5.2.6. Methods of Influencing Informal Rules

Identifying Effective and Ineffective Practices

A good first step in changing informal rules is to analyze which norms are beneficial and which are not. SDCAsia has had success in involving community members in a process to build on the best norms and discard the not-so-good norms. To promote the implementation of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) standards for Cardava banana farming, SDCAsia needed to change the norms of how farmers typically manage their Cardava farms. The B-ACE project conducted a series of round table discussions with representatives from farmers, traders, processors/exporters, government agricultural extension workers, commercial plantation managers and input suppliers. The stakeholders collectively identified best and not-so-good practices including:

  • those that have been generally accepted in the industry;
  • “trade secrets” in farming that were previously unknown to the majority of the players;
  • indigenous practices that have been handed down from generations; and
  • results from field studies/research conducted by agriculture extension workers, input suppliers and researches.

Generic templates from previously drafted GAP facilitated by SDCAsia for other crops were presented as reference/benchmarking parallel to identifying the not-so-good aspects of implementing GAP. Through this process, producers developed a sense of ownership of the implementation measures and to a significant extent aligned informal norms with Good Agriculture Practices, which helped reduce the sense of outwardly imposed requirements. Immediate benefits included lower transaction costs, as traders and processors had less rejected produce, as well as a significant reduction of conflicts caused by differing understandings and interpretations of standards.

Steps for using this method are as follows:

  1. Participants identify dominant existing norms and practices and their effects on farms and livelihoods.
  2. Facilitator provides a brief introduction and leads discussion on standards and norms that could work better for households, the community, and the industry.
  3. Participants identify the best of the current system.
  4. Participants identify what is not working in the current system. This can include norms that reduce income-generating capability and industry competitiveness.
  5. Participants list the norms that should be established in order to improve their conditions and that of the community and industry. These can be classified as short- and medium-term goals.
  6. Participants identify the norms and elements that could lessen the effectiveness of the new system. These are potential pitfalls that should be avoided.
  7. Participants identify one major concern they may have in implementing the new set of norms.

Overcoming Barriers and Strengthening Drivers of Change

When developing strategies for change in social institutions, it is essential to determine the barriers to and drivers of change. Barriers to change—both external and internal (personal)—discourage people from taking an action they otherwise would. External barriers to change may include:

  • cost;
  • technology is not accessible; and
  • laws are conflicting or confusing.


Personal barriers may include:

  • failure to recognize the problem;
  • not knowing how to address the problem;
  • problem is not considered a priority;
  • change seems too difficult; and
  • there are no models for adopting the change.

These barriers can be minimized by reducing costs, expanding distribution, providing adequate information, and improving communication and other systems. Analyzing the barriers to change is also useful in drawing up a strategic change plan and assessing the feasibility of change.

Communicating the Change Agenda through Comics

Research indicates that pure information campaigns have minimal effect on changing behavior. Having a high level of awareness of food contamination and the importance of personal hygiene does not necessarily translate into a concern or taking personal action. Information, however, is important for communicating that a problem exists, that there is a practical solution, and to assist in identifying the costs of inaction and benefits of taking action. Paying attention to how the information is presented can improve its effectiveness. People are more likely to pay attention to information that is:

Comics on issues related to cheating and calibration of weighing scales


Comics on issues related to cheating and calibration of weighing scales.
  • Vivid: Use of visual images that makes it easy for the audience to visualize.
  • Personal: The use of data that is personally relevant; wherever possible, it is important to show the target groups how the issue will affect them, their children, their house, their incomes, their communities, the region, etc.
  • Specific and concrete: Specific recommendations on how to modify current practices and messages that clearly show target groups each of the specific steps involved in engaging in the behavior are more likely to be successful.
  • Stated in terms of loss rather than gain: Research suggests that messages which emphasize the losses are consistently more persuasive than messages which emphasize savings as a result of taking action.
  • Told as a story: Real stories and experiences that the target communities can relate to can be more effective can be much more effective than a set of abstract instructions or information about the long-term effects of actions. Empathy can be triggered in your audience by telling a moving, personal story.
  • Emotional: People tend to be persuaded more by emotional messages than logical ones. If messages relate to something people care about, they may be more likely to take action. Emotions can be powerful motivators as well as a disincentive for change. Experiences indicate that strong negative emotional responses such as fear and despair and complete can end all desires and discussions on change. Likewise, making people feel manipulated or guilty will often result in strong resistance.

Based on the above, SDCAsia has increasingly used comics as a means of incorporating the development messages into entertaining formats that communities enjoy reading or watching. Comics allow sensitive topics that otherwise may be avoided to be treated in a nonthreatening way and spark dialogues that facilitated self-realization. A few tips on preparing comics are as follows:

  1. It is best to focus on one particular aspect that you would want to change or point out. A specific message is always more powerful than a broad one.
  2. Think of a short real-life story that will express the point you want to make. In many cases, our stories are taken from the field surveys during the value chain analysis or from stories recounted by participants during the stakeholders' workshops/focus group discussions.
  3. A message with drama and some comedy in it works better than a strictly educational one.
  4. Use minimal text. Make it as visual as possible. Sometimes, to create some dramatic effect and to emphasize a point, exaggeration in size or movement may be needed. However, avoid too many exaggerations in one comic strips.
  5. Make sure that drawings do not resemble any real-life person in the industry.
  6. If possible, tell the story from a value chain perspective including how behaviors lead to specific effects.

Addressing Mechanisms for Enforcing Informal Rules

Informal rules are typically enforced through community feedback mechanisms that maintain compliance. It is essential to understand the underlying driver of a rule, what its social benefits are and the various feedback mechanisms used for enforcement. Individualism (for example, early adoption of new crops/technologies) comes into conflict with informal rules in many cultures, so it is important to explore methods of resolving these tensions. One way to address this is for early adopters to access easy investment or upgrading options, but in a way that is open and provides incremental steps for other community members to see the progression as obtainable. This limits the potential for resentment against early adopters since the process of upgrading is viewed as more open and accessible. [1]

It is often important to address the feedback mechanisms that communities use to enforce norms against individualism. For example, where informal rules require extra earned income to be shared with other members of the family, one might push to create localized jobs like input agents and spraying services. This starts a process whereby requests for cash (that cannot be denied) can be defined around transactions for a service or product. Alternatively, one can track farmers’ cash-flow and encourage upgrading investments that capture the cash immediately, before the farmer is faced with the dilemma of honoring requests from community members. ACDI/VOCA did this in Ghana by encouraging input firms to organize promotional events for inputs for the coming season at the same time as harvest sales.[2]

Sometimes the best solutions are ones that avoid challenging deeply entrenched informal rules, or undermining positive aspects of them. For example, in communities that place a high social value on livestock, a "two herds" solution may resolve the conflict between social and commercial values. In general, practitioners should ensure that the process of innovation (of new crops, technologies, etc.) is as inclusive, transparent and incremental as possible—so that early adopters stand out less from the crowd.


  1. E-Consultation: The Impacts of Social Norms on Value Chain Performance, April 27-29 2010
  2. E-Consultation: The Impacts of Social Norms on Value Chain Performance, April 27-29 2010