The settings approach is a new, innovative approach in the practice of health promotion. One of the five postulates defined in the Ottawa Charter of 1986 is "to create supportive environments". The approach is based on the recognition that health problems arise from the interaction between the socio-economic and cultural environment and personal lifestyle. Somewhat simplified, this approach is expressed in the motto: health is created where people live, love and work. The aim of the settings approach is to render these life contexts health conducive.
A setting is a distinct social environment in which people live and which has an influence on the health of individuals and groups. Well-known examples of a setting are the school, the workplace or the neighbourhood, the commune or municipality, the hospital, the living space,....Interventions aim primarily at bringing about changes in the system by modifying communication structures, decision-making processes or collective rules. Effective interventions require that these systems be clearly delimited, i.e. a definition of who is included (as a stakeholder) - and who is not. When intervening in a city or a town, for example, the region, area or neighbourhood to be targeted needs to be identified.
Interventions in settings require specific strategies and methods. An important method in the settings approach is organisational development. It is meant to enable organisations to evolve towards a more health-promoting setting or system.
Characteristics for working in settings:
Settings are chosen not only for the settings approach, but also for other health promotion and prevention projects. These do not focus on the system, but use the setting (e.g. a school) as an access point to specific target groups. The approach is thus a target group-specific approach in a selected setting.
Experiences with the settings approach are abundant and well documented. The best known settings are cities / municipalities, schools, hospitals and workplaces. Cities were the first settings in which projects were implemented. Already in 1986 the WHO launched the Healthy City Project and still coordinates the resulting network today. Another European network of the WHO is the "European Network of Health Promoting Schools".
The workplace, too, is an increasingly important area of intervention, recognized both by the WHO and by the European Union (Luxembourg Declaration of the EU from 1997). Noteworthy are, for example, the "European Network For Workplace Health Promotion" or the network of "Health Promoting Hospitals".
If an intervention is planned in one of these settings, then the in-depth and specific knowledge and experience regarding tools, methods and quality criteria, available from national and European networks must be consulted.
You have the chance of creating health promoting framework conditions in a setting: a worthwhile and lasting investment.