SONNET Newsletter: July 2021

SONNET is a national network of applied researchers who help design, evaluate, and implement effective social health interventions to improve member health across Kaiser Permanente. SONNET's work is made possible with funding from KP's National Community Health Program.


SONNET's new directors Katie Coleman and Cara Lewis share their vision for bridging research and operations to advance social health at KP and beyond


Since its launch in 2017, Kaiser Permanente’s Social Needs Network for Evaluation and Translation (SONNET) has been helping researchers, leaders, and care teams advance national and regional KP initiatives to address members’ social needs. Now in its fifth year, SONNET has a new coordinating center based at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute and a new interim website. In this first message from SONNET’s new co-directors, Katie Coleman and Cara Lewis share their vision for SONNET and what excites them most about the work. 

The last several months have been a whirlwind, but so exciting. As we’ve worked to get SONNET’s new coordinating center up and running, we’ve been in awe of the amazing learning environment created by SONNET’s former director John Steiner and his team at the KP Colorado Institute for Health Research. Because of the tremendous job they did laying the foundation for key relationships across Kaiser Permanente, we’ve been able to hit the ground running and bring together a fantastic group of colleagues with expertise in social health to serve on our new Evaluation and Research Committee (ERC).

With representation from nearly every Kaiser Permanente region, our ERC will help SONNET serve as a bridge between researchers and operational teams involved in social health initiatives across the enterprise. SONNET’s core functions are to:

  • Connect social health researchers with national and regional KP leaders to share knowledge about social health measurement, intervention, and implementation – and to evaluate and refine interventions for clinical and operational spread.
  • Consult on the design, implementation, evaluation, and dissemination of Kaiser Permanente’s social health interventions.
  • Communicate what we learn across Kaiser Permanente and beyond – disseminating and adapting effective programs within and across KP regions. 

Through these core functions, SONNET will serve as Kaiser Permanente’s “nerve center” for social health research and evaluation – providing an enterprise-wide, first-line resource for:

  • Exploring social health partnerships
  • Designing social health evaluations and interventions
  • Securing extramural funding for social health research
  • Growing KP researchers’ skills and expertise in the field of social care

This work is more important than ever for many reasons – but we’d like to highlight a few exciting things that illustrate how SONNET is poised to advance social health research and practice at Kaiser Permanente in 2021 and beyond.

SONNET will help maximize KP’s investment in social health through an operationally driven research agenda 

Kaiser Permanente has made an historic investment in social health – squarely placing it in our strategic plan for 2025 and elevating our members’ social needs as part of the organization’s vision for improving health equity and the health of our communities. To help achieve this vision, SONNET is developing a research agenda that will be driven by the needs of KP’s clinical and operational stakeholders.

Using a mixed methods concept mapping process, we’ll work with a broad group of representative stakeholders from across the enterprise to brainstorm evidence gaps. Then we’ll engage a smaller group of key stakeholders to develop distinct social health priorities rated by key factors such as importance and feasibility. The data will yield a succinct set of action items that the SONNET ERC will work together to address in 2022 and beyond.

We are grateful to KP National’s Community Health Program leaders Dr. David Grossman and Stephanie Ledesma for prioritizing social health and for their continued support of SONNET. In particular, we are grateful to our executive sponsor Dr. Anand Shah, KP’s vice president for social health, who has consistently offered support, guidance, and insight – helping to ensure that SONNET is on the right track to strategically advance social health for our members and the communities we serve. We are fortunate to be able to engage these key stakeholders in the agenda that guides our research and evaluation to achieve KP's critical health equity goals.

SONNET is growing our learning community

In support of this operationally driven research agenda, each SONNET ERC member is involved in a regional or national social health evaluation project – from understanding screening and the best way to elicit pregnant members’ social needs in the context of their care to testing artificial intelligence driven approaches to linking members to community resources to evaluating specific social health initiatives. Learn more about our ERC members and their social health works-in-progress on our new, interim website – which we plan to expand and enhance as our learning community grows.

Through SONNET, ERC members will have the opportunity to share findings and insights across regions, and we envision the ERC functioning as a robust learning community that builds Kaiser Permanente’s knowledge base around social health best practices. We’re also fortunate to be able to continue SONNET’s close collaboration with SIREN – the Social Interventions Research & Evaluation Network. This partnership gives us the opportunity to share what we learn outside of Kaiser Permanente – and to stay informed on the latest evidence-based social health interventions being implemented in other settings. 

Finally, we’re excited to continue growing SONNET’s network of stakeholders. Among our near-term activities is to intentionally look across Kaiser Permanente regions for opportunities to engage people from different roles and different spheres who want to make an impact in the social health space.

SONNET can be proactive in identifying evidence gaps to drive operations

It’s important to note that Kaiser Permanente is not waiting for scientific literature to point the way forward in addressing the social health of our members. The need to take action feels particularly urgent in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, the organization is continuing to prioritize building the evidence with each initiative they invest in – and that’s where SONNET comes in. Not only can we help design social health interventions and evaluations, we can proactively identify areas where closing evidence gaps can drive operations.

As an example, SONNET recently funded 2 proposals from Kaiser Permanente researchers to dive deeper into data from KP’s recent National Social Health Survey – which looked at social risks and social needs across a representative sample of more than 10,000 KP members from all 8 regions.

As we head into the second half of 2021 and start planning SONNET’s key activities for next year, we’re eager to develop additional funding opportunities that close key evidence gaps and inform effective social health interventions. If you’re a Kaiser Permanente researcher interested in social health, please keep an eye out for our next funding announcement early next year.

In the meantime, we’ll look forward to reporting out on our ERC’s many projects in our upcoming newsletters – sharing what we learn as we go and continuing to build an engaged community dedicated to improving social health for Kaiser Permanente members and people everywhere.​​​​​​


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