative men, we found that this instead worked particularly well. This obviously depends on the setting, but we found that when men are interviewed by a woman, they are more likely to explain the real rationale behind their decisions. Responding to a male interviewee, men are often likely to dismiss questions about their behaviour with “come on, you know why we all do this”.
Getting the interviewee’s buy in is crucial
While obtaining buy-in from the target group and getting them to open up during the interview process has generally been fairly easy (mainly because they can relate to the social norms and want to share their stories), this was much harder with some of the key influencers such as men. We ended up spending considerable time building this trust during the interview/FGD process, sometimes spending up to 20-30 minutes at the start of the interview/FGD explaining the purpose of the research and answering their questions.
Many of the men that we interviewed saw the importance of these studies, often commenting that “these are the real issues that companies and international organizations should consider in the design of their products, and programming”. It led them to open up more, and in FGDs men challenging each other to share the real truth, as “this is a study that can make a real difference”.
 Cislaghi, B., and Heise, L. (2016). Measuring Gender-related Social Norms: Report of a Meeting, Baltimore Maryland, June 14-15, 2016. Learning Group on Social Norms and Gender-based Violence of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.