In practice, ethical issues are very complex and relative to a given research project. But in general, ethics permeates all research and only by getting it rigt can excellence in research be achieved. As a team, we view research ethics as an art based on principles and requiring a balance between being appropriate in terms of human dignity, social and cultural impact as against a rule-based set of tick box barriers that must be overcome before research can be carried out.
The most common ethical issues in research include, but not limited to: protection of identity, privacy, obtaining informed consent, ensuring participant autonomy, communicating effectively and appropritely with participants, freedom of choice, and ensuring that no harm comes to the participants as well as the researchers. We also have a moral responsibility to always tell the truth and to preserve the confidentiality of all our participants.
Though we are innovative and professional in all our approaches, these ethical issues are always integral to our works.
Beauchamp and Childress (2001) identified four ‘clusters’ of moral principles that provide a framework for making decisions relating to ethics in a study. These are:
- Respect for People’s autonomy – integral to respecting people’s autonomy are treating people with dignity and obtaining informed consent from participants. All our processes are non invasive and participation is always voluntary. However, in the design of our research processes, we always employ the rule of thumb test to determine if we are indeed treating our participants with dignity. This rule requires us to ask ourselves if we would consider it as appropriate for a beloved family member of ours to participate in the same research process. With informed consent, we seek to engage people who can freely understand, question and refuse participation without fear of being sanctioned or suffering reprisal actions. In most cases, we request that participants complete a consent form after explaining the research process and requirements as well as issuing an information sheet.
- Non-maleficence; do no harm – as a team, we fully appreciate that we MUST NOT harm our study participants. This includes unnecessary time wasting. As a result, we ensure that our team members are adequately trained and are very competent for the exercise. This includes in the of our questionnaires, interviews, focus group discussions, etc. We also carry out a series of risk assessments to identify possible risks, assess probabilities, evaluate the risks as well as put in place some actions to mitigate the risks in the likelihood that they occur.
- Beneficence; Do good – Though there are contemporary disagreements over what is ‘good’, our objective is always to ensure that our research processes and or outcomes will benefit the participants and or others like them. any such benefits are clearly stated in our information sheets and participants are informed before obtaining consent.
- Justice – we always endeavour to treat people equally and fairly. Our selection criteria are non restrictive and we rarely exclude any stakeholder groups. Opinions are never weighted so everyone’s opinion count just equally. We will always respect participants’ confidentiality. We do not have any restrictions on what we can publish.