Norms in Practice Lab

How to understand and work with social norms for inclusive governance

Posted in: Leave No One Behind
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Social norms are embedded in every society, community, and institutional structure. Some groups, particularly women and youth, are disproportionately affected by restrictive norms, which has increased the interest in norm transformation by funders, practitioners, and researchers. The Norms in Practice Lab seeks to influence how social norms are understood and incorporated into funding frameworks, program design, and research projects in the development sector. We bring together insights of practitioners and academics to inform and shape the discourse on social norms, particularly related to gender and inclusive governance. The Lab aims to translate research to practice and inform the policy agenda on sustainable development.

The Norms in Practice Lab seeks to influence how social norms are understood and incorporated into funding frameworks, program design, and research projects in the development sector.

Norms in Practice Lab

Why this project?
Social norms are increasingly acknowledged by funders, practitioners, and researchers as they are considered as drivers of and barriers to sustainable change. However, many of these actors struggle to fully understand the exact nature of the different types of norms (e.g. social or institutional) and their context-dependent hierarchies and interactions. By investing in understanding social norms, we believe that research and interventions can inform and incorporate ethical practices leading to positive, relevant, and sustainable outcomes for local communities.

The aim of the Norms in Practice Lab is to consolidate and build on the existing knowledge about social norms impacting inclusive governance and to use this information onwards in the process. Also, the influence of how social norms are addressed in funding frameworks, development programming, and academic research is of great importance.

The involved actors
The core team consists of experienced practitioners from the non-governmental development sector and academic researchers, based in the Netherlands and working in the global South, including fragile contexts. The wider global network of actors involved has worked on the topic of social norms either through programming or research efforts. All have explored the topic from different approaches ranging from governance and rule of law to sexual and reproductive health rights, and more.

Activities & Collaborations
• Build a space for dialogue between experts from different backgrounds by convening 3-4 times each year to exchange insights from current research and programming, with an emphasis on cross-sector learning.
• Consolidate the existing knowledge on social norms impacting inclusive governance and create a knowledge resource platform.

• Translate research findings into practice and provide advice to improve the effectiveness of interventions.
• Support funders, implementers and researchers to navigate the difficulty of social norms in achieving sustainable social change.
• Publish policy paper(s) based on empirical evidence and practical experience on working with social norms in governance programming.

We challenge you …
To work with the enabling and disabling social norms that impact the effectiveness of programming and research. But, we also would like to hear from you! We’re interested to receive knowledge products (e.g. research, programme documents) that shed more light on this topic. We’re also eager to involve other voices into the discussion. Check these additional reading materials about Norms in Practice and get fully informed. Or get connected by sending an e-mail to

Team members

Anne-Marie Heemskerk
Anne-Marie Heemskerk
The Spindle
Berlinda Nolles-Wagenaar
CARE Nederland
Elianne Anemaat
RNW Media
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Elsbet Lodenstein
Royal Tropical Institute
Freddy Sahinguvu
The Hague Academy for Local Governance
Karin Willemse
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Katie Whipkey
CARE Nederland
Lori Cajegas
CARE Nederland
Marleen Dekker
African Studies Centre, Leiden University
Michael James Warren
Sylvia I. Bergh
International Institute of Social Studies
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Violet Benneker

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