At the WONCA Europe conference 2009 the recently published 'Research Agenda for General Practice/Family Medicine and Primary Health Care in Europe' was presented. The Research Agenda is a background paper and reference manual for GPs/family doctors, researchers and policy makers, providing advocacy of general practice/family medicine GP/FM in Europe. The Research Agenda summarizes the evidence relating to the core competencies and characteristics of the WONCA Europe definition of GP/FM, and its meaning for researchers and policy makers. Evidence gaps and research needs are pointed out to provide a basis for planning research for which there is a need and for action that may influence health and research policy, i.e. applying/lobbying for research funds. WONCA Europe and its associated networks and special interest groups could consider the agenda's research priorities when planning future conferences, courses, or projects, and for funding purposes. The European Journal of General Practice will publish a series of articles based on this document. In this first article, background, objectives, methodology and relevant literature are discussed. In subsequent articles, the results will be presented.