Self-management is of increasing importance in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) management. However, there is confusion over what processes are involved, how the value of self-management should be determined, and about the research priorities. To gain more insight into and agreement about the content of programmes, outcomes, and future directions of COPD self-management, a group of interested researchers and physicians, all of whom had previously published on this subject and who had previously collaborated on other projects, convened a workshop. This article summarises their initial findings. Self-management programmes aim at structural behaviour change to sustain treatment effects after programmes have been completed. The programmes should include techniques aimed at behavioural change, be tailored individually, take the patient's perspective into account, and may vary with the course of the patient's disease and co-morbidities. Assessment should include process variables. This report is a step towards greater conformity in the field of self-management. To enhance clarity regarding effectiveness, future studies should clearly describe their intervention, be properly designed and powered, and include outcomes that focus more on the acquisition and practice of new skills. In this way more evidence and a better comprehension on self-management programmes will be obtained, and more specific formulation of guidelines on self-management made possible.