Practical Research Networks (PRN) are infrastructures that allow researchers and clinicians to collaborate in conducting clinically meaningful and scientifically rigorous research. Despite the variety of PRNs, they can be broadly grouped into three groups:

(a) sponsored by professional organizations, such as the American Psychiatric Association or the American Psychological Association;

(b) studies focused on particular clinical problems such as substance abuse, disruptive behavior problems in children, child maltreatment, eating disorders, and autism; and

(c) common clinical settings based on specific clinical settings, such as counseling centers.

What are Networks

Let’s define the concept: the term network implies a set of individuals who are connected through social relationships, whether strong or weak. The term “community” denotes a stronger form of relationship, but networks refer to all networks of social relationships, whether weak or strong. Second, the term “practice” represents the essence that connects people in their networks.

The cardinal idea is that the practice involves the actions of individuals and groups when carrying out their work, for example, the practice of software engineers, journalists, educators, etc. And that practice means that there is an interaction between individuals.

The Practice Networks

The network of practice (often abbreviated as NoP, from “Network of Practice”) is a concept originated by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid. This concept, related to the work in communities of practice by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, refers to the set of various emerging (and informal) social networks that facilitate the exchange of information between individuals with objectives related to a particular practice. In other words, networks of practice range from learning communities of practice to networks of practice better known as virtual or electronic communities.

What distinguishes a network of practice from other networks is that the main reason for the emergence of relationships within a NoP is that people interact by exchanging information to carry out their work, requesting and sharing knowledge with each other.

A practice network can be distinguished from other networks that arise due to other factors, such as interests in common hobbies or discussing sports while taking the same bus to go to work, etc. Finally, practice should not necessarily be restricted to include only those within an occupation or discipline. Rather, it may include individuals from a variety of occupations; thus, the term practice is more appropriate than others, such as occupation.

Composition of Practice Networks

Practice networks incorporate a range of informal and emerging networks, from communities of practice to electronic networks of practice. In line with the original work by Lave and Wenger (1991), Brown and Duguid propose that communities of practice are a subgroup of practice networks, which are localized and specialized, and which generally consist of strong ties linking people involved in a shared practice and who generally interact face to face.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are electronic practice networks, which are often called virtual or electronic communities and consist of weak ties. Here people may never meet or meet face-to-face, and are generally sorted through means such as blogs, email lists, or bulletin boards.

Communities of Practice as Research and Learning Environments

A community of practice (sometimes called learning communities or learning networks) is a group of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

As they spend time together, they often share information, ideas, and advice. They solve problems and help each other and discuss their situation, their aspirations, their needs and think of common problems. Furthermore, they explore ideas and act as sounding boards for each other. Also, they can create tools, standards, generic designs, manuals and other documents. Over time, they develop a unique perspective on their topic, as well as a set of common knowledge, practices, and approaches.

Advantages of Communities of Practice

The main advantages are: They allow being part of a feeling of responsibility and ownership of a certain practice. They share experiences of that ‘practice’ with each other. Also, they interact in many different ways: meeting as CoPs, offline and online, in small subgroups, taking initiatives for projects or other initiatives, skype, teleconference, peer training groups, etc. Furthermore, they take (and get) the freedom to question and challenge the ongoing practices in the organization, they can take the initiative to improve or continue to develop these practices, in light of the organization’s sustainable development.

Social Networks of Practice and Communities of Practice

Like networks, communities of practice also organize themselves. People share a common job and realize that being in a relationship is very beneficial. They also use communities of practice to share what they know, to support each other, and to intentionally create new knowledge for their field of practice. For their part, communities of practice differ from networks in several significant ways.

They are communities: people commit to being there for each other. They participate not only to meet their own needs, but also to meet the needs of others. One of the most interesting distinctions is that there is an intentional commitment to advance the field of practice and share those discoveries with a broader audience. They make their resources and knowledge available to anyone, especially those who do related work.

Focus Group and its Benefits

Characteristics of practical Research Networks

Practice Research Networks are made up of clinical professionals and researchers who collaborate in joint research projects aimed at generating knowledge within natural practice settings. They can focus on professional organizations, specific disorders, or common clinical settings. Similarly, they may differ in terms of their agenda, membership, and leadership, but they all tend to share the following characteristics:

They generally generate data that reflects community-based care (for example, private practices, community health centers) rather than of the care provided by centers or clinics that explicitly serve research purposes. Also, they represent a partnership between professionals and researchers. They are often affiliated with academic institutions that provide the infrastructure and methodological expertise necessary to conduct internal research and data. Research questions are often generated or evaluated by practicing PRN members, in an effort to keep the evolving research agenda relevant to practice.

Need for Practical Research Networks

PRNs can be considered as the primary care version of a research laboratory that provides infrastructure to promote research. These networks link and support interested general practitioners, practice nurses, and other community health professionals with primary care academics who have skills in research methods, statistics, health economics, data management, and general practice. All the strengths of the diverse general practice environment can be harnessed within PRNs to conduct rigorous research, which will be fully relevant to patients, GPs and health policy makers. Importantly, this approach will foster research questions that emerge from general practice.

Benefits of Practical Research Networks

PRNs can operate in a “top-down” or “bottom-up” approach, or a combination of both. Ideally, networks and their members mutually benefit from your association. Benefits may include:

Learning more about research Generating research ideas for the clinical work of GPs working together to use members’ clinical data to answer questions or other research involvement.

Accommodation of medical students who carry out research projects as pilot practices to help test protocols and study materials or recruit patients for their practices.

PRNs can work with members to disseminate research results, which, given members’ contribution to formulating the research question and methods of answering it, should be highly relevant to their practices.

Formal working groups as project teams

In formal working groups, formal controls are often used to encourage knowledge sharing, such as contractual obligations, organizational hierarchies, monetary incentives, or mandatory rules. On the contrary, practice networks promote knowledge flows through informal social networks. One way to distinguish between networks of practice and working groups created through the organization’s formal mandate is by the nature of the control mechanisms.

A second group of distinctive properties concerns its composition. Practice networks and formal working groups vary in terms of their size, as practice networks can range from a select few individuals to very large and open electronic networks consisting of thousands of participants, while groups are generally More smalls. They also vary in terms of who can participate. Workgroups and virtual teams generally consist of formally appointed and appointed members. In contrast, practice networks consist of volunteers with no formal membership restrictions.


Practice networks and formal working groups vary in terms of expectations about participation. In formal working groups and virtual teams, participation is jointly determined and members are expected to achieve a specific work objective. Participation in communities of practice is determined jointly, so that individuals generally reach out to others in particular for help.

In electronic practice networks, participation is determined individually; Researchers have no control over who answers their questions or the quality of the answers. In turn, knowledge contributors (respondents) have no guarantees that search engines will understand the answer provided or will be willing to reciprocate the favor.

Bibliographic References

Hickner J, Green LA. Practice-based research networks (PBRNs) in the United States: growing and still going after all these years. J Am Board Fam Med. 2015;28:541–545.

Moses H, Matheson DH, Cairns-Smith S, George BP, Palisch C, Dorsey ER. The anatomy of medical research: US and international comparisons. JAMA. 2015;313:174–189.

Ranking tables of NIH funding to US medical schools in 2014. Horse Shoe, NC: Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research; 2015.

Practical Research Networks

Practical Research Networks

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