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How big is the elephant in the room? Estimated and actual IT costs in an online behaviour change trial

Jim McCambridge1*, Orla O'Donnell2, Christine Godfrey3, Zarnie Khadjesari2, Stuart Linke2, Elizabeth Murray2 and Paul Wallace2

Author affiliations

1 Centre for Research on Drugs & Health Behaviour, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, UK

2 E-health Unit, Research Department of Primary Care & Population Health, UCL, UK

3 Department of Health Sciences and HYMS, University of York, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Research Notes 2010, 3:172  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-3-172

Published: 18 June 2010



The practical and methodological challenges inherent in online behaviour change studies are both novel and complex. We relate our experiences of estimating and managing information technology (IT) research and intervention costs in an ongoing internet trial in the hope that others will find this information useful.


Actual IT costs were approximately twice those that had been originally estimated by external contractors. These original estimates for IT costs allowed little scope for the identification of new needs, which was intrinsic to the iterative nature of the research enterprise.


Making greater provision for the uncertain nature of these costs in future studies is a key practical lesson for the planning of future online behaviour change studies.