Chapter 5. Assessing the broader youth environment (Module 3)

Besides personal attributes and circumstances, policies and social norms can have a strong influence on youth outcomes and are an important element of the youth well-being environment. Thus, assessing the broader youth environment and determining how policies and social norms may contribute to enable or disable youth development potential. This section provides some tools for carrying out institutional analysis.


Policy inventory

Undertaking an inventory of existing youth policies and sectoral policies affecting or targeting youth is a first step towards assessing the policy environment. This can be done with a questionnaire or interviews with relevant authorities. A broad conception of youth policy not only includes policies directed specifically at young people but policies within other policy areas that mostly concern or affect young people, such as education.

A policy inventory can be established by sector and nature of programme (preventive or second chance) (Table 5.1). Once an inventory has been conducted, the next step is to compare existing policies with international experience and good practices to identify critical policy gaps, particularly those affecting disadvantaged youth. A package of policy instruments that intervene at critical stages of the life cycle can contribute significantly to reducing the risks of youth becoming disadvantaged later. Much of the evidence on the impact of youth policy comes from evaluations of specific interventions, but important knowledge gaps remain. Part I of this toolkit provides an inventory of programmes dedicated to youth. Policy inventory should include information on policy/programme name, targeted beneficiaries, budget, implementing agency, etc.

Table 5.1. Youth-oriented policy inventory template

Programme/policy name


Eligibility (beneficiaries profiles)

Total number targeted vs. number of actual beneficiaries

Budget (currency)

Source of financing

Responsible ministry or agency

Programme has been evaluated? (Yes/No, if yes provide reference)

Policy co-ordination and implementation

A national youth policy refers to a policy, strategy or law that lays out a comprehensive plan of action across sectors aimed at improving youth well-being. Progress in the formulation of cross-sectoral and integrated national youth policy has been slow, particularly in developing countries, partly because youth policy has traditionally never been high on national agendas. A national youth policy too often stands alone and is not integrated into overall national development plans. Lack of horizontal or vertical co-operation and co-ordination among sectoral actors can and often does distort policy outcomes.

Youth issues cut across a number of sectors, and the challenge is to link government agencies responsible for youth with other ministries, such as education, employment and health. The difficulty of coming up with a coherent and multidisciplinary strategy has been the norm rather than the exception in most countries. Understanding the process by which policies are transformed into outcomes requires an in-depth analysis of the institutional landscape and the co-ordination mechanisms for designing and delivering public services. An institutional and organisational analysis can help to identify the main actors in youth policies and understand their relationships, as well as to assess the internal competencies of respective organisations. The analysis will help to identify bottlenecks in policy co-ordination and implementation.

Institutional analysis

Each society or geographical area has a number of organisations that carry out activities for youth, often independently of each other. An institutional analysis helps to identify who is intervening with which programmes or policies and to understand the policy co-ordination process. The objective is to identify opportunities to strengthen co-operation among actors and improve policy co-ordination and coherence.

Analysing the coherence of policy making, considering the wide impact policies can have, and assessing interests and priorities of domestic constituencies can provide interesting insights into feasibilities of reform, coverage gaps and political economy factors. It can supply information ex ante (in what way competing or contradictory parties and groups are interested in certain outcomes and what factors should be considered in the policy-making stages) or ex post (why an expected outcome of a policy might not have been reached or how the implemented policy influenced other sectors).

The institutional analysis consists of identifying the actors influencing or affected by interventions (youth policies and programmes), such as government agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), target groups and private enterprises. It is important to determine their relations, whether they are binding or non-binding, their respective areas of interventions and influence, and the gaps and overlaps. This exercise allows answering questions, such as which organisations carry out activities related to youth (e.g. in the areas of health, employment, education, civic participation, justice) and what relations exist among these organisations. Factors that can influence the interventions, such as geographical, sociopolitical, cultural and economic, should also be identified. A typical institutional analysis can be conducted in seven steps.

  • Step 1. Define the scope of analysis (e.g. employment, health, education and/or national youth policy as a whole); and the geographic focus (e.g. national or local).

  • Step 2. Identify the main actors (e.g. government agencies, NGOs, private sector, target groups).

  • Step 3. Define the type of relations:

    • hierarchical – who reports to whom

    • communication – who communicates with whom

    • co-operation – who works with whom

    • operational – who provides inputs to whom

    • financial – who pays whom.

