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Ethics in Social Research for MA students

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A presentation given to Newcastle University postgraduate students about to start their dissertations in social research and related fields. The presentation covers ethical issues to be aware of when …

A presentation given to Newcastle University postgraduate students about to start their dissertations in social research and related fields. The presentation covers ethical issues to be aware of when conducting dissertation research, including issues of consent and anonymity, with a particular focus upon qualitative research.

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Transcript

  • 1. “ First Do No Harm” Unseen ethical hurdles in social research, and how to overcome them Louise Reeve
  • 2. Introduction: Some first principles to bear in mind…
    • Gold standard of research – verifiability:
      • “ You must be able to prove that you didn’t
      • make it up!”
    • See things from your participants’ perspective(s), not yours.
    • Plan your dissertation from start to finish, and factor in the time you need to tackle ethical issues (such as gaining approval to proceed).
  • 3. About my project
    • Title : “Dignity in Policy and Practice: Older people, dignity, and the provision of home care in Newcastle.”
    • Aim : To compare what older people and home care workers think about the meaning of dignity with the concepts of dignity employed in government policy papers on social care.
    • Method : Ten semi-structured interviews: five with older people receiving care at home from Newcastle City Council, five with care workers employed by the Council’s Care at Home service.
    • Recruitment method : Newcastle City Council supported my research. They provided me with the contact details of people who got home care and who worked giving home care so that I could make contact with them and interview them.
  • 4. What ethical issues can you see already?
  • 5. Questions…
    • What ethical issues can you see arising from these examples?
    • Member of staff at Newcastle City Council: “Here’s the names of five people who you can interview.”
    • Older person: “Can you visit me in my own home?”
    • Older person: “I can’t read very well.”
    • Older person: “I’ve got a nice Filipino lass coming to help me, she helps since I broke my arm last month”.
  • 6. Answers
    • Do I want Newcastle City Council staff who are involved in providing services to my participants to know exactly who I interviewed?
    • Is it safe to interview that person in their home?
    • If someone can’t read very well, can they understand the consent form?
    • Out of around 350 Care at Home staff, how many are female, Filipino and caring for an elderly lady who broke her arm recently?
  • 7. Devising your research tools
    • Consider your participants’ perspective(s).
    • Are they vulnerable in any way?
    • I.e. if people are dependent on services, you must create a situation in which they can speak freely about them without fear of what they say “getting back to the office”.
    • How are you going to recruit people? If you need to keep their participation confidential, how will you manage this?
    • Don’t just be anonymous, anonymise!
  • 8. Gaining ethical approval, and the law
    • There may or may not be legal requirements you have to follow. It depends on your research topic.
      • I.e. the Data Protection Act.
    • Gaining approval - check if you have to go through any ethics committees / procedures to work with your intended subjects.
      • I.e. Newcastle City Council’s Research Governance Framework.
      • Factor this into your timeline!
    • Cover yourself – be thorough.
    • Think about issues of abuse and safeguarding vulnerable people. Do you know how to handle a situation in which someone reveals details of this to you?
  • 9. Consent forms
    • Your consent form needs to cover all stages of the research - you must be sure that your participants fully understand what they are consenting to:
      • How you are going to record and store the data
      • How you will analyse it
      • How you will write it up
      • Who will read / use it
      • Will it be shared with anyone else?
      • Are there any circumstances in which you will breach confidentiality? I.e. if someone tells you about being abused.
    • I advise having large print copies, and a spare copy for the person to sign on the day and keep with them.
    • Be careful with the wording!
  • 10. Confidentiality, verifiability, data security and storage
    • How are you going to record your data, and how will you store your recordings?
    • I.e. keeping interview tapes / filled-in questionnaires in a locked box.
    • How will you ensure verifiability?
    • Electronic data (databases, transcripts) – password-protect originals and backups.
    • How long will you need to keep the data for, and when should you destroy it?
  • 11. Presenting your findings
    • Much of this has been covered earlier.
    • Think about who will read and possibly use your research, and aim to meet the requirements of both confidentiality and accountability.
    • Again – anonymise! Can your participants be identified?
    • I.e. (quote from care worker talking about dignity and bathing): ”…If you’re moving anybody… we were taking a lady who we visit in Ponteland from where she had a bedroom downstairs through to a shower, and her husband’s having his breakfast, then obviously we’ve got her well covered, even though they’re husband and wife, so when we take her through, we always check that she has her dressing gown on.”
    • What is relevant in terms of what you are looking to find out?
    • It is relevant that the care workers try to keep the older
    • person covered, but the location of the person they visit is
    • not relevant.
    • So take this out when quoting.
  • 12. Conclusion
    • Key stages at which ethics must be considered:
      • Planning
      • Choosing your methods and refining your research tools
      • Recruiting participants
      • Gaining ethical approval from committees, etc. and reviewing the legal implications
      • Devising consent forms
      • Confidentiality, verifiability, data security and storage
      • Presenting your findings
    • Be proactive and thorough.
    • Allow enough time.
    • If in doubt, discuss with your tutor.
    • Good luck, and enjoy your research!
  • 13. Further reading
    • Keith Punch, “Developing Effective
    • Research Proposals”, 2006.
    • Christopher Hart, “Doing Your Masters Dissertation”, 2004.
    • Judith Bell, “Doing Your Research Project”, 2005.
    • Nick Moore, “How To Do Research”, 2005.
    • Paul Oliver, “The Student’s Guide to Research Ethics”, 2003.
    • Colin Robson, “Real World Research”, 2002.

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