Value of social network analysis for developing and evaluating complex healthcare interventions: a scoping review

Authors Linda Smit , Jeroen Dikken , Marieke Schuurmans , Niek de Wit , Nienke Bleijenberg
Published in BMJ Open
Publication date 26 October 2020
Research groups Chronic Diseases
Type Article


Objectives Most complex healthcare interventions target a network of healthcare professionals. Social network analysis (SNA) is a powerful technique to study how social relationships within a network are established and evolve. We identified in which phases of complex healthcare intervention research SNA is used and the value of SNA for developing and evaluating complex healthcare interventions. Methods A scoping review was conducted using the Arksey and O’Malley methodological framework. We included complex healthcare intervention studies using SNA to identify the study characteristics,level of complexity of the healthcare interventions, reported strengths and limitations, and reported implications of SNA. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses Extension for Scoping Reviews 2018 was used to guide the reporting. Results Among 2466 identified studies, 40 studies were selected for analysis. At first, the results showed that SNA seems underused in evaluating complex intervention research. Second, SNA was not used in the development phase of the included studies. Third, the reported implications in the evaluation and implementation phase reflect the value of SNA in addressing the implementation and population complexity. Fourth, pathway complexity and contextual complexity of the included interventions were unclear or unable to access. Fifth, the use of a mixed methods approach was reported as a strength, as the combination and integration of a quantitative and qualitative method clearly establishes the results. Conclusion SNA is a widely applicable method that can be used in different phases of complex intervention research. SNA can be of value to disentangle and address the level of complexity of complex healthcare interventions. Furthermore, the routine use of SNA within a mixed method approach could yield actionable insights that would be useful in the transactional context of complex interventions.


Language English
Published in BMJ Open
Key words Social Network Analysis, health care interventions, intervention research

Linda Smit

Linda Smit | Researcher | Research group Chronic Diseases

Linda Smit

  • Researcher
  • Research group: Chronic Diseases