Exploring the stability of communication network metrics in a dynamic nursing context

Barbara B. Brewer, Kathleen M. Carley, Marge Benham-Hutchins, Judith A. Effken, Jeffrey Reminga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Network stability is of increasing interest to researchers as they try to understand the dynamic processes by which social networks form and evolve. Because hospital patient care units (PCUs) need flexibility to adapt to environmental changes (Vardaman et al., 2012), their networks are unlikely to be uniformly stable and will evolve over time. This study aimed to identify a metric (or set of metrics) sufficiently stable to apply to PCU staff information sharing and advice seeking communication networks over time. Using Coefficient of Variation, we assessed both Across Time Stability (ATS) and Global Stability over four data collection times (Baseline and 1, 4, and 7 months later). When metrics were stable using both methods, we considered them “super stable.” Nine metrics met that criterion (Node Set Size, Average Distance, Clustering Coefficient, Density, Weighted Density, Diffusion, Total Degree Centrality, Betweenness Centrality, and Eigenvector Centrality). Unstable metrics included Hierarchy, Fragmentation, Isolate Count, and Clique Count. We also examined the effect of staff members’ confidence in the information obtained from other staff members. When confidence was high, the “super stable” metrics remained “super stable,” but when low, none of the “super stable” metrics persisted as “super stable.” Our results suggest that nursing units represent what Barker (1968) termed dynamic behavior settings in which, as is typical, multiple nursing staff must constantly adjust to various circumstances, primarily through communication (e.g., discussing patient care or requesting advice on providing patient care), to preserve the functional integrity (i.e., ability to meet patient care goals) of the units, thus producing the observed stability over time of nine network metrics. The observed metric stability provides support for using network analysis to study communication patterns in dynamic behavior settings such as PCUs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-19
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Networks
StatePublished - May 2020


  • Network stability
  • Patient care units
  • Social network analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences
  • General Psychology


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