Commissioning health services research: an iterative method

J Health Serv Res Policy. 1999 Jul;4(3):164-7. doi: 10.1177/135581969900400308.


The standard linear method of commissioning research involves many stages, some lengthy. While assessment criteria are usually explicit, their weighting and interaction are not. Output is assessed on completion. This method is suitable where the research question is clear-cut. However, it has drawbacks when the research question and the form and scope of the research are not clear at the outset, as is often the case with research on the delivery and organisation of services. Also, it does not encourage potential users of the research to develop a sense of ownership. An alternative method is proposed by which the scope, form and content of research are not specified in advance but are developed iteratively. A programme director, advised by a group of potential users and research commissioners, has devolved authority to commit funding for the stages of the work as it unfolds, predicated on evolving need. There are foreseeable but avoidable risks of the group over-identifying with the researchers, of research management becoming cumbersome, and of unproductive friction between research groups when they are required to work together. The iterative method, being new and untried, is itself an organisational change requiring evaluation. However, from our local experience, it provides for productive dialogue between research commissioners, researchers and potential users.

MeSH terms

  • Health Services Research / methods*
  • Peer Review, Research
  • Professional Competence
  • Research Design
  • Research Personnel
  • Research Support as Topic / economics
  • United Kingdom