Norm Appeals

What is this Tool?

Norm appeals are ways of making group standards more apparent. The norm appeals in this section all do this in a similar manner. They make it more likely that people will observe others doing the activity you are promoting and are a key element of social learning theory (

For example, the size and colour of the Blue Box and the fact that it is put out at the curb has helped people see that others in their community are recycling. Similarly, peer support groups can help participants witness each other making changes. Public commitments (see the Tool Obtaining a Commitment) are observable by others by definition.

Why Would You Use It?

People often decide what attitudes and actions are appropriate from observing those around them. This kind of influence can have long-lasting effects.

When Would You Use It?

Design norm appeals into your programs at all stages, from program planning to feedback, as described below.

How Would You Use It?

1. Design the activity itself to be as visible as possible.


BIXI bikes were designed to be distinctive, so people noticed when they were being used.

Guelph 2000 had residents stake the spot on their properties where their shade trees would be planted. The stakes were painted bright green and had the name Guelph 2000 marked on them.

Aarhus Bike Busters held an opening ceremony on Town Square, where participants were given their bicycles. They all rode an inaugural lap of the town, making the project a visible public event.

Your Program

How can you make the activity as visible as possible?

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2. Provide additional "markers" of participation.


Quinte Regional Recycling put stickers on participants' Blue Boxes that read: "We Compost Too."

Earth-Works provided participating business establishments with door stickers advertising that they were active composters. This helped to reinforce composting as a community activity. They also provided residents with lawn signs.

When ReCAP teams were doing home visits they placed a sign on the resident's lawn to inform the neighbours.

Bert the Salmon provided lawn signs so people could show their neighbors they practiced natural lawn care.

Tip: This is particularly important if the activity itself cannot be made very visible.

Tip: Click on an image to enlarge it. Click your back button to return to this page.
EarthWorks image
An Earth-Works lawn sign.

Your Program

How might you make use of the following?


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Lawn, garden or window signs:

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Lapel pins:

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3. Build in opportunities for people to share their experiences and other forms of "word-of-mouth" promotion.


Boston’s Challenge for Sustainability held monthly meetings and networking opportunities that brought together property managers, sustainability managers, operations & facilities managers, and more, from across Boston to share best practices and learn from each other.

UBC’s Energy Reduction Challenge awarded points to participants for coming together to participate in awareness, dialogue, and energy saving activities

Regular listeners of BRIDGE's Tisankhenji radio program formed "Listeners Clubs" where young girls talked about the issues and shared their stories.

HoMBReS organized regular peer support meetings during which participants shared their experiences. Further, the elected team leaders were consulted by their team members.

Your Program

For step-by-step instructions on this, see the Tool Word-of-mouth.

4. Record people's participation and show it to others.


Opower’s energy reports included a comparison with other similar households. If someone was a low energy user, Opower congratulated them and acknowledged their behavior to offset the risk of over-achievers migrating back to the centre. In addition, it partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Facebook to develop an application that presented energy-efficiency information, linkages and comparisons.

Loreto Bay’s radio ads and posters featured local fishers, which served as public commitments from these fishers and strengthened norm appeal at the same time.

UBC’s Energy Reduction Challenge awarded points to participants for creating diary-style video blogs (vlogs) based on prompts in order to reflect on their experience, generate awareness, and share tips for reducing energy

Bicycle Friendly Communities used public feedback and recognition to make it as risk-free and more career-enhancing for key decision makers to initiate and support cycle-friendly travel options as to choose the status quo.

Tip: Show the involvement of appropriate "opinion leaders" - respected people in the community that others will emulate, such as local heros, or business, spiritual or political leaders.

Your Program

How could you make use of the following?

  • media and other stories of people participating:
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  • home/garden tours:
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  • public commitments:
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  • photo albums:
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  • statistics on community members attitudes and participation:
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