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by Amanda M. Beacom, PhD

How can Community Health Councils (CHC) more effectively promote collaboration in its community coalitions? That was the question guiding a group of CHC staff and USC doctoral students who began studying the development of CHC California Covering Kids & Families (CKF) Coalition in 2008. As a doctoral student at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Annenberg School of Communication, I joined this group in order to apply lessons learned in the classroom to real-world questions. Together, we were particularly interested in understanding how the relationships between organizations in this coalition evolved over time.

For our research study, we examined several different types of relationships between organizations in the CKF Coalition. We were particularly interested in collaboration relationships—as in the case of one organization referring clients to another or two organizations jointly sponsoring an outreach program—because such collaborations typically require greater degrees of trust and commitment than less effortful forms of interaction.

After collecting three years of survey data between 2009 and 2011 on the relationships between 91 organizations in the CKF Coalition, we analyzed how relational multiplexity—that is, a pair of organizations having more than one type of relationship with one another—affected the emergence of collaboration within the coalition. We found that when two organizations had a relationship of communicating outside of coalition meetings and also had an expertise-seeking relationship, they were more likely, over time, to also collaborate with one another. Interestingly, however, we also found that one type of relationship, communicating outside of meetings, contributed more significantly to the formation of collaborations than did expertise-sharing.

Based on these results, we concluded that community coalitions like CKF should offer as many opportunities as possible for member organizations to communicate outside of formal group meetings. Networking events, or “speed dating” for organizations, may be one way to facilitate communication. Such small, informal interactions can promote deeper collaborative partnerships. These partnerships, in turn, can further the ultimate coalition goal of better community health.

Our research team changed in membership over the years, but core members, in addition to me, included the student-founder of the group, Lauren B. Frank, PhD, now an Associate Professor of Communication at Portland State University; Wenlin Liu, PhD, now an Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Houston; Jonathan Nomachi, formerly Research and Data Manager at CHC and now Communities Program Officer at First 5 LA; Sonya Vasquez, Chief Program Officer at CHC; and Lark Galloway-Gilliam, formerly the founding Executive Director of CHC.

The official journal article can be found here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00909882.2019.1620958

A pre-publication of the article can be found here: Promoting Collaboration in an Inter-organizational Network