Understanding Communication Patterns in North Carolina's Public Health Community

Dates of Project: December 2010 to May 2011

Field of Work: Social network analysis of the public health communications network

Problem Synopsis: RWJF staff recognized a need to strengthen the capacity of the public health network in North Carolina to spread innovations and evidence-based practices by using social media more effectively and better connecting online and offline advocacy efforts.

Synopsis of the Work: Evaluators from the Leadership Learning Community used social network analysis to develop an understanding of the public health communications network and the connections among those who are creating and disseminating public health content online. The team focused on the 2011 launch of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program in North Carolina for the project, which included analysis and mapping of three network datasets: a North Carolina action network of public health initiatives identified by the evaluators and two online social media channels, Twitter and blogs.

Key Findings

  • North Carolina Action Network Findings:

    • The core of the North Carolina public health action network includes 34 initiatives, with connected organizations, that work closely to build a movement for healthy communities in the state.
    • The initiative with the highest capacity to bridge to other initiatives and organizations in the network is Eat Smart, Move More.
  • Twitter Findings:

    • The @CHRankings account does not attract many individuals who are not connected to the account's core community.
    • The 2010 and 2011 health rankings conversations attracted only people who are connected to each other.
  • Blog Findings:

    • Blogs that cover the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps tend to address state or local news, while those that talk about RWJF generally discuss broader topics, such as health policy and social justice.
    • The blog research uncovered three topical clusters:
      • Urban angle (city planning, urban development, etc.)
      • Food angle (including discussions of food deserts)
      • General public health angle

North Carolina has a huge public health infrastructure, and they have done a lot at the state and local level. RWJF has also invested a lot of resources there. It was a good lens through which to look at public health communications."—Project Co-Director, Claire Reinhelt