From February 2017, information about the work of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow is available and updated on the University of Glasgow website.

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Understanding and Improving Health within Settings and Organisations

This programme aims to understand settings/organisations as contexts for:

  • influencing social position and identity, behaviour, health and well-being; and
  • facilitating health improvement through the development, piloting and evaluation of new interventions and/or adaptations of existing interventions to novel settings.

The organisations in which we live, interact and work (e.g. schools, workplaces) structure opportunities and exposures to physical and psychosocial environments. They also play a part in shaping social status and identity, and so the health-related and other behaviours which we adopt, within these settings and beyond. Hence, organisational settings have great potential for public health gain. Following careful social science research on organisations’ influence on social status, identity and exposures to health-related factors (and the opportunities/constraints these present for individual and organisational change), this new programme will develop settings-based interventions and evaluate whether and how they are successful and sustainable. The programme aims to integrate sociological, psychological and anthropological science with models of behaviour change and intervention development, including in settings with near universal reach at certain life stages (e.g. primary schools) to those which can target hard-to-reach, multiply-disadvantaged groups. We aim to develop and evaluate interventions targeting individual behaviour change (where the setting presents a convenient/appealing way to reach particular individuals) through to those effecting health gain through change at the organisational level.

Through research in settings such as educational, professional sporting organisations, secure institutions and workplaces, we will aim to answer the following overarching research questions:

  1. How do organisations shape social determinants of health, in particular by creating/reproducing/reinforcing social identity and status(e.g. gender, social class)?
  2. How can we promote public health by modifying organisations’ impact on health throughorganisational change?Are there generalisable systematic processes/stages which effectively engage organisations in change and produce systematised, sustainable health improvement?
  3. How can we promote health by delivering programmes through existing organisations? Can placing interventions that operate primarily at the inter-personal level within particular organisations extend their reach (exploiting cultural ‘hooks’, or shared agendas within organisations, for example)?
  4. How can health improvement programmes delivered through organisations reach wider populations beyond organisation members, through diffusion of behaviour change? Can we enhance public health gain by designing interventions which diffuse to family members etc., through changes in shared health practices within family/organisational cultures?
  5. What determines successful transferability/translation of effective interventions to novel settings, populations, or national contexts? When is adaptation or ‘socio-cultural’ sensitisation (e.g. by gender) necessary? What does success/failure in another setting or with another population reveal about existing models of behaviour change (what works, for whom and why)?

We aim to identify the potential for health improvement in key public health areas, such as obesity, premature mortality, mental health and well-being (including violence to self/others), and behavioural risk factors (such as alcohol, physical activity and sedentary behaviour, help-seeking/self-care). We will maintain a strong focus on gender, building on past work in this area. The integration of sociological understandings of gender into the development of settings-based public health interventions will inform whether, when and how gender-sensitisation is needed to enhance reach, acceptability and effectiveness.

For more information, please contact Kate Hunt.