Formative Evaluation

Formative evaluation is an empirical method of determining who your audience is; what knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors you should focus on for improvement; and what messages should work and where they should be placed (Atkin & Freimuth). We used both the National College Health Assessment (NCHA) and surveys that we designed for our specific college environment. Because a social norms approach focuses on norms and perceptions of norms, our formative research revolved around determining actual behavior (norms), estimates of others’ behavior (descriptive norms), and attitudes regarding proper behavior (injunctive norms) through the use of the aforementioned surveys and focus groups. Our formative evaluation included the following findings:


  • Differences between descriptive norms and self-reported behavior
    • In general, MSU students thought their classmates were drinking 6.1 drinks the last time they partied, when in reality their classmates consumed 5.4 drinks the last time they partied on average.

  • Differences between behavior and injunctive norms
    • We found that most students implemented some form of protective behavior (i.e. designated driver, eat before or during drinking,, staying with the same group of friends).

  • Differences between types of drinkers
    • We divided the drinkers into four different groups:

      • Anytime drinkers – individuals who drink on typical days and during celebrations

      • Celebration drinkers – individuals who drink on special days, but not on typical days

      • Non-celebration drinkers – individuals who drink on typical days, but not on special days

      • Seldom drinkers – the drinkers who neither drank on typical nor special days

  • Different drinking habits for different contexts
    • Consumption habits were found to be significantly different depending on whether or not the drinking occurred during a celebratory event. The amount of people who drank, the consumption rate, and the drunkenness rate were all higher during celebratory events, such as football games, holidays (such as St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween), and “Welcome Week,” than during the typical week at MSU.

  • Perceived risks regarding alcohol consumption
  • Protective behaviors implemented by students