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Title: How collaborative are quality improvement collaboratives: a qualitative study in stroke care
Authors: Carter, Pam
Ozieranski, P.
McNicol, S.
Power, M.
Dixon-Woods, Mary
First Published: 11-Mar-2014
Publisher: BioMed Central
Citation: Implementation Science 2014, 9 : 32
Abstract: Background: Quality improvement collaboratives (QICs) continue to be widely used, yet evidence for their effectiveness is equivocal. We sought to explain what happened in Stroke 90:10, a QIC designed to improve stroke care in 24 hospitals in the North West of England. Our study drew in part on the literature on collective action and inter-organizational collaboration. This literature has been relatively neglected in evaluations of QICs, even though they are founded on principles of co-operation and sharing. Methods: We interviewed 32 professionals in hospitals that participated in Stroke 90:10, conducted a focus group with the QIC faculty team, and reviewed purposively sampled documents including reports and newsletters. Analysis was based on a modified form of Framework Analysis, combining sensitizing constructs derived from the literature and new, empirically derived thematic categories. Results: Improvements in stroke care were attributed to QIC participation by many professionals. They described how the QIC fostered a sense of community and increased attention to stroke care within their organizations. However, participants’ experiences of the QIC varied. Starting positions were different; some organizations were achieving higher levels of performance than others before the QIC began, and some had more pre-existing experience of quality improvement methods. Some participants had more to learn, others more to teach. Some evidence of free-riding was found. Benchmarking improvement was variously experienced as friendly rivalry or as time-consuming and stressful. Participants’ competitive desire to demonstrate success sometimes conflicted with collaborative aims; some experienced competing organizational pressures or saw the QIC as duplication of effort. Experiences of inter-organizational collaboration were influenced by variations in intra-organizational support. Conclusions: Collaboration is not the only mode of behavior likely to occur within a QIC. Our study revealed a mixed picture of collaboration, free-riding and competition. QICs should learn from work on the challenges of collective action; set realistic goals; account for context; ensure sufficient time and resources are made available; and carefully manage the collaborative to mitigate the risks of collaborative inertia and unhelpful competitive or anti-cooperative behaviors. Individual organizations should assess the costs and benefits of collaboration as a means of attaining quality improvement.
DOI Link: 10.1186/1748-5908-9-32
eISSN: 1748-5908
Version: Publisher Version
Status: Peer-reviewed
Type: Journal Article
Rights: Copyright © 2014 Carter et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Description: PMCID: PMC3983902
Appears in Collections:Published Articles, Dept. of Health Sciences

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