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Becoming an ethical researcher
Becoming an ethical researcher

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1 Who should researchers consider in research?

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Figure 2 Topics worthy of research might be routine or due to extraordinary circumstances

Observation is a tool commonly used in research, one of many a researcher might use to address their research questions. It allows researchers to gather evidence about human behaviours, actions and use of spaces. Observations can provide a researcher with a window into a setting that can give insights into what has taken place, which can then be compared with other situations, in other settings, at different times.

Before planning to undertake research using any data collection method, an ethical researcher needs to identify the person or people from whom permissions should be sought. For example, when using observation, the researcher should think about the impact their presence may have on those being observed, and reflect on how they might feel about being asked to be observed. However, there are others who should also be considered. For example, it might be appropriate to consult the hosts for the setting in which the observation is to take place, and the parents or carers of any children or young people in the setting involved in the observation who are under the legal age for consent. Researchers must also consider those who have responsibility for the safety of the observation and others to whom the researcher may have obligations, such as funders or university sponsors. The perspectives, expectations, assumptions and perceptions of all should be taken into account before research plans are finalised.

It is also important to consider whether the research should be undertaken, as well as how it will be carried out. Sometimes, no matter how much a researcher would like to research a question that is important to them, ethical considerations for those in the field will mean that they decide against the research. In the first activity, you will have a chance to consider two case studies and reflect on this decision-making process.