When trust, confidence, and faith collide: refining a realist theory of how and why inter-organisational collaborations in healthcare work

Justin Aunger, Ross Millar, Joanne Greenhalgh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

146 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Health systems are facing unprecedented socioeconomic pressures as well as the need to cope with the ongoing strain brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the reconfiguration of health systems to encourage greater collaboration and integration has been promoted with a variety of collaborative shapes and forms being encouraged and developed. Despite this continued interest, evidence for success of these various arrangements is lacking, with the links between collaboration and improved performance often remaining uncertain. To date, many examinations of collaborations have been undertaken, but use of realist methodology may shed additional light on how and why collaboration works, and whom it benefits.

METHODS: This paper seeks to test initial context-mechanism-outcome configurations (CMOCs) of interorganisational collaboration with the view to producing a refined realist theory. This phase of the realist synthesis used case study and evaluation literature; combined with supplementary systematic searches. These searches were screened for rigour and relevance, after which CMOCs were extracted from included literature and compared against existing ones for refinement, refutation, or affirmation. We also identified demi-regularities to better explain how these CMOCs were interlinked.

RESULTS: Fifty-one papers were included, from which 338 CMOCs were identified, where many were analogous. This resulted in new mechanisms such as 'risk threshold' and refinement of many others, including trust, confidence, and faith, into more well-defined constructs. Refinement and addition of CMOCs enabled the creation of a 'web of causality' depicting how contextual factors form CMOC chains which generate outputs of collaborative behaviour. Core characteristics of collaborations, such as whether they were mandated or cross-sector, were explored for their proposed impact according to the theory.

CONCLUSION: The formulation of this refined realist theory allows for greater understanding of how and why collaborations work and can serve to inform both future work in this area and the implementation of these arrangements. Future work should delve deeper into collaborative subtypes and the underlying drivers of collaborative performance.

REVIEW REGISTRATION: This review is part of a larger realist synthesis, registered at PROSPERO with ID CRD42019149009 .

Original languageEnglish
Article number602
Number of pages20
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Early online date26 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Collaboration
  • Partnership working
  • Integration
  • Healthcare
  • Improvement
  • Realist review
  • Realist synthesis
  • Context
  • Programme theory
  • Implementation


Dive into the research topics of 'When trust, confidence, and faith collide: refining a realist theory of how and why inter-organisational collaborations in healthcare work'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this