Close menu Resources for... William & Mary
W&M menu close William & Mary

The Social Ecological Model

The Office of Health Promotion uses many strategies to promote behavior change. One approach is the Socioecological Model (SEM). This model is a systems level approach, which provides a theoretical framework to address several behaviors. Addressing behaviors at multiple levels is most effective in supporting behavior change. The model posits that the individual and the environment are reciprocal, thus the individual influences their environment and vice versa. It also postulates that the environment is comprised of multiple levels, which include the individual, interpersonal relationships, the community, and policy.


This level considers the internal components of behavior, such as knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and skills. Prevention strategies here seek to increase the skills and knowledge necessary to change attitudes and behavior and provide support for high-risk individuals to prevent or reduce harm.


This level comprises the external influences of friends, family, peers, and those in one’s close circles. Social norms and social identity among other influences operate at this level and can influence lifestyle choices. Prevention strategies here include programming designed to strengthen these individuals’ problem-solving skills and promote health.


This level includes individuals, organizations/clubs/teams, and the institution. Here we consider rules and policies that guide and support behavior, including healthy and unhealthy behaviors. We explore the settings in which social relationships occur and identify the characteristics in these settings associated with unhealthy behaviors and increase the availability of healthy opportunities in these settings and social activities.


This level is the authoritative decisions made at the institutional level. Here we establish and enforce community standards and strive for consistent consequences when standards are violated.


The Social Ecological Model attends to the aforementioned levels creating environments where the change and synergy needed to support sustainable improvement in health can occur. Change strategies are most effective and likely to be sustained when directed at multiple levels. With this understanding and knowledge of the complex interplay between the levels, OHP uses SEM to promote change on our campus.