moderated Re: #ediscussionday3 - diagnosis and measurement #ediscussionday3


Adriano, thanks for launching us into a discussion about social norms measurement. I think IFPRI and the crew working on the project-level Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index have also done quite a bit of thinking about social norms. We've been collaborating on testing the quantitative and qualitative tools for this and it's been an interesting learning experience. There are a quantitative instrument as well as qualitative tools for the assessments. The idea is that they're trying to find a standardized way to measure empowerment which is really based on a set of norms around mobility, decision-making power, access to resources, etc. It requires you to interview men and women and compare their answers. 

This is where we've gained some interesting insights into people's beliefs, how they relate or don't relate to each other, and helps you identify potential priorities for changes in social norms and empowerment. For example, this is where we learned in Burkina Faso that men are more disempowered in access to credit than women, but they make the most decisions around finances. 

When you ask people to share their definition of an empowered man or woman, you learn that there is a tension between a woman being submissive to one's husband, but also being able to make decisions and earn income. 

I think one of the challenges we've had when accessing norms, is the contradictions you'll find and the importance of, as you say, leaving room for validating what you've learned back with people to seek clarity. In questions around decision-making power for example, if you ask who makes the decision and then you ask whether the woman would like more decision-making power, you sometimes see women say "no"--that even though she has no decisionmaking power on something doesn't mean she wants it either. Having decision-making power can be interpreted as "being responsible for/being burdened with" something. 

I think the biggest challenge in measurement is 1. recognizing that social norms (specific to women's empowerment) are complex (like the concept of resilience), 2. this requires a lot of information due to the complexity, 3. but we need simple measures because we're always constrained on budgets, time, etc. Decision-making questions are fraught with interpretation issues without a lot of qualitative information to support them, but they often get used because it helps understand "power to" do something. I remember in my "early days" I really wanted to see women say "I alone make the decision" but over time, have appreciated you really want to see "we make a joint decision" on most items. So, we also have to check how we're interpreting the data too. 

Bobbi L. Gray
Research Director
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On Thu, Jun 13, 2019 at 10:37 AM Adriano Scarampi <adriano@...> wrote:

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)[1].

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.

We tend to approach this research phase with very open-ended questions, that we use to drill down into why people behave in the way that they do. Differentiating which of the factors are normative, and which are not, requires research agility, and we usually follow a set of rules / processes:
  • We reflect on the information collected throughout the exploration process scheduling regular team check-ins that we build into the interview schedule. We try to leave enough time to type up notes as we carry out the interviews, and use this note-typing time to debrief and reflect on the findings.
  • We validate possible social norms by flexibly incorporating questions into the semi-structured guides that test respondent’s normative and empirical expectations
  • We don't plan 50% of the fieldwork in advance, so that we can have flexibility in the research schedule to triangulate findings with additional respondents and influencers

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”.

[1] 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.

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