Understanding and Improving Health within Settings and Organisations

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 settings and 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 programme develops settings-based interventions and evaluates 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 or policy level.

Our research focuses on: educational settings; professional sports organisations; workplaces; and secure institutions. Through research in these and other settings, we aim to answer the following overarching research questions:

  • How do organisations shape social determinants of health, in particular by creating/reproducing/reinforcing social identity and status(e.g. gender, social class)?
  • How can we promote public health by modifying organisations’ impact on health through organisational change? Are there generalisable systematic processes/stages which effectively engage organisations in change and produce systematised, sustainable health improvement?
  • 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)?
  • 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?
  • 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 have a strong focus on gender, building on past work in this area (see Gender and Health). The integration of sociological understandings of gender into the development of settings-based public health interventions informs whether, when and how gender-sensitisation is needed to enhance reach, acceptability and effectiveness.

Programme Staff

Programme Leader

Programme Students

  • Ian MacNeill
  • Sheela Tripathee



MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit