Background: To date there has been relatively little published about how research priorities are set, and even less about methods by which decision-makers can be engaged in defining a relevant and appropriate research agenda. We report on a recent effort in British Columbia to have researchers and decision-makers jointly establish an agenda for future research into questions of resource allocation. Methods: The researchers enlisted decision-maker partners from each of British Columbia's six health authorities. Three forums were held, at which researchers and decision-makers from various levels in the health authorities considered possible research areas related to three key focus areas: (1) generation and use of decision criteria and measurement of 'benefit' against such criteria; (2) identification of so-called 'disinvestment' opportunities; and (3) evaluation of the effectiveness of priority setting procedures. Detailed notes were taken from each forum and synthesized into a set of qualitative themes. Results: Forum participants suggested that future research into healthcare priority setting would benefit from studies that were longitudinal, comparative, and/or interdisciplinary. As well, participants identified two broad theme areas in which specific research projects were deemed desirable. First, future research might usefully consider how formal priority setting and resource allocation projects are situated within a larger organizational and political context. Second, additional research efforts should be devoted to better understanding and improving the actual implementation of priority setting frameworks, particularly with respect to issues of change management and the resolution of impediments to action on recommendations for resource allocation. Conclusion: We were able to validate the importance of initial areas posed to the group and observed emergence of additional concerns and directions of critical importance to these decision-makers at this time. It is likely that the results are broadly applicable to other healthcare contexts. The implementation of this research agenda in British Columbia will depend upon the ability of the researchers and decision-makers to develop particular projects that fit within the constraints of existing funding opportunities. The process of engagement itself had benefits in terms of connecting decision-makers with their peers and sparking increased interest in the use and refinement of priority setting frameworks. © 2009 Smith et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
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