Danielle Varda has developed a unique — and potent — public health tool: a software program called PARTNER (Program to Analyze, Record and Track Networks to Enhance Relationships), which demonstrates the progress and benefits of collaboration to funders and others involved in public health services and systems (PHSSR) projects.
“Existing tools were insufficient to measure the effectiveness of collaboration,” says Varda, an Assistant Professor at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver and a guest lecturer at the Colorado School of Public Health in the Department of Health Systems, Management & Policy.
Varda says that stakeholders and funders want public health departments to collaborate with partners such as departments of education and the business community.
“So much of what is happening in public health is happening in a systems framework, so it’s important that everything is interconnected,” says Varda.
Working across boundaries by collaborating in social, political and economic domains brings tremendous value to health departments.
“Traditionally the goal in hiring people in health departments was to find staff with lots of knowledge,” says Varda. “Now an additional key goal is to also hire people who know how to find knowledge, because what you need to know will often be beyond your own specific discipline. It’s a key core competency to be able to find resources and to leverage those resources. That brings a new layer of what’s possible in public health.”
The software program, which the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recently used for a social network analysis for a coalition of public health teams, works on the assumption that partnerships and collaborations leads to improved outcomes.
At the 2011 Keeneland PHSSR Conference, held recently in Lexington, Ky., Varda presented PARTNER-derived data on twelve communities. The study looked at factors that contribute to successful collaboration — paying specific attention to how trust and the value that a partner might bring to a collaboration affects outcome.
“We showed that health departments are quite trusting of their partners — such as education and police departments — and that may be because public health is accepting of this shift, of needing partners,” Varda says.
As budget cuts continue at health departments across the country, Varda expects collaboration to be even more important — and for the PARTNER software to be a critical tool.
Editor’s Note: Danielle Varda has received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for work on the PARTNER software program.