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The Media and Social Norms Collaborator - What do the Behavioural Scientists think. (22 May 2018)

The Media and Social Norms Collaborator - What  the Behavioural Scientists say?

The meeting of the Media and Social Norms Collaborator (MSNC) – The Behavioural ScientistsRespond, was held on the 22nd of May 2018, bringing together scholars, practitioners and students in the fields of media and social psychology to explore how theory can be bridged with practice to create normative change through media interventions. 12 people were in the room at the London School of Economics in London, and another 8-10 participated over Zoom. Participants and curious friends were from around the globe – from San Francisco to Melbourne, including on-ground organisations from Africa and Asia[1]. This was the second convening of the MSNC collaborator. Here are 2 perspectives on the impact of the meeting and the impacts of the collaborator model.

The Media and Social Norms Collaborator: An Academic’s View
Dr. Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington

I was delighted to have the opportunity to participate in the third Bridging Theory and Practice Seminarheld at the PBS department, centered on the development of the Media & Social Norms Collaborator. Back at the first meeting of the Collaborator in September 2017, I was struck by how many processes we study in social psychology which were at play in the work of practitioners and donors in the field of social norms and behaviour change. This meeting gave me a chance to talk about my research themes in a way that touched on these struggles, inviting the Collaborator to think about potential bridges between emerging research and practical challenges.

Back in September, as the Gates Foundation voiced their struggles in nailing down the role of social norms in the decision-making of different community members, I thought of my own work on how experiencing poverty shapes the influences one brings to bear as one makes decisions. The second meeting gave me a chance to elaborate on this: talking about how the salience of poverty can narrow the circles of normative influence, making us more likely to be shaped by the behaviour of those we know, as opposed to someone with the credentials of an official position or qualification, but with whom we are not personally connected. This point was picked up by my colleague, Michael Muthukrishna, who presented a theoretical framework for systematically studying the choices people make about whom to copy in their behaviour.

Another key aspect of poverty is the feeling of having less than others, triggering an anxiety about social status that is likely worsened by mass media depictions of wealth and material possessions at the ‘top’ of society. With this in mind, it was inspiring to hear, in the work of Well-Told Story and the Population Foundation of India, how mass media can be used to do just the opposite, giving a voice to those at the bottom of society and presenting role models who challenge inequalities in a number of spheres. Well-Told Story’s Shujaaz set of programming, targeting young people in Kenya and Tanzania as a response to youth involvement in interethnic election violence, also touched on issues central to my second research theme: the political psychology of conflict between groups. Here, I highlighted how group memberships can be manipulated by political leaders in order to whip up populist discontent among marginalised communities, warning that the role of concerns around racial and ethnic superiority are as prevalent now as ever, in both rich and poor countries. This connected with the insights given by another colleague, Ilka Gleibs, on how social norms are embedded in social identities, which are malleable and open to mobilisation as contexts shift.

I don’t generally consider myself someone who does research on social norms, or who studies behaviour change interventions in a Global South context. However, I do identify as a researcher trying to understand the universal influence of power and inequality on the human mind in diverse cultural and societal contexts…yet who has so far only conducted lab or survey studies in the UK and the US! It’s thus an exciting challenge for me to think about how my research speaks to questions concerning the ‘hot topic’ of social norms in the development sphere, and could be conducted in a way that takes the challenges of cultural diversity and social intervention seriously. The journey along the bridge from theory to practice might be long, but with this set of ongoing conversations, it feels like we’re on the way.

The Media and Social Norms Collaborator: A Students View
Kalee Lee, MSc Psychology of Economic Life, LSE

Prior to being a MSc Psychology of Economic Life (PEL) student at LSE,  I studied Environmental Management and Technology for my Bachelor’s degree and worked as a consultant in the field of international development and corporate social responsibility for several years. You may be wondering why I chose something so different for graduate school – to be honest I had no clue about where the Master’s degree would take me, but I was fascinated by the unconventional purpose of the programme – to cultivate ‘change agents’ who make the world a better place by leveraging social values and technologies with a realistic psychology.

