How, when, and why do inter-organisational collaborations in healthcare work? A realist evaluation

Justin Avery Aunger, Ross Millar, Anne Marie Rafferty, Russell Mannion, Joanne Greenhalgh, Deborah Faulks, Hugh McLeod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Inter-organisational collaborations (IOCs) in healthcare have been viewed as an effective approach to performance improvement. However, there remain gaps in our understanding of what helps IOCs function, as well as how and why contextual elements affect their implementation. A realist review of evidence drawing on 86 sources has sought to elicit and refine context-mechanism-outcome configurations (CMOCs) to understand and refine these phenomena, yet further understanding can be gained from interviewing those involved in developing IOCs.

METHODS: We used a realist evaluation methodology, adopting prior realist synthesis findings as a theoretical framework that we sought to refine. We drew on 32 interviews taking place between January 2020 and May 2021 with 29 stakeholders comprising IOC case studies, service users, as well as regulatory perspectives in England. Using a retroductive analysis approach, we aimed to test CMOCs against these data to explore whether previously identified mechanisms, CMOCs, and causal links between them were affirmed, refuted, or revised, and refine our explanations of how and why interorganisational collaborations are successful.

RESULTS: Most of our prior CMOCs and their underlying mechanisms were supported in the interview findings with a diverse range of evidence. Leadership behaviours, including showing vulnerability and persuasiveness, acted to shape the core mechanisms of collaborative functioning. These included our prior mechanisms of trust, faith, and confidence, which were largely ratified with minor refinements. Action statements were formulated, translating theoretical findings into practical guidance.

CONCLUSION: As the fifth stage in a larger project, our refined theory provides a comprehensive understanding of the causal chain leading to effective collaborative inter-organisational relationships. These findings and recommendations can support implementation of IOCs in the UK and elsewhere. Future research should translate these findings into further practical guidance for implementers, researchers, and policymakers.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0266899
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 11 Apr 2022


  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Health Facilities
  • Leadership
  • Organizations
  • Trust


Dive into the research topics of 'How, when, and why do inter-organisational collaborations in healthcare work? A realist evaluation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this