• complex adaptive systems;
  • cooperative behaviour;
  • family practice;
  • interprofessional relations;
  • research;
  • social networks


Rationale  Understanding collaboration networks can facilitate the research growth of new or developing departments. The purpose of this study was to use social network analysis to understand how the research collaboration network evolved within a productive department.

Methods  Over a 13-year period, a departmental faculty completed an annual survey describing their research collaborations. Data were analyzed using social network analysis. Network measures focused on connectedness, distance, groupings and heterogeneity of distribution, while measures for the research director and external collaboration focused on centrality and roles within the network. Longitudinal patterns of network collaboration were assessed using Simulation Investigation for Empirical Network Analysis software (University of Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands).

Results  Based upon the number of active research projects, research development can be divided into three phases. The initial development phase was characterized by increasing centralization and collaboration focused within a single subject area. During the maintenance phase, measures went through cycles, possibly because of changes in faculty composition. While the research director was not a ‘key player’ within the network during the first several years, external collaboration played a central role during all phases. Longitudinal analysis found that forming ties was more likely when the opportunity for network closure existed and when those around you are principal investigators (PIs).

Conclusion  Initial development of research relied heavily upon a centralized network involving external collaboration; a central position of the research director during research development was not important. Changes in collaboration depended upon faculty gender and tenure track as well as transitivity and the ‘popularity of PIs’.