As a newcomer to the field of social psychology, the MSNC meeting was a valuable occasion for me to learn from the practitioners in the social norms space about career options. Perhaps more importantly, it was interesting to see how the gap between theories and practice can be bridged by being a part of the conversation between psychologists at LSE and representatives from organisations around the world who are working in the field.

I really liked the presentations of the behavioural scientists from PBS with different research interests. From the intertwined relationship between social norms and social identities to how the mass media represent normative behaviours biased towards the middle class, they broadly enriched my understanding of the complexity and applicability of norm psychology. I also learnt a lot from the sharing of a practitioner from Oxfam, who works in the economic empowerment of women – that an intervention may do more harm than good if not tackling the norm well; the importance of understanding gender norms in rural areas, as well as how simply introducing normative change could avoid the necessity of infrastructure investment. These approaches are very different from the infrastructure or economics based projects I did when I was an international development consultant, and they made me reflect a lot on the effectiveness and merits of each approach.

At the end of the afternoon session, Dr. Gleibs asked a question: ‘Who are we to decide and change the norms of a local community?’, which stirred up a series of ethics discussion around the table, such as the encounter between the ‘right knowledge’ (usually from the Western perspectives) and ‘local knowledge’ (from the locals who receive an intervention). I really appreciate the fact that, be it the contributors of this meeting or academics at PBS in general, modesty, humanity and reflexivity are always the norms of discussion within the collaborator, and I will remember this when carrying out my work in the future, especially when it comes to working with groups who are in a disadvantaged position.

Another career insight that I gained from the MSNC meeting is that a job title shouldn’t limit how I apply what I learnt at PEL. It is rather rare to see vacancies in the social norms space on job boards, and there isn’t a straightforward career path for PEL graduates. However, as pointed out by Dr. Cislaghi, interactions between social norms and other disciplines are ubiquitous. A cool idea or intervention may fail simply because of not paying attention to basic norms. For instance, some scientists found a simple way to disinfect drinking water to reduce childhood diarrhoea in rural Bolivia, which was to put a bottle of water on one’s rooftop under the sun. However, despite an extensive promotional campaign, only a small amount of households actually did so, because it was considered a sign of one’s poverty. With the training of PEL, I am confident that my sensitivity towards human sentiments will enable me to adopt a more human-centred approach for problem-solving, preventing the unforeseen influence of social norms from impairing the expected outcome. This skill is highly relevant as long as human-beings are involved in the work I do in the future.

[1] Members of the Media and Social norms collaborator include LSE, LSHTM, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Well Told Story, Population Foundation of India, Center for Social and Behavior Change Communication, Ashoka University (Delhi), Frog Design, Care International, the Overseas Development Institute, Georgetown University and Oxfam International.

Impact in Education. The robots are coming - Are the Children ready? December 2017


A new agenda for education in the 21st century 

Why? As we all prepare to embrace the changes of an artificially intelligent world, some of us appear to be more prepared than others. As a mother to a 3 year old and 5 year old, I (and most of my university educated, professional peers), often feel lost and confused as to what we should be doing to prepare them for the world they will live in. As a colleague said to me recently ‘We can remain in denial, but it is already happening all around us!’ Our partners in this project, are the schools, governments and education experts who will all work together to educate and prepare the next generation. The generation who will need to be equipped to live in such a different, exciting, scary, fast developing and artificially intelligent world.   

Looking around for leaders in this field, who was leading the way, I came across Finland! Finland has been taking really positive steps in the field of education for the past few years, commissioning government think tanks as early as 2015 to write white papers on ‘Technology as an enabler of sustainable well-being in the modern society’ ( This thinking has shaped much around Finnish education, the role of the teacher and the purpose of learning for the 21st century.   

What? As one begins to explore this area, you quickly become conscious that you are entering a new sphere where tech language, skills and opportunities are influencing the frameworks and language of what gets foregrounded. To demonstrate how far this shift in thinking has already influenced our current practice, here are some innovative methods to problem solving which have gained momentum over the last decade. 

