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STRUCTURE OF THE CHAPTER
• Informed consent, access and acceptance
• The field of ethics and sources of tension
• Voices of experience
• Ethical dilemmas
• Privacy, anonymity and confidentiality
• Against privacy, confidentiality and anonymity
• Ethics in electronic research
• Betrayal and deception
• Ethics and evaluative research
• Research and regulation: ethical codes
and review boards
• Sponsored research
• Responsibilities to the research community
• A deontological view of ethics
– What one has a duty or obligation to undertake.
– Treating people as ends in themselves rather
than as means
• A consequentialist view of ethics
– Concern for the outcomes of actions, e.g. the
utilitarian view that ethical behaviour is that
which produces the greatest good for the
FOUR LAYERS OF ETHICAL DECISIONS
• External (e.g. codes of practice, laws);
• Consequential (consequences for
individuals, groups, society);
• Deontological (what is one’s duty to do);
• Individual (respect for individual freedom and
• Virtue ethics
– Pursue what is good simply because it is good
• Situational ethics
– What we should do or what is right to do
depends on the situation in question
THE COSTS-BENEFITS RATIO
Do the benefits outweigh the disadvantages?
• Social benefits of research endeavours against the
personal costs to the individuals taking part.
• Failure to do the research may cost society the
advantages of the opportunity to improve the
• Costs to participants may include affronts to dignity,
embarrassment, loss of trust in social relations,
loss of autonomy and self-determination, and
• Benefits to participants may be the satisfaction in
making a contribution to science and a greater
personal understanding of the area under scrutiny.
Rights to privacy
Rights of withdrawal
Rights to record dissent
Control/ownership of data
Permission from all parties
Informing participants of who sees the data/report
Avoid unnecessary offence
Avoid unnecessary deception
Ethical issues concern . . .
Honesty is the best policy;
but he who is governed by that maxim is
not an honest man.
Watley. R. (1953) Apophthegms. In The
Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (2nd
London: Oxford University Press.
1. Explain the study, its purposes, contents, benefits,
any dangers or discomforts (and long-term effects).
2. Explain what is involved of the participant.
3. Explain rights, protections and liabilities.
4. Explain rights to voluntary non-participation/partial
5. Rights and obligations of confidentiality, anonymity,
6. Answer any questions about the study and the
7. Obtain informed consent (including, where relevant,
permission from parents/guardians and other
appropriate parties), where appropriate, in writing.
Justify not obtaining informed consent (e.g. for covert
1. Telling a lie
2. Telling only part of the truth
3. Not telling the whole story
Is deception justified, in the interests of:
• Public good
• Preventing biasing the respondents
• Enabling natural behaviour to be observed
• Protecting confidentiality of a third party
Selection and de-selection of
particular types of research
De-selection of less controllable,
predictable, dangerous topics, e.g.
Selection of ‘safe’, controllable,
standardized, anodyne research
SECRECY IS A
FACT OF LIFE
SECRECY IS ESSENTIAL TO GAIN
ACCESS TO SENSITIVE GROUPS
AND SENSITIVE AREAS OF
SECRECY FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD
‘Behind the screen of formal ethics, timorous
social scientists may excuse themselves from
the risk of confronting powerful, privileged,
and cohesive groups that wish to obscure
their actions and interests from public
Mitchell, R. G. (1993) Secrecy in Fieldwork.
London: Sage Publications, p. 54.
ACCESS AND ACCEPTANCE
• Access requires formal and informal permission and
clearance from relevant parties.
• Achieving goodwill and cooperation.
• Sensitive entry to the research location.
• Be prepared for negotiation of what can/cannot be done.
• Seek informed consent.
• Give all participants the chance to remain anonymous.
• Ensure that all data are given in strict confidentiality.
• Seek respondent validation.
• Be prepared to give participants a copy of the final report.
• Permission for publication may need to be gained from
• Where possible, the research report should be of benefit
to the school and participants.
THE FIELD OF ETHICS
• Respect dignity and rights of participants.
• Attend to the sensitivity of the research.
• Control and ownership of the data (e.g. during
and after the research has ended).
• Publication rights and duties.
WHO OWNS THE DATA?
AT WHAT POINT DOES OWNERSHIP PASS FROM
THE RESPONDENT TO THE RESEARCHER?
WHAT RIGHTS DOES
WHAT RESPONSIBILITIES AND CONDITIONS
DOES OWNERSHIP CONFER?
A MAJOR ETHICAL TENSION
AVOID DOING HARM
(Primum non nocere)
• Use computer simulations.
• Find a situation in which the negative effects of harm
already exist, i.e. where the research does not have the
responsibility for having produced these conditions.
• Apply only a very low level of potential harm, or for only a
short period of time, so that any effects are minimal.
• Informed consent (provide details of the potential negative
effects and secure participants’ consent).
• Justify the research on the grounds that the limited harm
caused is much less than the harm caused by the existing
situation (which the research is trying to improve).
• Use samples rather than complete populations, so that
fewer people are exposed to the harm.
• Maintain the privacy of participants through the use of
aggregated or anonymized data.
REMEMBER THE PARTICIPANTS
• Data are given, not captured.
• Thank the participants.
