What are qualitative research ethics by Dr Rose Wiles

to do in this presentation as Graeme's alluded to is talk about drawned what I've written about in the what art qualitative research ethics books that Graham's mentioned and this is very much an introductory book about qualitative ethics in in social research so what am I going to do in this presentation and firstly I want to try to unpack what we mean by ethics in qualitative Social Research and and to do that I'm going to explore some of the frameworks there are for helping researchers to engage with the ethical issues and ethical dilemmas that they might encounter in their research my argument is that having knowledge of these frameworks is really helpful in helping researchers to engage with the kind of everyday issues but perhaps more importantly the more complex dilemmas that we experience in our research obviously I'm going to give a very brief introduction to these frameworks and but but hopefully that we helpful in just introducing them to you if you don't know about them already so the four frameworks I'm going to briefly focus on our principal ism consequentialism ethics of care framework and virtue ethics and I'm going to finish by giving an example of a particular ethical tie then they're quite a complex ethical dilemma I think which some researchers experienced and just to illustrate how they resolve this dilemma and this draws on their resolution of it draws on several of these frameworks I hope this will help to illustrate how these frameworks might be able to be used okay so what are X and ethics are generally thought of as principles for guiding moral behavior for distinguishing between what is the right thing to do in any situation perhaps what's the wrong thing to do in a situation perhaps as depicted by the picture on the left-hand side of that screen there's a right decision there's a wrong decision and ethics can help you to reach conclusion about those but obviously in life and in social research in particular things are much more complex than that and making SQL decisions often involves researchers weighing up a range of possible decisions that they might make possible outcomes and weighing up what the benefit and harm of those particular decisions might be so thinking about particular courses of action and what might be the right thing to do in a situation now the decisions that researchers so that picture on the right-hand side of the screen is perhaps a better one for depicting how one deals with dilemmas in social research and qualitative Social Research the decisions that researchers make are inevitably individual in the individual researchers might reach different conclusions about the same particular dilemma that they're encountering but at the same time the decisions that researchers make are very much influenced by the cultural context in which we're working and by society's moral views about rightness and wrongness so for example all researchers would agree they shouldn't conduct research which would inflict harm on their participants but researchers might disagree about what harm is and and how that is best managed I'm just going to give an example to give an illustration of this so this is an example of an ethical dilemma which a researcher talked to us about in some research that we conducted on informed consent and this researcher was conducting work in a school context with young people and she was exploring school-based friendships and she was using participate Rhian child-friendly research methods and the process for consent which she developed was that she wanted a consent form signed by the child who was taking part in the research but also their parents and children were giving these consent forms to take home to their parents and to bring them back into school so on the day the research was to take place and the research was taking place during the school day and one particular child bought in therefore and it was clear that the parents signature had been forged and and the child said no no they hadn't forged it but the billet was fairly obvious that it had been and the child was very keen to take part in the research and said all my friends are taking part you know just going to feel really left out if I can't do this so what what should the researcher do in this situation should they overlook the fact that the consent was forged and given the research didn't pose any risk to the child or and in fact in excluding them might be judged to be more harmful because they were going to feel very left out or should they go along with what they had agreed that they would do they didn't have consent from the parents so the child couldn't take part so some researchers obviously might view it as appropriate to override the parental consent in interest of the child's well-being but others might view the issue of parental consent to be paramount and there's also the issue if presumably this researcher had approval from research ethics committee where they'd set out what they were going to do and also from the school probably from the head teacher and so the right answer to that dilemma isn't particularly clear people make made to make different decisions about it obviously it would be a matter of balancing the potential for risk and harm for the child for the parents for the school for the researcher perhaps for the researchers institution weighing up all the various different parties and what impact that decision might have so as I've said in this presentation I want to put forward the view that ethical frameworks are useful in helping researcher to think about ethical dilemmas such as these and and others that we encounter in our research particularly for quite complex ethical dilemmas for which there isn't a one right answer some researchers have argued that ethical decisions are very much situational and contextual that you have to make decisions in the context of the research that you're undertaking your particular participants what the context is and I don't disagree with that at all so some researchers say well you can't look at these frameworks because they just tell you what to do and it all depends