Moving Up the Social Ecology

There’s nothing I love hearing about more than programs that think outside the box. And when we look at it in terms of the social ecological model (SEM), we could use the phrase “thinking outside of the sphere”.  So, what do I mean by this? 

The SEM is a great frame to use in talking about WHERE prevention takes place.  Each of the levels (individual, relationship, community, societal) is a sphere of influence.  These four levels are connected and reinforce one another.  An individual exists within families, peer groups, communities and the larger society.  And we have the opportunity through our programs to influence each sphere.

When we look at a lot of the prevention programming out there, much of it focuses on the individual level.  Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to reach this sphere; but we know that people don’t live on islands all alone, unaffected by the outside world.  We can do everything in our power to change individual behavior, but if everything else around that person – friends, family, school, community, and the greater society – does not change as well, how effective can the individual approach be?

We are getting more and more comfortable in the relationship sphere as well.  Youth-led peer education and parent involvement programs are great examples of prevention work at this level.  But what about those outer layers?  How can we influence the community and society spheres?  You may already have a dynamic prevention program that is working at the inner layers of the SEM.  Why not host a community/town hall-style meeting to brainstorm ways to expand that program to those outer layers? Create the space for community dialogue. Think about how you might be able to work with the community to create a campaign focused on norms change and train local community activists to support that work.

I’d like to challenge you to “think outside the sphere”.  How can we begin moving up the social ecology?  Push yourself to those outer layers.  If you are already there, share your story with us by commenting below.  We’d love to hear from you!

Picture Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

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