These are steps away from traditional scientific or engineering thinking which are traditionally thought of linear and cumulative. This type of thinking sees unstructured play is central to its ethos and learning environments where failure and experimentation as critical. Examples of this type of thinking include   

- Design thinking – led from the Stanford design school this type of thinking broadly follows 7 non-linear steps - define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement and learn. C. Meinel, and L. Leifer, of the Center for Design Research (CDR) at Stanford University, suggest the 4 principles of design thinking - the human rule, the ambiguity rule, the re-design rule and the tangibility rule for wicked problems. HWJ Rittel, Professor of the Science of Design at UC Berkeley defines wicked problems as those where both the problem and the solution are unknown at the beginning of the exercise.   

- Tinkering and Exploratoriums – refers to the serious act of making small changes to something in an attempt to improve it or repair it or learning by doing. Introduced into the educational field as a potential driver of creativity, excitement and innovation in science learning. Tinkering labs, which are springing up across universities and companies have been influential in exploring STEM (science technology, engineering and mathematics) concepts.   

- The Maker movement - is the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers and has been going on since the 1960’s. A tech- influenced DIY community or as Chris Anderson defines it, it is  “What happens when the Web meets the real world”. Today we have Maker Faires globally all over the world (, creating spaces for people of all ages to get involved and share ideas and products.  

So what? Back to the children 

So what are these 21st century skills? These are not subjects traditionally seen in the school curriculum. They are classified as Life Skills or Socioemotional skills. The idea that these skills are necessary to develop wellbeing in a society is not new. What is new, is the idea that these skills can become a part of a child’s school education curriculum - and with this comes the implication that it can be assessed and developed systematically over the course of an education. This is new, exciting and a quantum jump for the field, and society, who is perhaps like me, used to a mathematics, science, and English skills based curriculum.    

In my explorations of my questions, I was excited to learn about an upcoming event including the Government of India and global education experts and one of Simplicity's collaborators Evaldesign.  On the 19th of December, in New Delhi, Evaldesign a New-Delhi based, education research consulting firm[1] is bringing together a group of experts to share their learning in the field of education. This round table discussion is the launch an advocacy program to influence the National Education Framework of India[2].    

This program is the first of these 3 high-level round tables includes Dr Tara Betejlle (Standford, World Bank), Isabelle Sutcliffe (Ex-Pearson Edexcel, CAER), Pranac Kothari, (Harvard, VP Education initiatives), Vishal Talreja (Founder, Dream a Dream), Sashwati Banerjee (Managing Director, Sesame workshop), Prof, Fernando Reimers (Harvard Graduate School of Education) and Sri Anil Swarup (Secretary. School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India).   

How? At the event on the 19th of December Evaldeisign will also launch its findings in a book called a Handbook on Measuring 21st Century Skills. How has this challenge been unpacked in the 21st century skills world and what is the handbook going to help us or the Government of India achieve?  

The first contribution of this book, based on extensive research, is the outline of the definitions of the 4 broadly accepted competencies which research shows will form the 21st century skills. These are Critical thinking, Creativity, Empathy and Executive Function. The second (perhaps greater) contribution is a set of suggestions on the existing methods of measuring each of the 21st century skills.   A flavor of these skills explored in much greater depth in the handbook: Creativity - the ability to produce, or the process of producing work that is both novel (ie. original, unexpected) and appropriate (ie. useful, adaptive concerning task constraints) Critical thinking - (credit to the Pearson group) -Goal-directed thinking, used to define and solve problems, make decisions or form judgments related to a particular situation or set of circumstances.  Empathy - an individuals ability to detect what another individual is feeling and experience an emotion that is consistent with that feeling.  Executive function - a group of skills that enables us with adaptive, self-regulated, goal-directed and problem solving behaviour, providing for a sense of readiness, agency, flexibility and coherence.    

