Methods for Identifying Health Research Gaps, Needs, and Priorities

A Scoping Review

Published in: Journal of General Internal Medicine (2021). doi: 10.1007/s11606-021-07064-1

Posted on on November 10, 2021

by Eunice C. Wong, Alicia Ruelaz Maher, Aneesa Motala, Rachel Ross, Goke Akinniranye, Jody Larkin, Susanne Hempel

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Well-defined, systematic, and transparent processes to identify health research gaps, needs, and priorities are vital to ensuring that available funds target areas with the greatest potential for impact.


The purpose of this review is to characterize methods conducted or supported by research funding organizations to identify health research gaps, needs, or priorities.


We searched MEDLINE, PsycINFO, and the Web of Science up to September 2019. Eligible studies reported on methods to identify health research gaps, needs, and priorities that had been conducted or supported by research funding organizations. Using a published protocol, we extracted data on the method, criteria, involvement of stakeholders, evaluations, and whether the method had been replicated (i.e., used in other studies).


Among 10,832 citations, 167 studies were eligible for full data extraction. More than half of the studies employed methods to identify both needs and priorities, whereas about a quarter of studies focused singularly on identifying gaps (7%), needs (6%), or priorities (14%) only. The most frequently used methods were the convening of workshops or meetings (37%), quantitative methods (32%), and the James Lind Alliance approach, a multi-stakeholder research needs and priority setting process (28%). The most widely applied criteria were importance to stakeholders (72%), potential value (29%), and feasibility (18%). Stakeholder involvement was most prominent among clinicians (69%), researchers (66%), and patients and the public (59%). Stakeholders were identified through stakeholder organizations (51%) and purposive (26%) and convenience sampling (11%). Only 4% of studies evaluated the effectiveness of the methods and 37% employed methods that were reproducible and used in other studies.


To ensure optimal targeting of funds to meet the greatest areas of need and maximize outcomes, a much more robust evidence base is needed to ascertain the effectiveness of methods used to identify research gaps, needs, and priorities.

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