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Barriers and facilitators to intraorganizational collaboration in public health

Relational coordination across public health services targeting individuals and populations

McCullough, J. Mac; Eisen-Cohen, Eileen; Lott, Breanne

doi: 10.1097/HMR.0000000000000203

Background: Modern public health emphasizes population-focused services, which may require collaborative work both across and within organizations. Studies have explored interorganizational collaborations, but there are little data regarding collaborations within public health organizations.

Purpose: We measured intraorganizational collaboration and identified barriers and facilitators to collaboration within a large public health department through a mixed-methods study.

Methodology/Approach: Our study occurred at the Maricopa County (Arizona) Department of Public Health, the third largest local public health jurisdiction in the United States. To measure collaboration, we surveyed staff using the relational coordination tool. To identify barriers and facilitators to collaboration, we performed key informant interviews with department personnel.

Results: Relational coordination scores varied according to the focus of the service; clinical services had significantly lower levels of relational coordination than population-focused services (p < .01). We found high levels of mutual respect and lower levels of shared knowledge across services. Facilitators to collaboration included purposive cross-program meetings around specific topics, the organization’s structure and culture, and individuals’ social identities. Barriers included raised expectations for collaboration, low slack resources, member’s self-interest, and trust.

Conclusion: The relational coordination of services varied significantly according to the focus of the service. Population-focused public health services had higher levels of relational coordination than individually focused services. Collaboration was facilitated and impeded by both well-known and potentially emergent factors, such as purposive cross-service meetings and organizational culture.

Practice Implications: Population-focused services possessed higher levels of collaboration than individually focused services. Intraorganizational collaboration for improved population health relies on deliberate support from senior management and structured activities to increase shared knowledge and mutual respect.

J. Mac McCullough, PhD, MPH, is Assistant Professor, School for the Science of Health Care Delivery, Arizona State University; and Health Economist, Maricopa County Department of Public Health, Phoenix, Arizona. E-mail:

Eileen Eisen-Cohen, PhD, MSW, is Performance Improvement Manager, Maricopa County Department of Public Health, Phoenix, Arizona.

Breanne Lott, MPH, is Project Coordinator, Maricopa County Department of Public Health, Phoenix, Arizona, and PhD Student, Department of Health Promotion Sciences, Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, University of Arizona, Tucson.

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

Online date: May 9, 2018

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