Objective: Collaborative research networks are increasingly used as an effective mechanism for accelerating knowledge transfer into policy and practice. This paper explored the characteristics and collaborative learning approaches of nine health research networks.

Data sources/study setting: Semi-structured interviews with representatives from eight diverse US health services research networks conducted between November 2012 and January 2013 and program evaluation data from a ninth.

Study design: The qualitative analysis assessed each network's purpose, duration, funding sources, governance structure, methods used to foster collaboration, and barriers and facilitators to collaborative learning.

Data collection: The authors reviewed detailed notes from the interviews to distill salient themes.

Principal findings: Face-to-face meetings, intentional facilitation and communication, shared vision, trust among members and willingness to work together were key facilitators of collaborative learning. Competing priorities for members, limited funding and lack of long-term support and geographic dispersion were the main barriers to coordination and collaboration across research network members.

Conclusion: The findings illustrate the importance of collaborative learning in research networks and the challenges to evaluating the success of research network functionality. Conducting readiness assessments and developing process and outcome evaluation metrics will advance the design and show the impact of collaborative research networks.