Tag Archives: ethics

Ethics in Community-Based Participatory Research

I recently attended a conference at Durham University’s School of Applied Social Science into ethics in community-based participatory research.

The day was really enlightening I learned a few things at the conference about ethics and carrying out such research with integrity.

First, I learned that sociologists can count well enough to construct the first ten or so numbers in the Fibonacci sequence.

The second thing I learned was that there are new ethical considerations that need to be taken in to account, as well as some important new dimensions of existing, or traditional, ethical issues in research.

  1. Presenters commonly felt that it was important to have the group involved agree to the terms of the research collectively and with a high level or agreement. Traditionally each participant is asked individually to consent to the research but this was inadequate on its own and should be done in addition to asking the group as a while to consent.
  2. Many researchers were unsure of who owns the material once collected, and who can use it for what purpose. The situation is complicated when a group helps to produce the work, because can one member of that group then use the findings for their own project?
  3. There were ambiguities around acknowledgement of contributions. Is it appropriate to acknowledge the group, or individuals within the group, and how do those who wish to remain anonymous?

Many of the presenters discussed the methods and practicalities involved in community-based participatory research. It was particularly interesting to hear some of the academic researchers and some of the researchers from the community group discuss their different perspectives and, sometimes, disagree over the research.

Finally, I discussed with some researchers how the closed their project, as I have previously been involved in a collaborative project and felt unsatisfied with how the project ended. It would appear there’s no easy solution, but planning ahead seemed to be the key to ensuring the project closed satisfactorily.

This is really just a summary of the event, but there’s more information – and draft guidelines – available from the conference webpage. I recommend you give it a read if you’re interested in research in this way.

Ethical Requirements of Research

All research should be carried out to the highest ethical standards. It’s important to: protect the respondent or respondents; help ensure good quality research; and maintain the integrity of the research industries who depend on goodwill to attract future respondents.

Complying with the ethical guidelines of the Market Research Society, Social Research Association or British Sociological Association is not arduous for a relatively straightforward research project.

Imagine my dismay, then, at reading that research carried out by the Troubled Families Unit doesn’t seem to have thought about the ethical implications of their research.

Compounding the issue is that this wasn’t a piece of general research, but research where vulnerable members of society were the principal respondent.

Summarising Nick Bailey’s original blog post on the subject, the research seems to have made the following crucial errors:

  • Respondents were not free to decline to participate or to withdraw, a basic tenet of ethical research.
  • Bailey suggests that the identity of the respondents might not be protected.
  • The department’s definition of ‘social research’ and defining the research as a ‘dipstick/informal information gathering’ is dubious.

Neglecting ethical standards has arguably harmed the respondents involved, the social research industry and the government, and I’d certainly take a closer look at the method section and results.

Getting it Right

Getting the ethics right is so crucial for your research; you can’t afford to get it wrong or it will harm your brand. You even need to consider the ethical needs of a straightforward online survey.

The easiest way to make sure you meet your ethical obligations is to employ a market research or social research professional. For a minimal cost they can protect your respondents, the industry (which is important to ensure there are respondents in the future) and your brand.

Contact me if you would like me to look over the ethical requirements of your research >