Development of an Australian practice based research network in a resource limited context
The Australian Government’s Primary Health Care Research, Evaluation and Development (PHCRED) strategy has been operational since 2000. The strategy’s Research Capacity Building Initiative, which had supported the development of five Practice Based Research Networks (PBRNs) within Australia, was terminated at the end of 2011. This study examines the development of a PBRN, the Illawarra and Southern Practice Research Network (ISPRN), in a time of change in Australian government funding. It aims to explore the PBRN’s development in a resource and time limited context based within a communities of practice (CoP) theoretical framework. A CoP involves ‘groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems or passions about a topic and through interaction on an ongoing basis extend their knowledge and expertise around the topic’. Data were collected from the start of the network in February 2011, including workshop and conference evaluations, research support networks, web based resource utilisation, project records and academic outputs. These data were analysed using a case study approach from the perspective of the formation of the development of a CoP. Four projects have been developed within the network, three have ethics approval and two are underway. In addition, two externally funded projects have engaged ISPRN as a research partner. The network size has increased over the 12 months, with 30 practices currently involved in some degree. Results suggest that despite members having little or no research experience, a CoP approach to research development can be successful in assisting early career researchers develop achievable projects. The key aspects of CoP that were applied to ISPRN included engaged leadership; the development of relationships; the evolution of communication pathways; and the formulation of shared goals. ISPRN has been successful in securing two year’s funding from the University of Wollongong to continue the network.