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Open Access Research article

Extent and patterns of community collaboration in local health departments: An exploratory survey

James Studnicki1, Elena A Platonova1*, Chris N Eiechelberger2 and John W Fisher1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health Sciences, College of Health and Human Services, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, 9201 University City Blvd, Charlotte, NC, 28223, USA

2 College of Computing and Informatics, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, 9201 University City Blvd, Charlotte, NC, 28223, USA

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:387  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-387

Published: 7 October 2011

Abstract

Background

Local public health departments (LHDs) in the United States have been encouraged to collaborate with various other community organizations and individuals. Current research suggests that many forms of active partnering are ongoing, and there are numerous examples of LHD collaboration with a specific organization for a specific purpose or program. However, no existing research has attempted to characterize collaboration, for the defined purpose of setting community health status priorities, between a defined population of local officials and a defined group of alternative partnering organizations. The specific aims of this study were to 1) determine the range of collaborative involvement exhibited by a study population of local public health officials, and, 2) characterize the patterns of the selection of organizations/individuals involved with LHDs in the process of setting community health status priorities.

Methods

Local health department officials in North Carolina (n = 53) responded to an exploratory survey about their levels of involvement with eight types of possible collaborator organizations and individuals. Descriptive statistics and the stochastic clustering technique of Self-Organizing Maps (SOM) were used to characterize their collaboration.

Results

Local health officials vary extensively in their level of collaboration with external collaborators. While the range of total involvement varies, the patterns of involvement for this specific function are relatively uniform. That is, regardless of the total level of involvement (low, medium or high), officials maintain similar hierarchical preference rankings with Community Advisory Boards and Local Boards of Health most involved and Experts and Elected Officials least involved.

Conclusion

The extent and patterns of collaboration among LHDs with other community stakeholders for a specific function can be described and ultimately related to outcome measures of LHD performance.