What is a PICOC?

One of the fundamental skills required for practising evidence-based practice is the asking of well-built practical questions. PICOC is a method used to describe the five elements of a searchable question. “PICOC” is an acronym that stands for:


Population             Who?

Intervention           What or How?

Comparison          Compared to what?

Outcome                What are you trying to accomplish / improve?

Context                  In what kind of organization / circumstances?


The underlying thought is that all five elements are important in a focused search for evidence, and that each change in the P, I, C, O or C leads to different evidence and therefore also to a different search outcome. For example, a search based on a question such as “Is goal setting an effective intervention?” leads to an outcome of limited practical value because only the I (goal setting) is addressed in the question, without taking account of


P: the effect is possibly different for members of the executive board than for blue collar workers

C: the effect is possibly different in comparison with business process redesign than in comparison with doing nothing

O: the effect on production is possibly different from the effect on employee satisfaction or organizational commitment

C: the effect is possibly different for a financial services provider with a structural problem than for a teaching hospital with a cultural problem


Once you have formed the question using the PICOC structure, you can think about what type of question it is you are asking, and therefore what type of research would provide the best answer.