Establishing an AHRQ Learning Collaborative, A White Paper


On June 26, 2010, during the annual meeting of program directors from the AHRQ-funded Institutional Health Services Research Training Programs (T32 programs), the group discussed the idea of working more closely together. A rich discussion followed, and several ideas surfaced regarding how to share collective knowledge and experience in ways that would build a greater capacity to connect across programs. At the end of the meeting a group of 18 training directors volunteered to be part of an informal conversational study group that would explore how to create more connections among programs and transfer program knowledge and experiences more effectively. A request for proposals (RFP) to support this initiative was issued by AHRQ, and Professional and Scientific Associates (PSA) was hired by the Agency to manage the logistics of the study group that would culminate in a draft white paper to be discussed at the June 2011 Annual AHRQ T32 Program Directors' Meeting in Seattle.

In January 2011, an informal working group of 18 program directors, assisted by Brenda Harding from AHRQ and staff from PSA, began to explore establishing a learning collaborative across the 28 AHRQ-funded T32 programs (Appendix A). Participants agreed that a survey was needed to understand the unique needs, preferences, and challenges of AHRQ training programs with respect to developing ways to help each other.

Responses came from 10 of the 18 surveyed training institutions. In total, 24 individuals responded to the survey: 8 program directors, 14 predoctoral trainees, and 2 postdoctoral trainees. To follow up on the survey, we conducted semi-structured, telephone interviews between February and June 2011. We conducted a total of 18 interviews; each interview lasted approximately 45 minutes, and extensive notes were taken. A team of three researchers conducted the interviews; in most cases, each informant was interviewed by only one researcher.

Analysis proceeded in two steps. First, we used a literature review to develop a conceptual framework of a learning collaborative as a construct. In the second step, each researcher identified themes from the interviews and consolidated those themes into emergent dimensions for a learning collaborative. These dimensions are presented in this white paper and serve as a basis for many of the recommendations offered for building mutual helping relationships among training programs.

In the next section, we present the theoretical frameworks that guided our work and shaped our conceptual understanding of learning collaboratives. Extending from this conceptual basis, we identify some existing models of collaboration, in particular highlighting practices these models have in common. Then, we present the findings of the survey and interviews and present a set of recommendations. We organized the interviews into three sections:

  1. Creating Value for Program Directors and Trainees.
  2. Organizing and Managing a Collaborative.
  3. Succeeding and Sustaining.
Page last reviewed October 2014
Page originally created March 2012
Internet Citation: Background. Content last reviewed October 2014. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.