and I don't disagree with that view but I don't think that having knowledge of ethical frameworks prevents you from making those kind of contextual decisions if you like I think consideration of ethical frameworks don't provide clear answers to dilemmas but they do provide a means of thinking about them and assessing what an appropriate and I think defensible course of action might be so I'm going to go sorry and obviously the decisions that researchers make are not solely theirs to make and research decisions are influenced by a whole range of other factors and I've just listed on this slide just some of the things that influence the decisions that researchers make so obviously ethical regulation is a key factor researchers are generally obliged to comply with whatever regulation exists in in their institution and it's also would include research governance as well as research ethics committee committees but they're also their decisions are also shaped by any guidelines or codes that they were - and disciplinary norms but even recognizing that there are these constraints on the decisions that researchers make I think at the same time researchers need to be able to think through and prepare for the ethical issues that they might encounter in their research and perhaps more importantly from those that arise as their research and proceeds and I think these ethical frameworks can help with that so going to talk about four frameworks as I've said and the first one is the principal east approach this is the framework most commonly used in research ethics and most researchers tend to make some reference to at least some of the principles contained in this framework it's also the framework that tends to inform the evaluation by research ethics committees and it also informs the various guidelines and codes professional guidelines and codes that researchers work to so it's based on four principles the first is respect for autonomy and this comprises informed consent ie that participants need to be fully aware of what participating in a study would involve and to freely consent to it and the issue of voluntariness that researchers sorry research participants shouldn't be under any pressure to take part in research such as might be involved if there's a power relationship between the researcher and the participant or if there's some inducements and money involved as part of taking part in the research or gift tokens or suchlike and it also comprises the issues of confidentiality and anonymity that in general information that participants give will be kept confidential or at least their name won't be linked to it and you won't be telling anyone else what they have said in a way that identifies them and the second principle within this framework is that of beneficence that the research should do do good of some type that there should be some benefit from conducting the research either to individuals or to science society more broadly and that links to the third principle of non-maleficence that to do no harm that participants shouldn't be at risk of harm from participating in research and then the final principle is that of justice that the burdens and benefits of research should be distributed equally amongst a population it shouldn't just be focusing on a particular population that take part in research and benefit from it but also have the burden of it and so these principles although they've been criticized by some social researchers as being a very strong framework that constrains research for social researchers given this approach was actually developed initially for researchers working in medical research but I think this framework is a starting point for thinking about ethical dilemmas so I think if you use it it doesn't mean that confidentiality can't be breached for example all that people can't be paid for participating in research rather these principles form the starting point for thinking about the various issues that one is encountering okay the second and frame are going to briefly identifies that of consequentialism and consequentialist approach is argue that ethical decisions should be based on the consequences or outcomes of particular actions rather than on specific principles so an action is morally right if it will produce a good outcome for an individual or more commonly for a broader group of society using this kind of an approach a researcher would assess what the outcome of a specific decision might be and decide on an action that they believe would result in the most beneficial outcome for an individual or as I said more usually wider society so for example using this approach a researcher might argue that it's appropriate to conduct covert research and perhaps for example on youth crime if that could be seen as benefiting society more broadly and similarly a researcher might argue that it's morally right to disclose confidential data from one participant if that would be seen as benefiting a wider group of people okay the third framework I want to just outline is that of ethics of care approach this approach was identified by Carol Gilligan and has been used and developed by a number of feminist theorists and it also forms the basis of work for many researchers who work in a participatory paradigm and in this approach ESCO decisions are made on the basis of care compassion and a desire to act in ways that benefit the individual or group who are part of the research who are the focus of the research and it also acknowledges and recognizes the interdependency of researchers and the communities that they research they're not just the research participants but the communities from which those participants come from there are three points that are central to this approach firstly it stresses the need for researchers to make decisions on the basis of the very specific project in which they're working so it's not about universal principles that apply to all research but it's very much a situational type of approach and secondly as I said it stresses the need for care and compassion to be central in the ethical decisions that are made care and compassion to research participants