What have we learned about communities, social contexts and health?

Social contexts are the relationships and networks of support we rely on to maintain our health and wellbeing. They include our links to those close to us who provide day-to-day support, our acquaintances who can provide information and support less regularly and links to wider networks of information and support.

Our social contexts also include our links to services and our ability to navigate the numerous services available. More recently, the nature of links between those services has become an increasing area of focus, so that they can be better aligned around individual needs (see for example Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland).  

social contexts synthesis graphic

Our synthesis report brings together our learning about social contexts and health drawing on the team’s work over the first ten years.  The synthesis developed our understanding of how social contexts can act as a site of intervention to improve population health and tackle health inequalities. It emphasised the importance of the following social features, especially for those facing the greatest challenges: 

  • Social networks of family and friends are crucial and links to wider networks are also important for health.
  • Community cohesion such as connections within a community and feelings of safety and belonging. These are important for residents’ health and can help communities and individuals respond to challenge (e.g. in safeguarding services or responding to shocks).
  • Social participation such as volunteering at or participating in projects, clubs, activities etc. This can support individual health and can enable connections within communities and improvements to community life.
  • Community empowerment processes: How residents are engaged and involved in decisions affecting their lives and the changes that result are important for health. 

Our resilience animation explains the nature of different types of links that promote health and flourishing communities.  Work on the co-location of services explores how services can be aligned around an individual’s unique set of needs, ensuring we get the right service at the right time. Our power animation explores the features that influence our ability to be involved in decisions that affect us and what practitioners can do to reduce barriers to participation in decisions and empowerment.

The important role of all these approaches for promoting population health is further explored across our topics of work on resilience and power, places and regeneration and healthy communities.