I'm sure that a piece of research could be run if there were enough people to measure goal achievement for a networked group against an un-networked control group.
But actually, what would be simpler would be to simply survey participants on a reasonably regular basis. The key question that would need to be asked is whether they thought that the network had helped them achieve their goals - their perceptions may be the most important factor in determining whether it actually does make a difference.
Thanks for the comments. I'd seen - and joined - http://patientslikeme.com before proposing this. I guess that the difference is that patients like me tends to be about sharing details of and data concerning a health condition and medication etc, whereas my concept was more about sharing objectives, aspiration and advice/encouragement for achieving our goals (whether these were health/condition related, or about fitness, exercise, body shape, etc).
I don't see this necessarily as one-to-one buddying either. People will connect by joining, or establishing, online groups, and participating in online discussion, initially within the group but potentially outside it and offline too. The main attributes buddies might need is a desire to make a difference to their own health/fitness, and a desire to help and encourage others to do the same. I can see that for some types of goals it could be really important to have a quality community manager or moderator to ensure that there sharing of tips is both safe and doesn't turn into amateur medical advice, but equally all such communities tend to have rules and impose responsibilities on participators and these networks could be no different (which might obviate the need for moderation).
I'm sure that this could spread beyond the workplace (providing that there are appropriate online communities), though workplaces do provide a useful way of ensuring the 'bona fides' of participants (maybe the first step is to connect up local workplaces into a wider network).
Hi Daniel. Thanks for the comments. We've been running those sorts of competitions in my workplace and they have certainly got lots of people involved. I'd want to ensure that they were optional though as competitions may be inappropriate for some shared goals (eg to better manage high blood pressure), where the encouragement of someone that has a shared experience may be worth more. There are also some people that don't respond as well to competitions as others. But I do think that competition could be one of the important components.