Background: Building research capacity in health services has been recognised internationally as important in order to produce a sound evidence base for decision-making in policy and practice. Activities to increase research capacity for, within, and by practice include initiatives to support individuals and teams, organisations and networks. Little has been discussed or concluded about how to measure the effectiveness of research capacity building (RCB) DISCUSSION: This article attempts to develop the debate on measuring RCB. It highlights that traditional outcomes of publications in peer reviewed journals and successful grant applications may be important outcomes to measure, but they may not address all the relevant issues to highlight progress, especially amongst novice researchers. They do not capture factors that contribute to developing an environment to support capacity development, or on measuring the usefulness or the 'social impact' of research, or on professional outcomes. The paper suggests a framework for planning change and measuring progress, based on six principles of RCB, which have been generated through the analysis of the literature, policy documents, empirical studies, and the experience of one Research and Development Support Unit in the UK. These principles are that RCB should: develop skills and confidence, support linkages and partnerships, ensure the research is 'close to practice', develop appropriate dissemination, invest in infrastructure, and build elements of sustainability and continuity. It is suggested that each principle operates at individual, team, organisation and supra-organisational levels. Some criteria for measuring progress are also given.
Summary: This paper highlights the need to identify ways of measuring RCB. It points out the limitations of current measurements that exist in the literature, and proposes a framework for measuring progress, which may form the basis of comparison of RCB activities. In this way it could contribute to establishing the effectiveness of these interventions, and establishing a knowledge base to inform the science of RCB.