National research priorities are often the outcome of negotiations between multiple research stakeholders. These stakeholders include groups of research ‘users’, which means that the negotiation processes are no longer controlled by ‘science’. In this paper, we explore the use of the ideographic term ‘users’ in the discourse surrounding the negotiation processes between a New Zealand funding agency, a research institute and an industry body. The case study highlights the implications of translating the ideographic user collective, as it appears in policy, into an individual representative to participate in a negotiation process. The design of negotiation processes should, therefore, recognize that ‘ideal’ user representation may be an unobtainable goal.