  • Step 4. Draw the map indicating the actors and use different types of lines to indicate the different relations.

  • Step 5. Indicate the frequency or importance of the relations.

  • Step 6. Indicate the sufficiency and adequacy of the relations.

  • Step 7. Analyse the institutional map:

    • Collaboration: Which relations are problematic? Which can be improved? Which deserve less attention? What can be done to strengthen collaboration? Is there a discussion/exchange platform among ministries when designing, implementing and monitoring the policy? How can governance structures co-operate in order to assess, report on and improve policy making and reform?

    • Co-ordination: How does the horizontal and vertical policy-making process impact inter-ministerial co-ordination and co-operation? Are there certain institutional co-ordination mechanisms in place to assess and monitor the impact of a policy?

    • Coherence: In what way does the policy reinforce, complement or hinder other policy areas? Do any policies interfere with the policy targets? In what way? What similar policy implementations might have worked in the past and why? Have potential direct or indirect negative effects (economic, environmental and social) on young people and vulnerable youth been considered and mitigated?

Successful policy making and reforms require strong institutions and leadership. The problem of political economy lies at the root of many obstacles to reforming or implementing new policies. The heterogeneity of agents involved in youth policies, the power structure, imperfect information and electoral incentives all contribute to complex policy environments and implementation challenges. Therefore, the policy practices of one country cannot be copied by another without taking into account the context-specific political economy. Two aspects of introducing new policies or reforming must be taken into account: i) designing policies that will enhance aggregate welfare; and ii) devising strategies to prevent opponents (or losers) from the new policy or reform from blocking the process (OECD, 2010).

Box 5.1. Policy reform initial checklist

There is no universal formulae for policy reform success; however, experience by the OECD points to a number of basic questions that policy makers must address when designing both policy reforms and strategies for their adoption and implementation:

  • Do the authorities have a clear mandate for change?

  • What more can be done to demonstrate to the public and key stakeholders the need for change and/or the desirability of the proposed solutions?

  • How strong is the evidence and analysis underlying the arguments for reform?

  • Are institutions in place that can manage the reform effectively, from design to implementation, or is there a need to create/strengthen such institutions?

  • Does the reform have clearly identifiable “owners” in terms of both politicians and institutions?

  • What is the expected timeframe for design, adoption and implementation?

  • What is the strategy for engaging those threatened by reform? Can they be persuaded to support it? To what extent can/should their objections be overridden? Should they be compensated for their anticipated losses? If so, how and to what extent?

Source: OECD (2010).

Organisational analysis

An organisational analysis looks at the internal operation of an entity, for example the lead government agency responsible for youth. It will assess the internal strengths and weaknesses of the organisation, such as staff competencies, motivation, budget and management structure. Once a lead or several lead agencies have been identified, an analysis of the internal organisation should be carried out.

A Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat (SWOT) analysis is a tool for assessing and communicating the current position of an organisation or a particular reform option in terms of its internal strengths and weakness and the external opportunities and threats it faces. It provides a clear basis on which to develop a picture of the changes needed to build on strengths, minimise weaknesses, take advantage of opportunities and deal with threats.

  • Step 1. Gather and summarise initial insights from internal interviews and relevant documents. Supplement as needed with insights from surveys of users and other key stakeholders. Organise the insights into Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat.

  • Step 2. Carry out this process with key partners and stakeholders. Note that many strengths can also be weaknesses when viewed from a different perspective. The same applies to opportunities and threats.

  • Step 3. Develop strategies on the basis of this analysis.

Box 5.2. SWOT analysis of the General Secretariat of NYDC in Cambodia



  • Strong leadership support from the government (e.g. having the Prime Minister as Chairman of the NYDC)

  • A strong legal framework

  • Able to gather support from relevant stakeholders – civil society organisations, youth organisations and international NGOs

  • Hosted by the General Directorate of Youth within the MoEYS

  • Nationwide coverage, meaning the NYDC has mandates to establish its networks of councils down to local government levels

  • Sustainability of the activities (since it is structured with established government officials)

  • Demographic dividend

  • Ongoing economic growth

  • Available news media, including social media (easier access to information and interactive)

  • Regional connection – able to integrate with ASEAN Youth Work plan, SSEAYP networks, etc.

  • Numerous existing youth organisations



  • Unclear structure and limited understanding of roles and responsibilities.

  • Insufficient infrastructure such as office equipment, meeting rooms, website, information database, etc.

