Structuring successful collaboration: A longitudinal social network analysis of a translational research network

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Abstract

Background: In 2012 and 2013, we conducted a social network survey of a new translational research network (TRN) designed to deliver better care to cancer patients. Results of these two surveys showed that silos of researchers and clinicians existed before the TRN was established but that the network had mediated collaborative relationships. This paper reports on a third social network survey of the TRN and focusses on the structure of the collaborative arrangements among members. Methods: Members of the TRN were invited to complete an on-line, whole network survey in May 2015. The survey asked respondents to identify personal impacts, outputs and wider outcomes attributable to their TRN membership. The final question asked respondents to select the name of TRN members with whom they had collaborated either formally or informally. For each member nominated, they were asked to say whether they had known this person before joining the TRN. Results: Response rate was 70%. Over 4years, the TRN has grown in size from 68 to 244 members. Relationships within and across the TRN have become more collaborative and interactive, with 1658 collaborative ties between members and over 40% of ties with people unknown to participants before they joined the TRN. This points to a well-functioning network which has retained its focus on the original goals of the TRN and has fostered collaboration between researchers, clinicians, managers, consumers and TRN operational staff. This survey shows that the TRN's impact goes beyond outcomes from formal TRN-funded projects. About one third of respondents could list projects not directly funded by the TRN but which are attributed to TRN membership. Examples of practice change brought about through the TRN were given by 77% of respondents. A substantial risk factor for the future is the high levels of dependency on key or central TRN participants. Conclusions: The structure of the TRN with its active central actors and brokers has been able to foster collaboration on implementation initiatives that result in practice change. The role of a social professional network in driving this collaboration is shown.

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Long, J. C., Hibbert, P., & Braithwaite, J. (2016). Structuring successful collaboration: A longitudinal social network analysis of a translational research network. Implementation Science, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13012-016-0381-y

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