Soft networks for bridging the gap between research and practice: Illuminative evaluation of CHAIN
Objectives: To explore the process of knowledge exchange in an informal email network for evidence based health care, to illuminate the value of the service and its critical success factors, and to identify areas for improvement. Design: Illuminative evaluation. Setting: Targeted email and networking service for UK healthcare practitioners and researchers. Participants: 2800 members of a networking service. Main outcome measures: Tracking of email messages, interviews with core staff, and a qualitative analysis of messages, postings from focus groups, and invited and unsolicited feedback to the service. Results: The informal email network helped to bridge the gap between research and practice by serving as a rich source of information, providing access to members' experiences, suggestions, and ideas, facilitating cross boundary collaboration, and enabling participation in networking at a variety of levels. Ad hoc groupings and communities of practice emerged spontaneously as members discovered common areas of interest. Conclusion: This study illuminated how knowledge for evidence based health care can be targeted, personalised, and made meaningful through informal social processes. Critical success factors include a broad based membership from both the research and service communities; a loose and fluid network structure; tight targeting of messages based on members' interests; the presence of a strong network identity and culture of reciprocity; and the opportunity for new members to learn through passive participation.