Table_1_Assessing Collaboration in a National Research Partnership in Quality Improvement in Indigenous Primary Health Care: A Network Approach.DOCX

Background: The ABCD National Research Partnership was formed in mid-2010 as a collaboration to harness the expertise, experiences and resources of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled peak bodies, government and research organisations to improve the quality of Indigenous primary health care. The aim of this study was to apply social network methods to assess collaboration and functioning of the Partnership at two time-points.

Methods: A social network analysis (SNA) survey was conducted in early 2013, with a follow-up survey in mid-2014. In the two survey rounds, online surveys were emailed to one senior person of the organisation participating in the Partnership (2013: 14 organisations; 2014: 11 organisations). The surveys collected data on respondent perceptions of the Partnership as well as social network relationship data. Social network methods were used to apply standardised metrics to assess how well the partnership was functioning as a collaborative three years into its operation, and in its fourth year.

Results: Most respondents rated the Partnership as successful in progressing toward its goals. Network density and centrality scores show a well-connected partnership spanning different organisational types and states/territories (Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, and Far-West New South Wales). High centrality scores reflect high connectivity between key hubs in the network, contributing toward the shared goal of improved Indigenous primary health care. Network diagrams show key structural positions by organisational type, the frequency and intensity of interactions and the strengths and potential vulnerabilities in the partnership network, with comparisons at two time points for the partnership.

Conclusions: The study found that the Partnership was effective in securing collaboration across its partners. Partners' contribution of resources reflected their active involvement. There was a high level of agreement on the achievement of the key goals of the Partnership, showing shared sense-making amongst partners. SNA tools assisted with monitoring the network over time to develop strategies supporting connections between partners for sustaining collaborative learning. Study findings identify successful approaches for a research partnership to improve quality of care in Indigenous primary health care and provide encouragement for wider applications for research partnerships and collaborations in Australia and internationally.