Developing an inter-organizational community-based health network: an Australian investigation

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Networks in health care typically involve services delivered by a defined set of organizations. However, networked associations between the healthcare system and consumers or consumer organizations tend to be open, fragmented and are fraught with difficulties. Understanding the role and activities of consumers and consumer groups in a formally initiated inter-organizational health network, and the impacts of the network, is a timely endeavour. This study addresses this aim in three ways. First, the Unbounded Network Inter-organizational Collaborative Impact Model, a purpose-designed framework developed from existing literature, is used to investigate the process and products of inter-organizational network development. Second, the impact of a network artefact is explored. Third, the lessons learned in inter-organizational network development are considered. Data collection methods were: 16 h of ethnographic observation; 10 h of document analysis; six interviews with key informants and a survey (n = 60). Findings suggested that in developing the network, members used common aims, inter-professional collaboration, the power and trust engendered by their participation, and their leadership and management structures in a positive manner. These elements and activities underpinned the inter-organizational network to collaboratively produce the Health Expo network artefact. This event brought together healthcare providers, community groups and consumers to share information. The Health Expo demonstrated and reinforced inter-organizational working and community outreach, providing consumers with community-based information and linkages. Support and resources need to be offered for developing community inter-organizational networks, thereby building consumer capacity for self-management in the community.

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