A multiple case study of intersectoral public health networks: experiences and benefits of using research
Sibbald, Shannon L
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Abstract Background Network partnerships between public health and third sector organisations are being used to address the complexities of population level social determinants of health and health equity. An understanding of how these networks use research and knowledge is crucial to effective network design and outcome evaluation. There is, however, a gap in the literature regarding how public health networks use research and knowledge. The purpose of this paper is to report on the qualitative findings from a larger study that explored (1) the experiences of public health networks with using research and knowledge, and (2) the perceived benefits of using research and knowledge. Methods A multiple case study approach framed this study. Focus group data were collected from participants through a purposive sample of four public health networks. Data were analyzed using Framework Analysis and Nvivo™ software supported data management. Each network had the opportunity to participate in data interpretation. Results All networks used published research studies and other types of knowledge to accomplish their work, although in each network research and knowledge played different but complementary roles. Neither research nor other types of knowledge were privileged, and an approach that blended varied knowledge types was typically used. Network experiences with research and knowledge produced individual and collective benefits. A novel finding was that research and knowledge were both important in shaping network function. Conclusions This study shifts the focus in the current literature from public health departments to the community setting where public health collaborates with a broader spectrum of actors to ameliorate health inequities. Both formal research and informal knowledge were found to be important for collaborative public health networks. Examining the benefits of research and knowledge use within public health networks may help us to better understand the relationships among process (the collaborative use of research and knowledge), structure (networks) and outcomes (benefits).