and thirdly and importantly it also stresses the need for these notions of care and compassion to extend to all parties who are affected by the research not just those who are participants so it stresses the importance of exploring the different views of people in relation to an ethical dilemma from all parties in making ethical decisions okay the final framework that I want to outline is that a virtue ethics and this is a person based approach so it focuses on the virtue or moral character of the researcher rather than on the ethical principles or the specific situation of the research virtue ethics draw draws on the notion of researcher integrity and seeks to identify the characteristics or virtues that a researcher needs in order to conduct research in ethically or morally good ways so this slide is taken from Bruce McFarland's book on virtue ethics really useful book if that's something that you're interested in and on the left-hand side of the screen there he's identified the various different phases of research of a research project starting from when you design the research which is called framing right through the process of gaining access to your participants data collection writing and analyzing your data writing it up and then looking back on the project when you've completed it and in bold sort of in the middle of the screen he's identified the virtues you need at each stage of that research project in order to deal with the challenges that emerge at those different phases and and he's also identified the vices that might be there if there's a deficit of the virtue or an excess of the virtue so in relation to the creating stage of the research by which he means the stage when you're drawing your findings together beginning to write them up you know analyzing them he says the virtue that's needed is sincerity and the vise would be concealment so concealing some data not including that because it doesn't quite fit with your story and the excess would be exaggerating so exaggerating some findings to try to make a stronger point so obviously these virtues are things to aim for rather than things that are easy to obtain and these vices are what happens when there's a kind of deficit in when these ideals can't be met so in relation to ethical dilemmas using this approach of virtuous researcher would try to consider what a virtuous researcher would do in any given situation so that outlines those four frameworks quite briefly but I hope has given you a bit of a feel for them so how can researchers use these in making ethical decisions so I've this slide is taken from Israel and Hayes book on research ethics and they outline a seven step process that researchers can go through when they particularly when they encounter a quite complex ethical dilemma clearly one wouldn't necessarily want to do this for an everyday ethical dilemma perhaps and this particular approach these steps also involves incorporating these frameworks so in step five they talk about so they identified thinking about what the problem is who's involved thinking about various options thinking about the consequences of different options and then considering your options with reference to moral principles such as honesty trust autonomy fairness equality and all these principles are contained in the in some way in those frameworks and then to integrate these consequences and principles to reach and independent and importantly a justifiable decision so I've color skated over that a bit because I want to move on to my example which I will just give a good illustration of how these frameworks can be used so the example I want to use is drawn from a research project conducted by Rose Edwards and Susie weather as part of the time scapes project and you can find all the details of this particular dilemma on the time scapes website and I'll put the link up in a minute the focus of the project was on young people's relationships with siblings and friends and it involved repeated interviews with young people over a seven-year period during the course of the final set of interviews just before the final set of interviews in fact and one of the result research participants a young people unexpectedly died and this gave rise to considerable ethical dilemma around consent and confidentiality and the project researchers puts a message on the time scopes website which went to the other researchers doing projects in the same program to ask for their views about how they might resolve this ethical dilemma so firstly I'm going to outline this is an excerpt from what they posted on the website to other researchers in the program about the ethical dilemma in relation to consent and I'll say a bit about the confidentiality one in a minute so the participant that they called Dan he'd verbally agreed to all the data which they'd previously collected being archived but the researchers had planned at the last interview to have consent to archiving forms to distribute those forms and for the participants to sign those so before they'd only had verbal consent and Dan died just before that happened so he hadn't so in the forum so the question they asked was whether they could go ahead and archive the data anyway on the basis of his verbal consent two years previously or should they ask Dan's parents if they would sign this form on Dan's behalf but they were concerned that this imply what might imply that they had some sense of ownership over the days are already collected and so they were questioning could Dan's parents demand to have the data could they refuse for it to be used so obviously if they demanded to see the data there were issues of confidentiality there the promise of confidentiality given to Dan if they refused permission that would override Dan's verbal consent given some time previously and so quite a difficult issue to resolve a number of possibles the second part of the dilemma related to confidentiality and the research has viewed this very much as a moral issue with which they were engaging and they felt that given Dan's very sudden and unexpected death that they had something material of Dan's they had all these interviews and that