How Social Networks Can Improve the Use of Data


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Author(s): Michelle Li

Year: 2017

How Social Networks Can Improve the Use of Data Abstract:

A social network (SN) may be defined as an electronic platform that allows participants to create personal profiles and build a network of connections with other users, enabling multidirectional communication and collaboration on the platform (Capurro, Cole, Echavarria, Joe, Neogi, et al., 2014). SNs enable users to generate and share content with others. As a mechanism for collaborative discussion and problem solving, SNs are a low-cost way to communicate rapidly and to promote social support and social influence.

Recent literature reviews have examined the use of SN platforms for public health practice and research, primarily in high- and middle-income country settings. Cappurro, et al. (2014) found that SN sites were mainly used to reach hard-to-reach populations; promote healthy behaviors; and for disease surveillance and communications during natural disasters. However, there is the potential for SN platforms to be used as “persuasive technology,” helping to change user attitudes or behaviors through persuasion and social influence (Halko & Kientz, 2010). Connecting groups of people can be a means to provide social and emotional support, advice, and education, which can promote healthy behaviors. Literature reviews conducted in 2014 and 2015 on the use and effectiveness of SN sites for health behavior change found that SN interventions positively affect health behaviors (Maher, Lewis, Ferrar, Marshall, De Bourdeaudhuij, et al., 2014; Laranjo, Arguel, Neves, Gallagher, Kaplan, et al., 2015). In these cases, most interventions conducted were information sharing and advice, with only one involving data sharing to promote accountability and friendly social competition (Foster, Linehan, Kirman, Lawson & James, 2010).

Significant human and financial resources have been invested in information systems, with the goal of producing high-quality data that are used to meet decision-making needs at all levels of a health system. For data to be used for decision making, they must be of high quality (i.e., available, timely, and complete), and then analyzed, synthesized, interpreted, and reviewed (Nutley & Reynolds, 2013). These are the key elements of the data use process. The data use process is impacted by the confluence of technical, organizational, and behavioral factors that facilitate or constrain the use of data. For example, data interpretation and review may be impeded because mechanisms for review (e.g., meetings) occur infrequently and require resources (e.g., time and funding). Moreover, data analysis and interpretation skills may be limited. Organizations may prioritize data quality and reporting while if they lead to the use of information.

Social network platforms can help to overcome barriers to data use, by providing a mechanism for diverse types of users to interact, share information and feedback, and review and discuss data. MEASURE Evaluation explored how SN platforms are being used to improve data collection, data quality, and data review and interpretation, and how their potential can be harnessed to facilitate data-informed decision making. 

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