Public health collaboratives (PHCs) bring together diverse partners to apply multi-systemic tactics to public health outcomes. Given the reality of scarce resources and the interdisciplinary nature of public health, this type of interorganizational approach has great value.
[Photo: The UNC Gillings School study found that network members exhibit a propensity to form the strongest ties with the most similar members of the group, thereby establishing silos. In other words, likeness breeds connection. This tendency potentially could undermine the goals of public health collaboratives related to identifying innovative solutions. Photo courtesy of the Health Data Initiative (2012)]
A recent study poses a question, however: within such networks, do member organizations self-segregate according to type?
Dr. Christine Bevc, epidemiologist research associate at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s North Carolina Institute for Public Health, is lead author of the study, “New Perspectives on the ‘Silo Effect’: Initial Comparisons of Network Structures Across Public Health Collaboratives,” published online February 17 in the American Journal of Public Health.
The study investigates how accurately findings from previous research on networks can be applied to PHCs. Typically, network members exhibit homophily, or the propensity to form the strongest ties with the most similar members of the group, thereby establishing silos. In other words, likeness breeds connection. This tendency potentially could undermine PHC goals related to identifying innovative solutions.
Dr. Bevc and her co-authors used social network analysis to explore the interaction patterns between partners in 162 PHCs. They identified 15 unique organization types and used these to measure network diversity and the silo effect.
On average, the PHCs contained only four different organizational types. While diversity did increase along with network size, study results suggest an accompanying increase in the time and effort expended to maintain relationships within a larger network.
Analysis also revealed which types of organizations are more likely to establish silos within a collaborative group. Public health entities are among the most prone to exhibit similar partner preferences. As network size increases, this silo effect becomes more pronounced.