  • Unclear budget framework

  • Staffed with existing government officials whose workload is already congested

  • Only a few focal staff will be active

  • Difficulty to find officials for each needed position; capacity of assigned staff might be limited (e.g. experienced in working with youth)

  • Resentment of existing staff who are not assigned to the general secretariat (e.g. political appointment of candidates external to the UYFC)

  • Politically influenced (e.g. connection with the UYFC, SSEAYP and other political youth organisations)

  • Many existing youth unions (competing mandates, budget)

  • Lack of youth representation and participation within the NYDC

  • Stuck to government work environment, which is slow, bureaucratic and hierarchical

  • Inter-ministerial co-ordination is difficult

  • Sub-national authority capacity is low

  • Newly appointed focal points within the ministries think of this as an additional burden

Source: OECD Development Centre (2017), Youth Well-being Review of Cambodia.

Effect of social norms on youth well-being

Social norms are customary practices that govern behaviour or attitudes within a society, community or peer group. They determine standards of acceptable or inappropriate behaviours and co-ordinate actions among members. In general, social norms are largely protective and healthy for societies, but some traditional or cultural practices and attitudes can have negative effects on certain groups. Social norms can have a particularly strong influence on adolescent and youth behaviours as they go through complex life transitions, both physically and emotionally. It is therefore essential to understand how social norms may affect youth well-being in general and specific groups of youth (grouped according to individual attributes, such as age, gender and ethnicity) in particular.

Early marriage, for example, has long been practiced in many poor countries as a way to give social and material security to girls. Marriage is believed to protect them from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancies out of wedlock, and to avoid social shame in the family (UNDP, 2014). However, the younger the girl, the larger the difference in age with her husband and the less likely there will be an equal partnership in the marriage. This exposes girls to risks for domestic abuse and violence, low educational attainment and poor health due to lack of power to negotiate for safe sex or contraceptives. There is recognition by the international community that early marriage is a violation of fundamental human rights and that such social norms must be discouraged in accordance with international treaty obligations (e.g. the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women).

Attitudes towards violence are another example. While most social norms protect against violence, some expectations of behaviour within a social group can encourage it. Cultural acceptance of violence as a method to resolve conflict or to rear a child is a risk factor for interpersonal violence. Traditional beliefs that men have more authority than women and that they can exercise discipline through physical means make women and girls vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. Societies that tolerate higher levels of intoxication often believe that alcohol plays a positive role in allowing people to shed their inhibitions (WHO, 2010). However, there is strong evidence of an association between alcohol consumption and violent behaviour.

Decisions about engaging in sexual activity is another area often influenced by social norms and expectations, as well as economic pressures (UNDP, 2014). While early sexual experience is a major source of vulnerabilities for youth (e.g. teenage pregnancies, STIs), it is often a taboo subject among adults. Refusal to acknowledge that young people are engaging in sexual activity can result in youth remaining unprotected and uninformed about risks (UNFPA and PATH, 2006).

Tools to change negative social norms

Laws. Laws can be a key tool in changing behaviour and perceptions of cultural and social norms. While laws that criminalise most forms of homicide exist in nearly all countries, laws to protect women and children from partner or family violence are less present. There has been international pressure to enact and implement such laws. The introduction of laws can have an effect on behaviour for fear of punishment; however, changes in deeply held beliefs will require long-term interventions through advocacy and campaigns (WHO, 2010).

Both young women and men are expected to fulfil certain social roles. Negative stereotypes can discourage them from taking an active role in their own development, be it in terms of education, health services or citizenship. Putting in place legal measures is the first step towards preventing traditional practices that have negative impacts on adolescent and youth well-being. Legal reforms to change social norms, however, must be carefully accompanied with locally adapted advocacy campaigns and education in schools and communities.

Changes in certain social norms can have positive impacts on youth well-being, but implementing laws without taking into account the cultural context can have adverse effects. Traditional practices like female circumcision can be physically and emotionally damaging for girls. Although the phenomenon is in decline, it is still practiced in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East as a precondition for marriage. However, drastic laws banning such practices without careful consideration of the sociocultural context drove these practices to continue in clandestine rituals with less experienced practitioners and in poor conditions. In Ethiopia, female circumcision is associated with preventing premarital sex, STIs and pregnancy, and uncircumcised girls can be victims of stigma and social isolation (UNDP, 2014).