While you are having your morning tea or on your commute home this evening take a moment, imagine a world where these are the core skills being ‘taught’ in the education system. What would that mean for teachers? Who would these teachers be who could bring about this kind of learning? What would the schools look like which create the environment for such being to emerge? What kind of universities would create the next stage of challenging learning environments for these young people? Would the IITs and the content driven science learning institutions loose their hallowed status among young children and families? Or perhaps, how would they need to change too?

[1] Evaldesign’s insights are based on relationships with Facebook, Google, MIT, Harvard, the Lego foundation and deep research in India over the last decade. Evaldesign provides research and design inputs that lend programs an intrinsic ability to capture high quality data for quick feedback and effective implementation. Our goal is to help donors, investors, governments and non-profits working improve accountability, efficiency and efficacy of Education programs through data-driven insights.   [2] For some insight into the scale of this challenge or for those who are not versed in the complexity and history of the Indian Education system another Evaldesign publication from 2015, the School Education system in India, - a handbook, has a concise practical walk through the landscape.      

Bridging Theory and Practice - an evidence based approach to impact. September 2017


2 donors, 3 academics, 3 implementors, 2 private sectors partner walked into a room……Sounds like a normal day at the pub perhaps, but this was meeting at the Department of Psychological and Behavioral Science at LSE which crossed boundaries and created a space for some unique impactful collaboration.


This unusual, intentionally small, high-level gathering was bought together as part of an ongoing series ‘Bridging Theory and Practice’ whose intentions are twofold. First-ly to start at the point of the knotty social issue rather than the theory or discipline, and secondly, to gather people who are trying, working, researching, designing, measuring in this space and bring them into a learning conversation, across sectors and disciplines. In the interest of maximising the applied impact coming out of this meeting, BTP has the tradition of giving the chair to field to be driven by the articulation of the challenges from the practice rather than the theory.

Why is this important now?

Crossing these boundaries in this series was first explored back in 2010, between BBC Media Action and the LSE. Back then academic incentive to participate was un-derstandably significantly lower in the brutal publish or perish environment of the time. Today however, the incentives both sides have changed. Practice needs to be learning from and engaging with academic evidence of change and impact. Publish or perish also seems to have moved on. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) to-day has now got a significant proportion dedicated to impact. Most academics and administrators I have spoken to are not exactly sure around the dimensions of impact and certainly unsure about its measurement, but the waters have clearly changed direction over the past few years.

What happened?

Back to the meeting this week — the agenda was on ‘Media and Social Norms, sharing thoughts on how the media works to shift social norms. The group which gathered included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Child Investment Fund Founda-tion, the LSE - Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, LSE - Depart-ment of Media and Communications, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Med-icine, the Africa Voices Foundation, Well Told Story (Kenya), Caribou Digital, Frog De-sign and Simplicity. There were 9 people in the room and 2 on Skype from Kenya and Delhi.

What impact was created?

The meeting was at lunchtime, a 2 hour conversation followed by an afternoon work-shop. As with many meetings, connections were made, conversations were had, per-spectives were shared, cards were exchanged, but does this count as impact? In a world of measure-ables and packed diaries is this good use of busy peoples time? Here are some of my observations on the impacts in the room.

The impact of community - Siddhartha Swarup from the Gates Foundation from Delhi was the first speaker laying out some of the struggles donors face after having invest-ed over 250 million pounds in one of the largest investments in Bihar, India over the last 7 years. Of this investment, around 70 million dollars have been invested in the Behavior Change Communication programmes (the space where media interventions are critical). 3 issues were discussed in his talk - (1)the fluidity of norms in change i.e. are there low hanging fruit when shifting norms (2)the notion of individual choice in shifting norms (3) the tipping point in shift norms and the validity of such a notion.There was not a single voice in the room who did not respond or resonate with these challenges laid out - questioning investment strategies, questioning theoretical un-derpinnings, suggesting literatures, alternative experiences providing data - and we were off to a rich conversation as equal members of the community of practice.

