A double-edged sword? Health research and research governance in UK primary care
Contemporary health research is becoming increasingly formalised, regulated and institutionalised. In the UK, this has manifested itself in the development of a framework for 'governing' health research. The framework is often presented as a neutral decision-making tool guiding elements of research (such as ethical and peer review) through formal governance processes and approval procedures. We locate the framework as emerging in the wider context of the growth of 'guidelines' in healthcare that raises questions about the extent to which formal rationality has taken hold on knowledge production and what this means for health research. We therefore explore if and how the framework prioritises particular approaches to the production of knowledge and the tensions that emerge between managerial requirements and the work of researchers. We employed qualitative telephone interviews to access the accounts of both researchers and administrators across a range of primary healthcare settings in England and to capture a range of experiences and levels of involvement in research and governance. Our analysis revealed the double-edged nature of research governance: on the one hand, the framework provided a valuable aid to decision-making and the formalisation of tacit knowledge about 'good research practice'; on the other, consequent managerial processes engaged researchers in a series of low-level activities and privileged particular ways of viewing the world. Our findings add to existing knowledge by moving beyond documenting concerns over research governance and show how the reduction of research governance according to a 'common' set of principles and procedures facilitates the production (and managerial oversight) of quantitative and clinical, over qualitative and experiential, knowledge. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.