Box 5.3. Identifying prevailing negative social norms and existing laws

The following are some questions aimed at assessing prevailing negative social norms for youth and identifying existing laws.


  • Are there laws which affect youth’s free access to public space and freedom of movement?

  • Do youth have rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly?

  • Is there any information on discriminatory practices restricting youth freedom of expression, public collective action and freedom of assembly?

  • Are there quotas at national and sub-national levels to promote youth political participation?

  • What are the attitudes towards youth as political leaders?

Legal age of marriage and early marriage

  • What is the statutory minimum age of marriage for women and men?

  • Is there customary or religious law? What minimum age of marriage does it provide for women and men? How widely does this type of law apply?

  • Is there any planned legislation to change the minimum age of marriage?

  • Is there any information on how the law related to the age of marriage is implemented in practice?

Domestic violence law and child abuse

  • Is there a specific law criminalising domestic violence and child abuse? If not, is it criminalised in other legislation? How are domestic violence and child abuse defined?

  • What mechanisms or measures exist to ensure implementation of law on domestic violence and child abuse? Some actions to consider, when relevant, could include: i) national action plans or policies; ii) legal support for children and youth; iii) awareness-raising activities; and iv) training for the judiciary or police.

  • Are there data on conviction rates?

  • Is there information on how social norms and/or stereotypes impact the level of and response to domestic violence and child abuse?

  • What are the attitudes towards domestic violence and child abuse?

Source: Adapted from the OECD Social Institutions and Gender Index country note questionnaire (unpublished).

Social marketing campaigns. Changing risky or harmful behaviours or attitudes ingrained in societies requires sustained intervention efforts. Beside normative tools, approaches aimed at reducing the gap between actual and perceived behavioural norms prove promising. Actual social norms are what is actually happening in a society or group, while perceived norms are what someone thinks to be the norm. Misperception occurs when there is a large gap between the real and perceived norm and can lead to unhealthy choices in order to conform to incorrectly perceived norms. Young people tend to overestimate the prevalence of risky behaviours like alcohol use, bullying or sexual experience among their peers. Often, it is this misperception that pushes young people into risky behaviours in order to conform to what they believe to be the norm.

One of the more traditional ways of implementing social norms interventions is through social marketing campaigns, the most widely used means being mass media or posters. Social marketing campaigns aim to change negative behaviours and attitudes into positive ones by influencing the pre-existing knowledge and attitudes of young people. National mass media campaigns can be effective in changing negative social norms, prevalent in some societies, such as domestic violence, corporal punishment in schools, negative gender norms and gender-based and sexual violence (Cunningham et al., 2008).

The following is an example of how to implement a social marketing poster campaign (Shamsuddin, N. and Becker, R., n.d.).

Step 1. Collect data to decipher misperceptions about sexuality-related norms

Collect data about misperceptions held by the target audience. For example, in a teen pregnancy prevention programme, the misperception might be that “everyone is doing it”, whereas the data might reveal that 75% of programme participants believe that sex is for adults. The misperception of “everyone is doing it” or “sex is okay for kids my age” might be a misperception to focus on within a campaign.

Step 2. Decide which misperceptions you want to address in your programme

Several misperceptions may emerge from the data. There may be misperceptions in participant attitudes toward their risk for STIs or the acceptability of sexual harassment. By working closely with school or programme administrators, parents and/or community members, programme planners can select the most appropriate and pressing misperceptions to address.

Step 3. Develop messages to address the misperception

Misperception data must be translated into messages that are both highly credible and linguistically appropriate for the audience. Campaign planners can draft several versions of messages to test with the target audience or develop the messages through focus groups. In the latter case, campaign planners can work with participants on key themes that might be incorporated into a message.

Step 4. Conduct focus groups with programme participants to develop message

After messages have been drafted or key message themes identified, it is important to conduct (further) focus groups to learn how to tailor the message to resonate with the target audience. As mentioned, the messages must be credible and comprehensible to be effective. This may also be the time to gain input from participants about the design, layout and look and feel of potential campaign posters.

Parental consent may be needed for participants involved in the focus group process. Providing incentives can help to entice participation. In terms of numbers, a group of eight to ten participants allows for the freedom to share opinions and comments about the message openly. When working with adolescent participants, it is important to set up an environment where they feel comfortable sharing individual opinions as opposed to conforming to responses from the group. To facilitate this, focus group leaders can ask participants to respond in writing to the campaign messages and then share their ideas verbally.

