Primary care research networks are considered to be fundamental to the development of a relevant research base in primary care. Networks must be responsive to members' research and training needs in order to evolve. The aims were to gather information about the perspectives, barriers to participation, research interests and training needs of primary care staff interested in participating in the North Central Thames Primary Care Research Network (NoCTeN). A postal questionnaire survey documented training needs and barriers to initiating or developing practice-based research. Focus groups were convened to gain an understanding of needs and explore practical means of addressing these needs. Seventy per cent of practices (57/82) responded to the questionnaire survey. Two focus groups were convened with general practitioners, and one group with practice nurses. Clinical commitments were considered the greatest barrier to research participation. Respondents were keen to participate in research relevant to their practice population. Training was viewed as ideally being project specific and practice based. Mentoring schemes were advocated, together with methods to encourage primary care staff to develop research ideas and access appropriate training. Although there were common themes, there were also differences between general practitioners' and nurses' perceived needs. Investigation of members' perspectives and needs enables networks to respond appropriately and practically. Addressing barriers should encourage members to participate in research and increase primary care-based research activity.