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Becoming an ethical researcher
Becoming an ethical researcher

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Session 2: Planning ethical research

Introduction and aims

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Figure 1 Planning involves consulting others

Welcome to Session 2 of Becoming an ethical researcher.

Identifying ethical issues and reasoning about how best to manage them helps researchers to be confident that their research is carried out with respect for all involved, with minimum harm and with maximum benefit. Poor planning and preparation are indefensible for a researcher. Respect is due in thanks for what can be considered the ‘gifts’ of data you are asking of others, and poor planning can lead to a researcher not fulfilling all of their responsibilities through naivety or ignorance. Without robust research, outcomes will be invalidated. It is important to note that decisions about research design have ethical consequences and should be considered together to show what is termed research integrity.

Comprehensive preparation for ethical research is essential. Ethical considerations are considered such a vital part of the research process that higher educational institutions invest considerable time and effort in reviewing all research plans prior to research being undertaken by their staff. As you read in Session 1, they set up research ethics committees (RECs), also known as institutional review boards (IRBs), to review all proposals for research involving human participants which is to be undertaken under their auspices. This is so that whatever form of research researchers carry out – for example, whether desk-based or field-based – ethics committees advise and support professional researchers in proceeding with confidence.

This session will help you to become aware of issues researchers should be considering as part of their planning and preparation, regardless of whether they are conducting research on behalf of institutions or as independent researchers. Whether planning to carry out research or reviewing reported studies, it is important to hold the work of researchers to account. This session builds on thinking from Session 1 about what researchers should be taking into consideration and focuses more on practical researcher decision-making, including how to apply specific ethics guidelines and principles.

In this session, you will focus on preparing to start research. You will study ways of thinking about the possible positive and negative consequences of any proposed research, and strategies for ensuring the research is worthwhile and conducted in an ethically responsible way.

The key message is that researchers should consult and fully inform others. They should listen and take on board the interests and concerns of others and be flexible in adapting their research plans. If, in consultation with others, changes are made to research plans, researchers will need to justify such changes and ensure changes are acceptable to all stakeholders.

By the end of this session, you will be able to:

  • identify those who might be involved in and affected by a research study
  • identify considerations for deciding when and whether research should be undertaken
  • evaluate alternative options for research scenarios
  • explain what permission, consent and asset mean in research.