The impact of collective challenges and voice - Well Told Story from Kenya took us through their work developing Shujaaz, a mis-sion-driven media platform targeting youth aged 15-24 in Kenya and Tanzania.. Over Skype the head of knowledge and learning team, Dr. Anastasia Mirzoyants, shared the challenges of accessing this age group with normative and behavior change cam-paigns. Anastasia talked about the three break-through that helped Shujaaz to be more effective in stimulating and sustaining normative change: (a) the discovery of the adoption-rejection space in which rejection is an (mis) informed decision to not adopt new behaviors often influenced by social norms; (2) the segmentation of audi-ence with segments set along the adoption-rejection space; and (3) targeted segment-needs-informed use of media channels and content to help each segment move to-wards adoption on their terms.

Dr Claudia Abreu Lopes, Senior Advisor at Africa voices shared insights from a pro-ject called the Dreams Initiative, in Kenya, that aims to understand social norms around girls dropping out from school and missing lessons during their period. Through this project the use of big data to look at norms was brought into the con-versation. She is furthering her work investigating social norms using big data in a project she and Dr Bailur from Caribou Digital, are now doing with UN women using Twitter data.

Over the lunchbreak the connections and shared concerns continued to be discussed around issues like the deep challenges of measurement raised by Erin MacCarthy, from the Child Investment Fund Foundation and the essential nature of the fluidity of norms. The collaborative conversations and connections had begun to emerge.

The impact of shared ideas and new ideas - Craig Cisero a Senior Business Strategist from frog design bought private sector mod-els to the table and the process of human centered design thinking used in producing a fire service response in the Kenya. He shared innovations that emerged from their design process, which resulted in a market driven service provision which is financially self -sustaining. This work was with the American Red Cross and being piloted inSouth Africa and Kenya. Craig spoke about the key insights of derived from under-standing the social norms and the informal power brokers in the local communities.

The ethical dimension of shifting social norms stimulated by Dr Bailur, Research Director at Caribou Digital after she talked about the complexities of the Adhaar Card implementation in India based on large scale research they have conducted with the Omidiyaar Foundation. Her insights highlighted issues on multi identities, the static nature of digital identities, the issue of revelation of identities in public spaces for fear of the judgements and recriminations that bring due to the societal norms. She also raised a very interesting discussion around the need for the reflexivity of the researchers and implementing organisations. Dr Gliebs, shared concerns about the normative nature on social norms that implementors can have i.e. the notion of the right norm’ and Dr Sheehy-Skeffington spoke about the functional aspects of norms i.e. norms have a function in society, often that maybe keeping people safe or even giving them security within a community.

The impact of collaboration - At the closing session, Dr Ben Cislaghi, Assistant Professor in Social Norms at LSHTM, mapped the many groups working on social norms and social impact around the world. His sense was that ‘the contribution of this group would be a collaboration focused on the role of the media within the social norms conversations. While there are individual projects and voices such a collective voice is currently missing from the bigger conversation.’

Additionally, this collective voice would be beneficial to all our organisations to learn, secure collaboration for ideas and funding purposes and have a voice in the larger social norms collaborations that we are aware of. I offered this meeting to be the first in a series of 3 BTP meetings on this topic over the course of this year - the next one in spring 2018. We are going to meet again.

What next?

In the current academic climate where the holy grail of impact is embodied in policy and patents, and the pathways are identified through incubators and accelerators, I would suggest this type of collaborative is the first important step.Creating the safe space where the community of difference (incommensurable paradigms - as I was once told) can translate their thinking and processes to each other is critical for disruption and creative endeavor. I would suggest that collaborators are the first critical step in the chain to impact. Getting collaborators right significantly increases the chances of the success of impact of the incubators and the accelerators. This is impact.We now have the Media and Social Norms Collaborator! We will keep you updated on what emerges – a consultancy, a project, a funding proposal, an incubator per-haps? If you are working in this space, or interested in the short report of this meet-ing please contact