Step 5. Refine messages, develop draft posters and conduct a review by programme administrators

Using focus group input, campaign planners can refine the messages and develop drafts of campaign posters. If resources allow, enlisting a design firm can help to ensure a polished product. If not, traditional word processing, desktop publishing or presentation software can be used to develop draft posters. It is important to have draft posters reviewed and approved by programme administrators, community members, parents or any other stakeholder who may be called upon to support the campaign message.

Step 6. Conduct a second round of focus groups on poster design and layout

After drafts are approved, a second round of focus groups with programme participants can provide important feedback on how the message resonates with the audience. Here, focus group facilitators will want to gain feedback to make sure that the messages are understandable and believable and that the poster design (images, colours, fonts and graphics) are acceptable. Facilitators might also want to solicit input on where the posters should be displayed for greatest visibility.

Step 7. Place posters in strategic programme locations

Given focus group feedback, posters can be placed at strategic locations in schools or at key community locations. Ask focus group participants to help put up posters to instil a sense of investment in the campaign. These participants can be encouraged to act as campaign champions and to promote the campaign among peers and friends.

Step 8. Monitor the poster placements

Programme planners and participants should routinely monitor the posters to ensure that they are still up and have not been defaced. Posters that have been torn down should be replaced. Depending on the goal of the campaign, posters might be kept up for a period of two weeks or longer (if multiple posters are created).

Step 9. Conduct a third round of focus groups and/or data collection to evaluate impact

After the campaign is complete, additional research and focus groups can be conducted to evaluate both the campaign process and its impact. Research can be conducted with programme participants, programme administrators, community members and/or parents.

Life skills approach. The life skills approach is another promising tool that can minimise harmful youth behaviours. It refers to the interactive process of teaching and learning with a focus on acquiring knowledge, attitudes and skills that provide greater resistance to negative pressures. According to WHO, life skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands, challenges, and stress of everyday life (WHO, 2003). Childhood and adolescence are the developmental periods during which one can acquire these skills through various methods and people. Life skills are seen as coping methods that enable youth to provide greater resistance to the negative pressures from their social environment (UNICEF, 2001).

The central idea behind this approach is that such skills can be taught and learned. It is recognized as a methodology particularly effective during child and adolescent development. As such, it has been implemented in schools around the world to tackle issues like adolescent pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, youth violence, conflict, and substance abuse. The life skills approach focuses on three components considered essential to changing behaviours: knowledge, attitudes, and skills (KAS). Whereas most educational methods rely on knowledge, the life skills approach is based on research showing that knowledge only is not enough to change and build positive behaviours (WHO, 2004). The approach teaches youth the ability 1) to become aware of myths and misconceptions (knowledge); 2) to see how social norms reinforce risks (attitudes); and 3) to learn to adapt by adopting positive behaviours (skills). As a result, youth learn skills such as self-awareness, clarification of values, dealing with conflict, resisting pressure, negotiation, and problem solving.

Box 5.4. A life skills approach to prevent health problems from the use of tobacco

A life skills approach can be adopted in schools to reduce young people’s use of tobacco products and to change conditions that affect tobacco use, such as the number of smoke-free environments and the cost and accessibility of cigarettes.

The content of such a programme might include:

  • Knowledge of the health risks of smoking

  • Awareness of the insidious tactics employed by the tobacco industry to persuade young people to use tobacco and make them addicted

  • Attitudes that afford protection against harming one’s health and the health of others;

  • Critical thinking and decision-making skills to assist in choosing not to use tobacco; communication and refusal skills to withstand peer pressure; and skills to advocate for a smoke-free environment

Teaching methods for this content might include:

  • A presentation that clearly and convincingly explains the harmful effects of tobacco and how companies use marketing to make tobacco use seem attractive

  • A discussion and small group work using audio-visual materials to convey the dangers of smoking

  • An exercise to research strategies that the tobacco industry uses to gain youth as replacement smokers

  • Role plays to practise refusal skills

  • A school-wide activity to gain support for a smoke-free school environment

Skills-based health education has proven to be effective in reducing young people’s exposure to tobacco smoke. However, social norms in many communities, as well as, social and economic policies glorify risk-taking behaviour, undermining the goals of skills-based health education. National and local strategies that limit the influence of such policies and practices are needed to achieve the full benefit of skills-based health education.

Source: WHO (2004).


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