his parents probably would really like to hear some of these interviews so they kind of felt that that in some way they're under a moral obligation perhaps to provide something that was over non sensitive nature that they might like to have you know given his very sudden and unexpected death and so obviously making that offer of some of that data would go against the promise of confidentiality that they had given to Dan which is problematic but that might be seen as acceptable in the circumstances provided the data they gave was of a very non sensitive nature but it raised the issue obviously of watch that they provide how could they decide what was non-sensitive if you like and whose moral rights should have presidents should it be Dan's rights that had presidents or his parents so as I say they posted this on the web site and they got 11 responses from researchers involved in the program and as one might expect there were a whole wide range of different views which I think nicely illustrates this point I'm trying to make about there isn't one single answer to various dilemmas in relation to the consent issue most of the researchers though not all felt that the verbal consent would provided two years earlier was adequate responses to the issue of confidentiality were were much more wide-ranging perhaps as might be expected some researchers felt there was absolutely no justification for overriding the promise of confidentiality given to Dan so we can see here elements of the principle list approach so confidentiality should be paramount you've made that promise you can't go back on that even though he's no longer here but other people felt the situation warranted the disclosure of non sensitive data I think we can see here elements of a consequentialist approach they're thinking about outcomes the outcomes for the parents might override that promise earlier made and I'm just going to show you just some contrasting views in relation to these two issues so firstly in relation to consent so one researcher responded my instinct is that you ought to contact Dan's next of kin his parents given that he was only 16 when he consented maybe that you need to remind them that you have the data and offer them a chance to consent to archive or request that Dan's data is withdrawn and destroyed in contrast another researcher said I feel it's not their decision to refuse whether Dan's data can be archived as this was an agreement that you entered in with Dan not his parents and then in relation to the confidentiality issue and one person said I think considering offering his parents a sample of his voice would be to consider their feelings in the circumstances rather than necessarily infringing Dan's privacy but in contrast another researcher said I think that his agreement to anonymity and confidentiality still stands he hasn't revoked it and honestly ethically I'm not sure how you can speculate and what he may or may not have wanted and that may or may not have changed with time and circumstances so what did they do about this dilemma again here's a excerpt from the website so they noted there was no single solution you know as I've been saying really wanted to stress so these ethical dilemmas and they refer to making a decision watch which they felt was the most morally caring in the circumstances and because it respected Dan's wishes but also was in the interest of his parents they did decide that LANs verbal consent was adequate to enable them to archive the data and didn't feel they needed to get Dan's and parents permission as well but they did offer Dan's parents the opportunity to archive any personal memories they had of Dan also in the archive if they wish to do so and they did and they also offered Dan's parents a sample of Dan's voice so Dan's parents were very keen to take this up and they were provided with a DVD of extracts from one of his interviews where he talked about his likes and his career aims I think the decision and that was made here and knowing and certainly one of the researchers quite well indicates an ethics of care perspective that would be the perspective that they were working with in which care is central to the decision and all parties are considered but we might also see here elements of virtue ethics in terms of the virtue of respectfulness which is one of the virtues that MacFarlane talks about in relation to the negotiating phase of research so I think that particular dilemma is is very rich and provides a quite a good illustration of how one might use those various different frameworks in making considerations of what to do so I want to finish with just some very brief summary conclusions of this presentation so I think all researchers have got feelings about what the right thing to do in any situation is when we encounter ethical issues or ethical dilemmas we we have a feeling about what the right thing is to do and what I've tried to argue is that ethical frameworks can help researchers to think these through not to tell you what to do but help you to think about to evaluate and justify the gut feelings that you have and secondly researchers are likely to feel that one or other of them the ethical frameworks out that they fit with their moral that fits with their moral views and that's important to identify a framework that they have sympathy with and which will enable them to explore and justify the decisions that they make and then thirdly I've said here there are no answers probably a better thing to say is there's no one single answer I think that's nicely illustrated by the dilemma so ethical frameworks again provide a means of thinking about ethical dilemmas and assessing what what an appropriate and importantly defensible course of action might be but they don't actually give us answers about what to do and as I've said individual researchers are likely to reach different conclusions about different ethical dilemmas and I just finished with cover of my book which is out in November which explores these things in a bit more depth and explores other ethical issues such as informed consent and all the various things that one encounters in qualitative research