OBJECTIVE: Our objective was to identify desirable attributes to be developed through graduate training in health services and policy research (HSPR) by identifying the knowledge, skills and abilities thought to be keys to success in HSPR-related careers. We aimed for a framework clear enough to serve as a touchstone for HSPR training programs across Canada yet flexible enough to permit diversity of specialization across and within those programs. METHODS: OUR APPROACH INVOLVED SEVERAL STAGES OF DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: a review of literature; telephone interviews with opinion leaders; online surveys of HSPR students, recent graduates and employers; an invitational workshop; and an interactive panel at a national conference. Our final framework was arrived at through an iterative process of thematic analysis, reflection on invited feedback from consultation participants and triangulation with existing competency frameworks. RESULTS: Our final result was a framework that identifies traits, knowledge and abilities of master's-level graduates who are capable of fostering health system improvement through planning, management, analysis or monitoring that is informed by credible evidence and relevant theory. These attributes are organized into three levels: generic graduate attributes, knowledge related to health and health systems and, finally, attributes related to the application of knowledge for health system improvement. The HSPR-specific attributes include not only an understanding of HSPR theories and methods but also the skills related to the practical application of knowledge in the complex environments of health system decision-making and healthcare policy. CONCLUSION: Master's-level HSPR training programs should prepare students to pose and seek answers to important questions and provide them with the skills necessary to apply their knowledge within complex decision-making environments.