Intended for healthcare professionals

Information In Practice

Soft networks for bridging the gap between research and practice: illuminative evaluation of CHAIN

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 13 May 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1174
  1. Jill Russell (j.russell{at}, lecturer1,
  2. Trisha Greenhalgh, professor1,
  3. Petra Boynton, lecturer1,
  4. Marcia Rigby, project manager1
  1. 1Department of Primary Health Care, University College London, London N19 5LW
  1. Correspondence to: J Russell
  • Accepted 2 April 2004


Objectives To explore the process of knowledge exchange in an informal email network for evidence based health care, to illuminate the value of the service and its critical success factors, and to identify areas for improvement.

Design Illuminative evaluation.

Setting Targeted email and networking service for UK healthcare practitioners and researchers.

Participants 2800 members of a networking service.

Main outcome measures Tracking of email messages, interviews with core staff, and a qualitative analysis of messages, postings from focus groups, and invited and unsolicited feedback to the service.

Results The informal email network helped to bridge the gap between research and practice by serving as a rich source of information, providing access to members' experiences, suggestions, and ideas, facilitating cross boundary collaboration, and enabling participation in networking at a variety of levels. Ad hoc groupings and communities of practice emerged spontaneously as members discovered common areas of interest.

Conclusion This study illuminated how knowledge for evidence based health care can be targeted, personalised, and made meaningful through informal social processes. Critical success factors include a broad based membership from both the research and service communities; a loose and fluid network structure; tight targeting of messages based on members' interests; the presence of a strong network identity and culture of reciprocity; and the opportunity for new members to learn through passive participation.


  • : Embedded ImageExamples of request to network messages are on

  • Contributors All authors were involved in the design of the study and its implementation. JR and TG wrote the paper. JR will act as guarantor for the paper. The guarantor accepts full responsibility for the conduct of the study, had access to the data, and controlled the decision to publish.

  • Funding NHS research and development programme.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethical approval Not required.

  • Accepted 2 April 2004
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