Becoming an ethical researcher
Becoming an ethical researcher

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4.2 Putting potential participants’ views first

Once a researcher is in a position to approach participants, they should find ways to feel confident that their participation is voluntary and informed. The researcher has an obligation to explain their research plans, what they are asking of the participant, what they will promise the participant, how they will respect their rights and how they can withdraw should they change their mind.

Activity 7 Thinking about participants’ views

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes for Part A and 20 minutes for Part B

Part A

Choose one of the case studies (2.1 or 2.2) or the scenarios A–D in Activity 4 and use the following questions as prompts to help you to think about how you can put a participant’s views first.

Think about:

  1. What information would participants want to know before they agreed to participate?
  2. What concerns might a participant have about their participation?
  3. What are a participant’s rights in terms of participating and in relation to the information the researcher is eliciting from them?
  4. How can a researcher demonstrate their respect for participants’ rights and be assured participants are fully informed?
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Participants have the right to be informed as fully as possible as to a researcher’s requests of them and the possible implications of these requests, to help them decide voluntarily to participate. They might agree due to different motivations: to help others, to help the researcher, to help solve the problem or understand and tackle the issue the research is about, because they have been helped in a similar way. Each motivation might lead them to ask different questions of the researcher. In all cases, they should be reassured that the data they provide will be kept safely, they will not be misrepresented, that they will either not be identified or that their contribution will be attributed, that they can change their mind and that they can find out more about the research. In the next part of this activity, you will read a short article to help you imagine what might be involved in research with young children, where negotiating consent to participate is more complicated.

Part B

Described image
Figure 7 Is a baby crawling away from a research activity a sign of lack of assent?

Read the following post on the BERA blog [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (make sure to open this link in a new tab/window so you can easily return to this page) written by researcher Liz Rouse about her reflections on ‘informed consent and assent, and the ethical review process, with/for research with the very young’ (Rouse, 2019).

In this study, Rouse did indeed use the non-verbal observation of babies crawling away from an activity forming part of the research to indicate their lack of assent to participate. This was just one form of evidence she used in what she terms a ‘matrix of approaches’ to gaining informed consent.

Returning to the thinking prompts in Part A, how might researchers need to act with participants below the legal age of consent, in order to be confident that participants:

  • understand the research aims/intentions?
  • understand their right to withdraw at any time?
  • have any concerns addressed?
  • are shown respect?

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