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Networked innovation in the health sector: comparative qualitative study of the role of Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care in translating research into practice

Health Services and Delivery Research, No. 2.13

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Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library; .


The study of three Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) initiatives in the UK and three similar organisations in North America found that different interpretations of the aims of the knowledge translation (KT) initiative led to the development of distinctively different KT capabilities. These differences are related to the effects of leadership and management and the emergence of social network structures, extending previous models of KT and highlighting implications of this analysis for policy and practice.



Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRCs) were an initiative of the National Institute for Health Research in response to a new research and development strategy in the NHS: ‘Best Research for Best Health’. They were designed to address the ‘second gap in translation’ identified by the Cooksey review; namely, the need to improve health care in the UK by translating clinical research into practice more effectively. Nine CLAHRCs, each encompassing a university in partnership with local NHS bodies, were funded over the period 2008–13.


The aim of this report is to provide an independent and theory-based evaluation of CLAHRCs as a new form of networked innovation in the health sector. This evaluation is based on an intensive research study involving three CLAHRCs in the UK and three international organisations (one in the USA and two in Canada). This study was carried out over two overlapping time phases so as to capture changes in the CLAHRCs over time. Networked innovation in the health sector is conceptualised as involving the translation of knowledge via informal social networks.


A mix of research methods was used to help ensure the validity and generalisability of the study. These methods addressed the development of each CLAHRC over time, over multiple levels of analysis, and with particular reference to the translation of knowledge across the groups involved, and the quality of the informal underpinning network ties that supported such translation. Research methods, therefore, included a qualitative enquiry based on case studies and case analysis, cognitive mapping methods, and social network analysis.


Through our study, we found that each one of our samples of CLAHRCs appropriated the CLAHRC idea in a particular way, depending on their different interpretations or ‘visions’ of the CLAHRC’s role in knowledge translation (KT), and different operating models of how such visions could be achieved. These helped to shape the development of social networks (centralised vs. decentralised) and each CLAHRC’s approach to KT activity (‘bridging’ vs. ‘blurring’ the boundaries between professional groups). Through a comparative analysis, we develop an analytical model of the resultant capabilities which each case, including our international sites, developed for undertaking innovation, encompassing a combination of both ‘integrative capability’ (the ability to move back and forth between scientific evidence and practical application) and ‘relational capability’ (the ability of groups and organisations to work together). This extends previous models of KT by highlighting the effects of leadership and management, and the emergence of social network structures. We further highlight the implications of this analysis for policy and practice by discussing how network structures and boundary-spanning roles and activities can be tailored to different KT objectives.


Different interpretations and enactments of the CLAHRC mission ultimately led to differing capabilities for KT among our studied initiatives. Further research could usefully explore how these different capabilities are produced, and how they may be more or less appropriate for particular national health-care settings, with a view to improving the design blueprint for future KT initiatives.


The National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research programme.


Article history

The research reported in this issue of the journal was funded by the HS&DR programme or one of its proceeding programmes as project number 09/1809/1075. The contractual start date was in January 2010. The final report began editorial review in April 2013 and was accepted for publication in October 2013. The authors have been wholly responsible for all data collection, analysis and interpretation, and for writing up their work. The HS&DR editors and production house have tried to ensure the accuracy of the authors’ report and would like to thank the reviewers for their constructive comments on the final report document. However, they do not accept liability for damages or losses arising from material published in this report.

Declared competing interests of authors

John Powell is a member of the NIHR Journals Library Board.

Copyright © Queen’s Printer and Controller of HMSO 2014. This work was produced by Scarbrough et al. under the terms of a commissioning contract issued by the Secretary of State for Health. This issue may be freely reproduced for the purposes of private research and study and extracts (or indeed, the full report) may be included in professional journals provided that suitable acknowledgement is made and the reproduction is not associated with any form of advertising. Applications for commercial reproduction should be addressed to: NIHR Journals Library, National Institute for Health Research, Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre, Alpha House, University of Southampton Science Park, Southampton SO16 7NS, UK.

Included under terms of UK Non-commercial Government License.

Bookshelf ID: NBK259731PMID: 25642509DOI: 10.3310/hsdr02130


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