Managing ethics: considerations and protocols
It is advisable for researchers, evaluators and other related practitioners to routinely check their projects to ensure they are meeting ethical requirements – especially for the social and human dimensions elements of projects. Checklists act as a memory aid to good research practice, and are also a frequently required procedure for those seeking research approval from ethics committees. Such protocols are likely to be increasingly employed to ensure compliance with research governance requirements.
In essence, an ethics form is a statement which sets out how researchers and practitioners intend to ensure compliance with each of the key principles (such as: ‘informed consent’, ‘openness and honesty’, ‘right to withdraw’, ‘protection from harm’, ‘debriefing’ and ‘confidentiality’). Your ‘ethics protocol’ should set out how your study will meet these requirements where relevant. Some of these principles will be of greater importance than others for you and this should be reflected in your statement. This ethics statement should cover all the things that you talk about to potential participants in order to obtain informed consent, which would cover issues such as confidentiality, right to withdraw, feedback, etc as appropriate.
Ethics protocol and sample information and consent forms
Social research ethics protocol [to download]
This MS Word form has been designed for researchers who are working independently and so do not have access to an institutional committee-based ethics process. The research ethics checklist has been designed to be relevant for a wide range of research. Particular attention has been paid to ensure it is useful for those undertaking participatory, community-based and action research approaches. It can be used as a self-check by researchers, or as the basis for a peer-review of your project with one or more external social researchers. From experience I would suggest that the review be undertaken in a collegial manner with you (or your team) as project applicant working through the questions with the peer reviewers – either face to face, or using skype or another on-line meeting tool. Feedback on this form and using it is welcomed so it can be improved for common use.
Evaluation ethics protocol [to download]
This 2021 MS Word form is similar to the social research one, but has been designed for evaluators. The ethics checklist has been designed to be relevant for a wide range of approaches. Particular attention has been paid to ensure it is useful for those undertaking participatory, community-based and action research approaches. It can be used as a self-check by researchers, or as the basis for a peer-review of your project with one or more external evaluators. From experience I would suggest that the review be undertaken in a collegial manner with you (or your team) as project applicant working through the questions with the peer reviewers – either face to face, or using skype or another on-line meeting tool. Feedback on this form and using it is welcomed so it can be improved for common use.
Guidance on writing participant information sheets.
This document, from the Oxford University Press, includes points to consider when designing information sheets for adults. The information sheet is often best written as an invitation (the use of “we” may help). Use the active tense and avoid the passive. Write in simple, non-technical terms that a lay person will understand easily. A sample consent form is also included.
Other selected ethics links
ESRC framework for research ethics (FRE)
The Research Ethics Framework (REF) for social science research was formally introduced by ESRC in January 2006. The dignity, rights and welfare of research participants are core criteria. The full 2010 FRE can be downloaded.
Community-based Participatory Research: Ethical Challenges
This paper outlines the findings of a scoping study examining ethical issues in community-based participatory research (CBPR), based on a literature search and the deliberations of a co-inquiry action research group. It is written by the Durham University Community Research Team. The paper points out that While many ethical issues are common in qualitative social research, what is distinctive about Community-based Participatory Research situations is the openness, fluidity and unpredictability of the research process. A related PDF can be found here.
UNEG Ethical Guidelines for evaluation
The UNEG ethical guidelines for evaluation are based on commonly held and internationally recognized professional ideals. These guidelines point out that aspiring to ethical conduct in evaluation is important for a number of reasons: i) responsible use of power; ii) ensuring Credibility; and iii) responsible use of resources. The document provides a good summary of the obligations of evaluators, and, in turn, evaluators obligations to participants.
Guiding principles for evaluators
This paper from the American Evaluation Association (AEA) outlines the guiding principles to be used by evaluators in order to promote ethical practice in evaluations. The Australasian Evaluation Society also has a good set of Guidelines for the ethical conduct of evaluations.
Health and safety
Safety in Social Research
This 2000 post by Gary Craig provides a good introduction to why there is a growing awareness of the risks involved in social research – for researchers; for their employers, and for those people who agree to take part. It outlines who should be concerned with safety, the importance of understanding cultural issues, and provides suggestions for a code of practice.
Health and safety guidance for research undertaken in the community
This 2012 guidance document is aimed at minimising the risks to the health and safety of University of Bristol researchers when engaged in research activities that primarily involve working directly with research participants in private settings or environments unfamiliar to the researcher. This includes data collection, interviewing, surveys and observational studies. The guidance is designed to provide a structure for ensuring that a measured risk assessment is undertaken at a level that is appropriate to the proposed research. It is not prescriptive as the research it covers encompasses a wide variety of scenarios.