• Ensure that participants do not leave the
research more humiliated, insecure, and
alienated than when they arrived.
• Consider the effects on the participants when
writing the report and publishing material.
• Ensure that the researchers have sufficient
competence to undertake the research.
• Involving people without their knowledge or consent.
• Coercing people to participate.
• Withholding information about the true nature of the
research, or otherwise deceiving participants.
• Inducing people to commit acts diminishing their self-
• Violating rights of self-determination (e.g. in studies
seeking to promote individual change).
• Exposing participants to physical or mental stress.
• Invading their privacy.
• Withholding benefits from some participants (e.g. in
• Not treating participants fairly, or with consideration, or
• Breaching trust.
ETHICAL PRINCIPLES IN ACTION RESEARCH
(Kemmis and McTaggart)
• Observe protocol and permissions.
• Involve participants.
• Negotiate with those affected.
• Report progress.
• Obtain explicit authorizations.
• Negotiate descriptions of people’s work.
• Negotiate accounts of others’ points of view.
• Obtain explicit authorization before using quotations.
• Negotiate reports for various levels of release.
• Accept responsibilitv for maintaining confidentiality.
• Retain the right to report your work.
• Make your principles of procedure binding and known.
• Privacy trumps other concerns in research.
• Privacy of people and settings.
• Privacy is a basic human need.
• The greater the sensitivity of the information,
the more safeguards are needed to protect
the privacy of participants.
• Privacy can be voluntarily relinquished by
• Participants, groups, institutions, locations
should be non-traceable unless there is a good
reasons for this not to happen.
• Some individuals, groups, institutions will want to
be identified; respect this.
• It should not be possible to reconstruct or
reassemble data in order to identify people,
groups, institutions, locations, or, where it is
possible, it will not be put into the public domain.
• Researches can take steps to guarantee that
they, too, do not know who respondents are
(e.g. double blind experiments, anonymous
• Ensure in advance that promises of anonymity
and confidentiality can actually be kept.
• Ensure that participants understand anonymity,
non-traceability and confidentiality.
• Justify covert research.
• Justify dishonesty/telling lies to ensure non-
traceability (e.g. ‘putting people off the scent’ of
• How can ‘thick descriptions’ avoid identifying
ETHICS IN ELECTRONIC RESEARCH
• Difficulty in confirming authenticity of online
• Difficulty in confidentiality and privacy in
• Online participants may distort their real
• It can take a long time to establish trust
GUIDELINES FOR ETHICS ONLINE
• Do not assume that emails are secure.
• Ensure that nobody is harmed by the research.
• Enable participants to correspond in private if
• Indicate the steps taken to ensure privacy.
• Check where the communication comes from.
• Determine the most suitable online method of
requesting and receiving informed consent.
• The greater is the acknowledged publicity of the
venue, the less obligation there may be to protect
individual privacy, confidentiality, and rights to
GUIDELINES FOR ETHICS ONLINE
• The greater is the vulnerability of the researcher to
the participant, the greater is the obligation of the
researcher to protect the participant.
• Indicate clearly how material will be used, whether
or how it will be attributed, and whether data will be
used verbatim, aggregated or summarized.
• Work within the framework of legal obligations of
data protection and privacy laws.
• Indicate who has access to the communication, and
whether it is private.
• Consider the possible outcomes to individuals if
private data are made public.
BETRAYAL AND DECEPTION
• Betrayal and deception are breaches of trust.
How to justify them?
• Betrayal may be breaching privacy and
• Are betrayal and deception for the sake of the
• Betrayal may occur if people are portrayed in
• Deception may happen in telling lies, not
telling the whole story, concealing the true
purposes of the research from participants.
BETRAYAL AND DECEPTION
• Handling deception:
– Research in the interests of the public good
– Exclude particularly vulnerable participants
– Keep necessary deception to a minimum
– Be sensitive to danger signals
– Provide feedback/debriefing at the end of the
– Find new, alternative ways of conducting the
research without deception.
ETHICS AND EVALUATIVE RESEARCH
• Principle of benefit maximization
– the best decision is the one that results in
the greatest benefit for most people.
• Principle of equal respect.
– Respect the equal worth of all people.
– Treat people as ends rather than means.
– Regard them as free and rational.
– They are entitled to the same basic rights
ETHICS AND EVALUATIVE RESEARCH
• Due process
• Public perspicuity
• Client benefit
• Academic freedom
• Respect for autonomy
RESEARCH AND REGULATION
Regulation comes from:
• Ethical codes (but they can be unhelpful in
• Review panels/committees/boards (but they
may have no more expertise or legitimacy than
the researcher, their remit is unclear, they may
disrespect researcher autonomy, and may
lead to the avoidance of sensitive research)
• Legal requirements
• Professional associations
It may be considered unethical for the sponsor
to tell the researcher:
• how to conduct the research;
• what results he/she should look for and what
findings should be suppressed;
• what should and should not be reported;
• to conceal who the sponsor is;
• what are the purposes of the research.
Sponsors do have the right:
• to remain confidential;
• to non-disclosure of who they are;
• to non-disclosure of the purposes and
findings of the research.
The researcher must retain the right to
conduct the study as she or he thinks fit,
informed by, but not decided by, the sponsor.