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.


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.

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

Your Program

How can you make the activity as visible as possible?

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2. Provide additional "markers" of participation.


T-shirts, caps, and umbrellas with campaign logos increased the visibility of participation in The Clean Air Commute.

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.

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

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.


At each EcoTeam meeting, participants of the Global Action Plan shared experiences and results from the previous month.

GAP participants were prepared for the recruiting stage of the program during their introductory event when GAP was described as a program for developing sustainable lifestyles and then helping others to do the same. At the first EcoTeam meeting, participants were introduced to the recruiting process and then asked: "Are you up to attempting to create two more teams at the end of the program?"

A 1996 study of recruiting in the U.S.A. found that 40 percent to 50 percent of individuals who were approached to attend an introductory event agreed to do so, and 85 percent of individuals who attended the introductory event joined EcoTeams.

People receiving home visits from ReCAP were urged, "If you were happy with the service you received, please tell others about it."

In the AIDS Peer Education Program, presentations were performed by peers who were openly in favor of abstinence and condom use. This sent a powerful message to other teens that these choices were not only important but socially acceptable.

Le Club Millezinc trained older students to deliver presentations to younger students.

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.


The appeal that asked Claremont residents to recycle stated: "Over 80 percent of Claremonters favour the city's recycling program."

When employees arrived at work on the day of The Clean Air Commute, they marked the activity they undertook on a chart. Pollution Probe collected the charts and tabulated accumulated points. Recognition was later provided through an awards ceremony for companies that earned the greatest number of points and through congratulatory newspaper ads which listed all participating companies.

During their home visits, Earth-Works' Compost Doctors pointed out how neighbours had overcome similar problems with their composters.

Go Boulder, JEEP, ReCAP and Quinte Regional Recycling all illustrate the use of media stories that showed community members participating.

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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