Purpose: As multi-institutional research networks assume a central role in clinical research, they must address the challenge of sustainability. Despite its importance, the concept of network sustainability has received little attention in the literature, and the sustainability strategies of durable scientific networks have not been described.
Innovation: The Health Maintenance Organization Research Network (HMORN) is a consortium of 18 research departments in integrated health care delivery systems with over 15 million members in the United States and Israel. The HMORN has coordinated federally funded scientific networks and studies since 1994. This case study describes the HMORN approach to sustainability, proposes an operational definition of network sustainability, and identifies 10 essential elements that can enhance sustainability.
Credibility: The sustainability framework proposed here is drawn from prior publications on organizational issues by HMORN investigators and from the experience of recent HMORN leaders and senior staff.
Conclusion and discussion: Network sustainability can be defined as (1) the development and enhancement of shared research assets to facilitate a sequence of research studies in a specific content area or multiple areas, and (2) a community of researchers and other stakeholders who reuse and develop those assets. Essential elements needed to develop the shared assets of a network include: network governance; trustworthy data and processes for sharing data; shared knowledge about research tools; administrative efficiency; physical infrastructure; and infrastructure funding. The community of researchers within a network is enhanced by: a clearly defined mission, vision and values; protection of human subjects; a culture of collaboration; and strong relationships with host organizations. While the importance of these elements varies based on the membership and goals of a network, this framework for sustainability can enhance strategic planning within the network and can guide relationships with external stakeholders.