Governance of interorganisational mental health networks: implementation experiences from Belgium

Belinda Wijckmans, Stephanie Van Der Donck, Marcus Leys

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)Research


Main messages (1-3 sentences): The development of interorganisational mental health networks (MHN) are a core component of the reform in the mental health care in Belgium. These networks are composed of individual organizations operating in different ‘fields’, implying different cultures, regulatory frameworks, policies, funding schemes, etc. Our research found that the networks struggle with developing adequate governance structures in order to move forward from innovation projects towards sustainable networks. Background / objectives: The Belgian mental health reform programme launched in 2010 fits in with the international deinstitutionalisation movement aimed at a balanced and integrated care model. 19 regionally distributed interorganisational MHN were set up. This contribution discusses the question how these networks succeed in jointly developing adequate governance structures. Methods Our approach is grounded in a realist evaluation (Pawson & Tilley, 2004; Pawson, 2013). Data collection and analysis include a documentary analysis, semi-structured face-to-face interviews with the network coordinators and promotors and focus group interviews with the MHN core partner organisations. We focused on the perceptions of the stakeholders regarding network governance (both strategic and operational) and on the implementation experiences, more specifically the facilitating and hampering factors related to the governance of the MHN. Results MHN use different governance approaches. Governance is mainly a 'learning by doing' experience: network partners seldom jointly reflect on the objectives and strategy and often experience a need for knowledge to develop adapted governance strategies. Generally, the governance models emerge ad hoc and are strongly grounded in a “project based” approach rather than based on a clear and common vision of a sustainable network. Partner organisations indicate that a lot of time is spent to get to know each other. The degree of mutual trust, often related to previous collaboration, clearly affects strategic thinking and governance. Conclusions/implications More efforts should be put in further developing adequate governance models in order to develop sustainable networks. The implementation process needs to be grounded in available evidence on governance and effectiveness of networks. Part of the efforts have to be put in a better understanding of the newly emerging MHN-‘field' in Belgium. This emerging field will need to deal with the integration of a variety of organizational fields of the different MHN partners within the complexity of the Belgian policy structures, which raises particular challenges.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHSR Meeting "Improving the organisation of health care at European, national or local level"
EditorsJohan Hansen
Place of PublicationUtrecht
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015
EventEUPHA HSR meeting - amsterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 23 Apr 201524 Apr 2015


ConferenceEUPHA HSR meeting
Internet address


  • Mental Health Care
  • Interorganisational networks


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