From the Frontier: Translating Research to Practice

How can a public health practitioner better understand complex systems and apply that knowledge to improve organizational relationships and service delivery?

This article describes the process of translating research into public health practice. An example is provided, showing how questions arose in the practice setting, a researcher was identified to help answer the questions, and findings from the research were applied in the practice setting. In this example, Dr. Lea LaFave (Community Health Institute/JSI in New Hampshire) worked with Dr. Danielle Varda (Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado/ Denver, School of Public Affairs) to use social network analysis to better understand a network of coalitions focused on underage substance abuse. The social network analysis revealed that networks varied significantly in the number and depth of collaborations (from none to fully integrated) within each network. The larger implications of these findings suggest that the way people conceptualize complex systems varies tremendously, and that this has fundamental importance for understanding how to improve such systems.