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| September 20, 2019

The Learning Collaborative to Advance Normative Change: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going

The Learning Collaborative to Advance Normative Change is a network of experts committed to facilitating collaboration between organizations and individuals working on adolescent and youth norms-shifting interventions. Members are working collectively to build knowledge and tools to promote and guide effective social norm theory, measurement, and practice. To this end, we have developed a series of blogs to clarify some of the key concepts in social norms work.

In our previous blog, we took a look back on the Learning Collaborative’s special supplement in the Journal of Adolescent Health, “Advancing Social Norms Practice for Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health: The Why and the How.” In this, our tenth blog of the series, we look back over the origin, accomplishments, and next steps of the Learning Collaborative.


Everybody knows that social norms affect teen pregnancy, child marriage, gender-based violence, school drop-out, use of contraceptives…”  Anonymous Learning Collaborative Member, from the Learning Collaborative Member Survey

But they struggle with:

  • How to identify whether and what norms are affecting particular outcomes?
  • How to design interventions to affect normative transformation – at scale?
  • Can social norm interventions achieve sustained change?
  • What IS a social norm intervention? …. AND
  • How to measure shifts in social norms?

The Global Learning Collaborative (LC) to Advance Normative Change grew out of the recognition that researchers, implementing organizations, and donors were all struggling to answer these same questions.  This is so often the case— organizations work within their own spheres of activity to find solutions, while others are simultaneously and separately wrestling with the same issues.   In this case, ‘the stars aligned’ to bring together funding and organizations.  A truly collaborative collaboration ensued, joined by approximately 300 people from almost 100 organizations.  Experts with varied backgrounds and skills worked together to unpack the complexity embodied in understanding and addressing social norms that affect outcomes at the community level.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in partnership with the USAID-funded Passages Project, the LC began in December, 2016, with a meeting of researchers, donors, and implementers. The group discussed social norms-related issues common among them and charted the path of the LC.  Since then, members of the Collaborative have produced key documents that synthesize what is known about theory, research, measurement, and practice related to social norms; and developed tools to identify social norms that are relevant in particular contexts and to determine by whom and how those norms are reinforced.  These documents and tools can be used to inform the design of interventions to promote positive social norms, to monitor implementation, and to assess what works and what is not working within community-based interventions to affect social transformation.

In addition to the collaboratively-produced documents, the LC has served as a nexus to its members. A survey of members of the LC revealed that connections across the professional networks that were fostered by the Collaborative more than doubled. Interactions among members included sharing and promoting each other’s work; providing feedback and sharing resources; collaborating on papers, abstracts, reports or blog posts; collaborating on the implementation of projects or studies; working on grant proposals or design of proposal solicitations; and conducting joint training, such as webinars and workshops.

Now that the LC has successfully contributed toward strengthening global technical leadership on social norms during its first phase…what’s next? The Hewlett Foundation will join the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID funding to support the LC – Phase 2.   How will Phase 2 expand upon the work initiated under the first phase?  That will be determined by the Collaborative.  In the meantime, there has been significant evolution during the past couple years toward addressing the questions raised at the initiation of the LC.  Recognition of the importance of addressing social norms has continued to grow, and, at global level, there are more examples of how to do so.  In addition to expanding on the answers to those questions raised at the beginning of the LC, more questions still remain.  These might include, for example:

  • How to advances knowledge on social norms at a global level to reach those at regional and country-levels and enable them to incorporate state-of-the-art evidence and tools into their research and implementation efforts?
  • When and how to incorporate lessons gleaned from FP/RH-focused social norms work in other areas of health (e.g. Nutrition, WASH, maternal, newborn, and child health, etc.) and other sectors (e.g. Agriculture, Education, Economic Strengthening, etc.)?

To join the Learning Collaborative, and work with us to answer these and more questions, please contact Cait Davin (

 Linda Sussman, M.Ed., Ph.D., is a Senior Program Research Advisor in the Research, Technology, and Utilization Division of the Office of Population and Reproductive Health, Bureau of Global Health, at the United States Agency for International Development.

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