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Who controls research and how?

The notion of control in research is a complicated one. At an obvious level research which is funded by commissioning bodies is almost fully controlled by them. In the first instance they decide or agree to what is to be researched. Often there are tightly worded contracts which control both the methods and the outputs. Resistance to receiving the findings of the research or not publishing research reports which do not accord with a funder's current philosophies and policies are obvious ways of exerting control, and have implications for academic freedom. Significant research findings may be withheld or remain out of the public domain.

However, power operates in complex ways and researchers also have to accept responsibility for the control they exert in the research process. The questions that are asked, the way that they are asked and the people chosen to be research respondents or participants obviously influence what is learned in the research. Similarly the interpretation of research results by both funders and researchers has been criticised, especially by feminist researchers, as a way of controlling the information. For example feminist commentators pointed out that research findings from groups of men were often used to describe the experiences of women (Stanley and Wise, 1983). Jenny Morris has made similar criticisms of the effects of research on disabled people (Morris, 1993). The section on ‘making sense of research’ gives you more clues in how to identify bias or misrepresentation of research findings.

Such criticisms have led to the call for the involvement of users in the research process in a more active way (Beresford and Croft,2001). Such involvement can be exercised at different levels. Care has to be taken to ensure that this type of involvement is presented clearly so that users are not misled or tokenised. Giving users a greater say in the research process inevitably means the researchers having to relinquish some control.

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