Scoping: eight question framework

Purpose: To provide a structured way to review all the possibilities for understanding and acting on a complex problem.

Description: Scoping is the preparatory stage of a project, starting a process of systematic thought about what can be best done with the available time, money, and people in order to use those resources most effectively.

The aim is to focus on the problem and what is possible to improve understanding and action on the problem. Developing that broad array of options is the scoping process. It is followed by boundary setting to determine what will actually be done. (It should be noted that some include boundary setting in the scoping process.)

It is helpful to think about 8 questions. The first four questions help identify the dimensions of the problem:

  • What do we already know about the problem?
  • What can different stakeholders and academic disciplines contribute to addressing this problem?
  • What areas are contentious?
  • What are the big-picture issues? In other words, what are the political, historical, social, geographic and cultural aspects of the problem?

The final four questions help set priorities:

  • Why is this problem on the agenda now?
  • What support and resources are likely to be available for tackling the problem?
  • What parts of the problem are already well covered and where are the areas of greatest need?
  • Where can the most strategic interventions be made?

Effectively addressing these questions requires an iterative, rather than a linear, process. This reduces the danger of getting bogged down, especially when charting unfamiliar territory.

Reference: Bammer, G. (2020) Scoping public health problems. In Kawachi, I.; Lang, I.; Ricciardi, W. (eds) Oxford Handbook of Public Health Practice, Fourth edition. Oxford University Press, 2-10. (Online) (DOI): http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/med/9780198800125.001.0001

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Posted: December 2015
Last modified: August 2021