2. Senior Lecturer, Cardiff University, School of Healthcare Sciences, Eastgate House, Newport Road 35-43, Cardiff CF24 0AB, UK.
3. Senior Health Advisor, Enabel Belgian development agency, Hoogstraat 147, 1000 Brussels, Belgium.
Background: Networks have become a widely-used approach to address the complexity of issues around international health and health equity, and many types of networks have been described. The added value of networking is not straightforward and it should be documented. Be-Cause Health (BCH) is a unique, multistakeholder network linking the Belgian actors of the health and development sector, creating a partnership to support their commitment to equitable health. Consequently, BCH has very broad objectives with creative and dynamic outcomes. The aim of this study was to explore if the structure and process of the BCH network could be adapted to improve its effectiveness.
Methods: The overall framework of the project included a narrative literature review combined with qualitative semi-structured interviews. The literature review looked at the structure and process of networks and the means of evaluating network effectiveness. The results of this review were used to inform the interviews of key Be-Cause Health members.
Results: The reviewed articles illustrate the diversity of networking activities and the complexity of their evaluation, suggesting the use of participative evaluation methods to capture the intangible outcomes as experienced by the members themselves. The interviewees reported that the major benefits of their BCH membership were information sharing and connecting with peers. They felt the growth of the BCH network was mostly related to its culture of trust among members, to the inspiring leadership, to the concrete activities it could organise, to its flexible structure tailored to their needs,and to the support of the secretariat and to the embeddedness of the network in a wider institution with secured public funding. They identified a need for improved internal and external communication and for more concrete objectives of the working groups.
Conclusion: The BCH network is a unique response to the complex challenges of health equity and development. The outcomes of such complex networks cannot be measured with a simple quantitative method, and require participative methods of evaluation. There is no formula to predict the change of effectiveness that would result from a change of structure.
Keywords: Network, multi-stakeholder, Belgium, effectiveness, development, health, structure