Priority setting is about making decisions. Key issues faced during priority setting processes include identifying who makes these decisions, who sets the criteria, and who benefits. The paper reviews the literature and history around priority setting in research, particularly in Aboriginal health research. We explore these issues through a case study of the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health (CRCAH)'s experience in setting and meeting priorities.
Historically, researchers have made decisions about what research gets done. Pressures of growing competition for research funds and an increased public interest in research have led to demands that appropriate consultation with stakeholders is conducted and that research is of benefit to the wider society. Within Australian Aboriginal communities, these demands extend to Aboriginal control of research to ensure that Aboriginal priorities are met.
In response to these demands, research priorities are usually agreed in consultation with stakeholders at an institutional level and researchers are asked to develop relevant proposals at a project level. The CRCAH's experience in funding rounds was that scientific merit was given more weight than stakeholders' priorities and did not necessarily result in research that met these priorities. After reviewing these processes in 2004, the CRCAH identified a new facilitated development approach. In this revised approach, the setting of institutional priorities is integrated with the development of projects in a way that ensures the research reflects stakeholder priorities.
This process puts emphasis on identifying projects that reflect priorities prior to developing the quality of the research, rather than assessing the relevance to priorities and quality concurrently. Part of the CRCAH approach is the employment of Program Managers who ensure that stakeholder priorities are met in the development of research projects. This has enabled researchers and stakeholders to come together to collaboratively develop priority-driven research. Involvement by both groups in project development has been found to be essential in making decisions that will lead to robust and useful research.