Objective: To describe the experiences, lessons, and
implications of building a virtual network as part of a two-year community
health research training program in a Canadian province.
Design: An action research field study in which 25 health
professionals from 17 health regions participated in a seven-week training
course on health policy, management, economics, research methods, data
analysis, and computer technology. The participants then returned to their
regions to apply the knowledge in different community health research
projects. Ongoing faculty consultations and support were provided as needed.
Each participant was given a notebook computer with the necessary software,
Internet access, and technical support for two years, to access information
resources, engage in group problem solving, share ideas and knowledge, and
collaborate on projects.
Measurements: Data collected over two years consisted of program
documents, records of interviews with participants and staff, meeting notes,
computer usage statistics, automated online surveys, computer conference
postings, program Web site, and course feedback. The analysis consisted of
detailed review and comparison of the data from different sources. NUD*IST was
then used to validate earlier study findings.
Results: The ten key lessons are that role clarity, technology
vision, implementation staging, protected time, just-in-time training, ongoing
facilitation, work integration, participatory design, relationship building,
and the demonstration of results are essential ingredients for building a
Conclusion: This study provides a descriptive model of the processes
involved in developing, in the community health setting, virtual networks that
can be used as the basis for future research and as a practical guide for