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BMJ Qual Saf. 2012 Dec;21(12):992-1000. doi: 10.1136/bmjqs-2011-000521. Epub 2012 Sep 1.

What's in a name generator? Choosing the right name generators for social network surveys in healthcare quality and safety research.

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Booth Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.



Interest in the use of social network analysis (SNA) in healthcare research has increased, but there has been little methodological research on how to choose the name generators that are often used to collect primary data on the social connection between individuals for SNA.


We sought to determine a minimum set of name generators sufficient to distinguish the social networks of a target population of physicians active in quality improvement (QI).


We conducted a pilot survey including 8 name generators in a convenience sample of 25 physicians active in QI to characterize their social networks. We used multidimensional scaling to determine what subset of these name generators was needed to distinguish these social networks.


We found that some physicians maintain a social network organized around a specific colleague who performed multiple roles while others maintained highly differentiated networks. We found that a set of 5 of the 8 name generators we used was needed to distinguish the networks of these physicians.


Beyond methodology for selecting name generators, our findings suggest that QI networks may require 5 or more generators to elicit valid sets of relevant actors and relations in this target population.

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