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Network formation, governance, and evolution in public health: The North American Quitline Consortium case

Provan, Keith G.; Beagles, Jonathan E.; Leischow, Scott J.

doi: 10.1097/HMR.0b013e31820e1124

Background: Collaborative networks of health organizations have received a great deal of attention in recent years as a way of enhancing the flow of information and coordination of services. However, relatively little is known about how such networks are formed and evolve, especially outside a local, community-based setting. This article is an in-depth discussion of the evolution of the North American Quitline Consortium (NAQC). The NAQC is a network of U.S. and Canadian organizations that provide telephone-based counseling and related services to people trying to quit smoking.

Methodology: The research draws on data from interviews, documents, and a survey of NAQC members to assess how the network emerged, became formalized, and effectively governed.

Findings: The findings provide an understanding of how multiregional public health networks evolve, while building on and extending the broader literature on organizational networks in other sectors and settings. Specifically, we found that the network form that ultimately emerged was a product of the back-and-forth interplay between the internal needs and goals of those organizations that would ultimately become network members, in this case, state-, and provincial-level tobacco quitline organizations. We also found that network formation, and then governance through a network administrative organization, was driven by important events and shifts in the external environment, including the impact and influence of major national organizations.

Practice Implications: The results of the study provide health care leaders and policy officials an understanding of how the activities of a large number of organizations having a common health goal, but spanning multiple states and countries, might be coordinated and integrated through the establishment of a formal network.

Keith G. Provan, PhD, is McClelland Professor of Management and Organizations, Eller College of Management and School of Government and Public Policy, University of Arizona, Tucson. E-mail:

Jonathan E. Beagles, MS, is PhD Student, School of Government and Public Policy, University of Arizona, Tucson.

Scott J. Leischow, PhD, is Professor, Family and Community Medicine, Arizona Cancer Center, University of Arizona, Tucson.

Work on this article was funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute (R01CA128638-03, with additional support from grant CCSG-CA023074).

The authors have disclosed that they have no significant relationships with, or financial interest in, any commercial companies pertaining to this article.

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.