Ethical issues in research a ‘how to…
‘ guideHelp with Involve Communities ‘How to…’ guideIntroductionEthics when applied to social research is concerned with the creation of a trusting relationshipbetween those who are researched and the researcher. To ensure that trust is established it isessential that communication is carefully planned and managed, that risks are minimised and benefitsare maximised.In developing a trusting relationship, researchers adhere to a number of ethical principles which theyapply to their work – namely beneficence; autonomy; non-maleficence; justice; veracity; and privacy.Beneficence (doing good)Research should only be carried out if some sort of benefit or good can be derived from it, (i.
e.contribution to knowledge or improved service/treatment). Therefore the question of whether or nota research project is worth undertaking should always be uppermost in the mind of the researcher. Ifno benefit can be derived then the project is unethical.Autonomy (self-rule)Researchers have an obligation to disclose information at a level that participants can understand sothat they can either refuse or agree to participate.
In essence, autonomy is concerned with theconcept of informed consent whereby people who agree to take part in a study know what they areagreeing to and authorise the researcher to collect information without any form of coercion.Non-maleficence (do no harm)The principle of non-maleficence places an obligation on researchers not to harm others or exposepeople to unnecessary risks. Harm can come in many forms, from blows to self-esteem to ‘lookingbad’ to others, to loss of funding or earnings, to boredom, frustration, or time wasting. It is goodpractice to assume that every research project will involve some form of harm and to consider inadvance how best to deal with it.Justice (Fairness)This principle implies that everyone should be treated fairly and equally.
Veracity (truth telling)This principle concerns truth telling whereby the researcher is required to provide comprehensive andaccurate information in a manner that enhances understanding. For example, if the researcher saysthat a questionnaire will take 10 minutes to complete then the questionnaire should take 10 minutesand not 15 minutes. Researchers should always be honest with participants and keep any promisesmade.
PrivacyPrivacy concerns the respect for limited access to another person, be it physically, emotionally orcognitively. For example, although participants grant access to their thoughts and feelings when theyagree to participate, they do not agree to unlimited access. Therefore they have always got the rightto decline to talk about certain issues or to answer specific questions. Ethical issues in research a ‘how to…
‘ guideHelp with Involve Communities ‘How to…’ guideConfidentiality is an extension of privacy but relates specifically to the agreements made between theresearcher and participants about what can and cannot be done with information collected over acourse of a project. In most cases this will be determined and subjected to the legal constraintsoutlined in the Data Protection Act 1998.Frequently asked questionsThis section of the guide attempts to answer some of the frequently asked questions about researchethics. If you have any additional queries please get in touch.What is meant by informed consent?Informed consent is best understood by looking at what it means to be informed and to give consent.
Being informed means that participants are told everything that might or will occur during a study in away in which they can understand. Giving consent implies that a) the agreement to participate isvoluntary, free from coercion and undue influence and b) that the person providing the consent iscompetent to make a rational and mature judgement about taking part. If the criteria of beinginformed and giving consent are met then informed consent is said to be given.Does consent have to be in writing?It is good practice to have consent in writing. In practice, however, this is not always possibleespecially when undertaking focus groups. The convention here is to go through the consentprocedure with the group and record on tape any objections. To prevent breaches ofconfidentially, consent forms with personal identifiable information attached should be stored ina locked container away other from information about the project.
What information should be included on a consent form?There are no hard and fast rules here; however as a rough guide the following sorts of things shouldbe included:? a heading stating the title, the organisation carrying out the research and the name of theresearcher.? a statement of agreement to participate.? a statement that indicates the length of time an activity is likely to take.
? a statement that indicates what will happen to the information collected.? a statement about confidentiality and anonymity.? confirmation that there is no obligation to take part and that participants have the right towithdraw or not answer questions.? signatures and date.Optional statements that can be included:? a statement that the purpose of any recording equipment used has been explain.
? a statement that a leaflet has been provided, that the information has been read andunderstood.? a statement that indicates that permission has been granted to re-contact participants aboutthe project.? a statement that indicates whether permission has been granted for their name to be addedto a database etc.Ethical issues in research a ‘how to..
.’ guideHelp with Involve Communities ‘How to…’ guideAre there any special issues I need to consider when undertaking research with youngpeople?Yes, the issue of informed consent and how to ensure it has lead to various professional, academic andservice guidelines on how to undertake research with young people. We have pulled together some ofthe key issues you need to be aware of in a separate guideline. See ‘Research with children andyoung people’ for further details.