Social Norms Health Interventions

NWA has built up a considerable reputation for our work in ‘Social Norms’ Health Interventions to reduce risky behaviour in relation to Alcohol, Drug Use and Sexual Behaviour.

Social Norms is a methodology developed in the USA and successfully used in colleges to reduce student’s risky behaviour in relation to a number of issues, including misuse of alcohol and drug-taking.

The methodology involves gathering information from young people about their own behaviour in the target areas and their perceived view as to the behaviour of their peers. It is invariably the case that young people overestimate the prevalence of risky behaviour of their peers. The theory expounded by Social Norms is that this overestimate influences the actions of young people when deciding on their own behaviour including in risk-taking areas.

The gathered data is examined to reveal any marked differences between the subjects own behaviour and that of their peers. This difference is turned into ‘positive social norm’ messages, e.g. ‘99% of all Year 7 students have not taken illegal drugs’, ‘95% of Year 9 students believe that binge drinking is never the right thing to do’ etc.  These messages are then fed back to the students in a targeted way specific to their school or college. A feature of NWA’s work has been the involvement of the students in developing a ‘brand image’ and style for this feedback. In a recent major exercise with eight secondary schools, focus groups were held and the ‘YouSaid…’ brand was developed with the strap-line ‘Its true coz you told us…’. These were used in developing a website and marketing materials.

NWA has recently carried out further surveys following a two-year marketing campaign with the schools – including posters and floor stickers; the website, screen savers, freebies, quizzes with prizes etc. – and the results have revealed a considerable shift in the underlying knowledge and beliefs of the young people when approaching risk-taking behaviour. Schools have been able to use the evidence gathered as part of the Government’s ‘Healthy Schools’ initiative.