Can we use Social Norms to predict the future?

The eternal challenge when commissioning any mainstream preventative programme in health, crime or education is to measure the ‘what if’ in one, three, five or ten years’ time.

Sometimes the ‘what if’ is about defining how many smokers might have been reduced or the levels of abstention from alcohol resulting from correcting social norms.

Sometimes it is about the impacts that can be generated around protective behaviours, i.e. the improved confidence, resilience or self-esteem young people will benefit from by being involved in a particular programme.

As a socially driven, values based organisation, we are acutely aware of our responsibilities to evidence the impacts we are making with young people through our programmes.

Uni of SalfordThis is primarily the reason we embarked on a 30-month Knowledge Based Partnership (KTP) with the University of Salford. Not only did we want to be independently challenged, we wanted to apply the lessons we have learned to pioneer new territories of research.

Our big aspiration was to move beyond traditional rear view mirror approaches and into the exciting new territory of predictive modelling.

If we can achieve this, then we may well become the first organisation to create a Social Return On Investment model for Social Norms work, both now and in the future.

Today’s release of R U Different? A Social Norms Approach to Positive Intervention Impacting on Young People’s Tobacco Usage, represents an exciting first step in that journey.

Using a range of data mining techniques from 57 schools over the last two years, the academic paper found overwhelming consistencies between movements of data resulting from the Interventions.

Further, it has started to establish which Interventions work best in isolation, which work best in combination and which hardly generate impact at all.

The paper is vindication of our long held belief that young people must be allowed to lead or participate in the process for it to have significant impact. We must also work to engage parents and families and continue to embrace technology to maximise immediacy, impact and sustainability.

This is the first of six papers planned around the Social Norms, Social Action and Mindfulness programmes we are running.

If you are interested in demonstrating similar impacts with young people in your area – or would be interested in being part of a larger Randomised Control Trial – please contact or call 0161 214 5216.

You can read the full paper here.

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