Becoming an ethical researcher
Becoming an ethical researcher

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3.2 Consent from vulnerable groups

In Session 2, you considered consent. This is especially important for including vulnerable groups and individuals in research. Participants need information in a format they can understand, including what the research means and what will happen to their words or images at dissemination stage. Adapting consent for vulnerable groups will depend on the capacity or age of the participants as well as acknowledging socio-economic factors.

Activity 6 Making adaptations

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

Complete the matching exercise below, thinking about what and who, adding the corresponding number alongside the ‘who’.

Then think about why, as you work through the rest of the session.

What – example of adaptation Who – example of vulnerable participant Add the corresponding number (1 to 5)
1. Information sheet with pictures Participants sharing sensitive information
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2. Observation of body language and emotional reaction Children and families
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3. Cartoon to explain research Baby or child with limited capacity to withdraw
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4. Providing a counsellor for follow-up support Low literacy
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5. Different versions of consent form – short and long Children and adults with different reading skills
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Words: 0
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Think about how making adaptations shows respect for everyone, not just participants in vulnerable groups. Keep thinking about why as you read the following case study.

Answer

 

What – example of adaptation Who – example of vulnerable participant
1. Information sheet with pictures Low literacy
2. Observation of body language and emotional reaction Baby or child with limited capacity to withdraw
3. Cartoon to explain research  Children and families
4. Providing a counsellor for follow-up support Participants sharing sensitive information
5. Different versions of consent form – short and long Children and adults with different reading skills

Case study 4.2 ‘To honour the stories of the girls’

Alison Buckler and Liz Chamberlain worked with the charity PLAN in Zimbabwe to understand how better to support out-of-school girls in rural areas.

The group of girls were vulnerable because of their age, gender and socio-economic status and because of their experiences of marginalisation in school or dropping out of school. This research involved community education projects and, for some, involvement in research at workshops. There were issues of safety to consider when inviting girls to the workshop and issues of respect to think through in hearing stories of loss and hope as stories emerged.

The researchers took steps in their research to ‘honour the stories of the girls’. Think about the following examples of adaptations the researchers made to show respect for this group:

  • providing a workshop schedule in visual non-literate forms, respecting the interrupted schooling of the group
  • checking more than once about permissions to share the stories with different audiences or only some audiences, respecting that a young person may change her mind
  • providing psychosocial support with a trusted counsellor at the workshop, respecting the personal nature of the stories shared
  • using some of the ambitions of the girls to create female role models in education materials.

Activity 7 Showing respect in dissemination

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Listen to the audio of Alison and Liz talking about their research.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: e822_2020j_aug015a.mp3
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Then think about:

  • what might Liz Chamberlain have meant by ‘honouring the stories of the girls’?
  • what were the possible negative consequences the researchers were hoping to avoid in their behaviours?
  • what wider take away messages does this offer for a planned ethical stance to sensitive topics and vulnerable groups?
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This study was included to illustrate how respect was shown for data, for participants’ voices and life stories which aimed to shift the power from the researchers towards the participants.

To find out more about the SAGE work in Zimbabwe and other international Open University education projects, see the SAGE website [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).

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