Social scientists generally take it for granted that they have a role to play in the analysis of social issues and social conflict or of the social impact of development programmes and intervention strategies. However, their precise role vis-à-vis the particular issues, programmes or strategies concerned is by no means self-evident or ‘constant’ in different instances. It may vary strongly from case to case, depending on the terms of the ‘research relationship’, if any, with relevant policy makers, programme staff or commissioning agencies (Wenger 1987). Policy makers and development agencies, for instance, often seek to avail themselves of the services of social researchers to help clarify issues and policy choices as they see them, or to verify intended outcomes of programmes or intervention strategies with an eye on strengthening their implementation. They may be less interested in, or even hostile to, researchers defining their own agendas and policy options to be analysed, or intending to explore unintended outcomes of intervention strategies. Not surprisingly, where policy disputes or intervention strategies involve contending actors, priorities and perspectives, social researchers may meet with similarly ambivalent expectations as to their potential role and contribution.
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