A Conversation About Research Ethics
Articles,  Blog

A Conversation About Research Ethics


Hi my name is James Arvanitakis. I’m the Dean
of the Graduate Research School here at Western Sydney University. Welcome to our videos on ethical
research. In this Part 1 we look at ethics as a process and some of the
philosophical approaches you need to take. My name is Dr Tinashe Dune and i’m a
lecturer in interprofessional health sciences and my research focuses on
cultural diversity, marginalization and sexual and reproductive health, so the
intersections between all of those things put together and how that
influences health outcomes for people across Australia and across the world. So my research area is genetics and
molecular biology and I do both quantitative and qualitative
research in studies of human disease. My name is David Hornsby and i’m an
Associate Professor in international relations and the Assistant Dean of
Humanities at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa. I’m a political scientist by training, I
grew up in Canada and moved to South Africa about seven years ago and have
been working as an academic in Johannesburg ever since. My areas of
research focus largely on experts and international governance but also South
African foreign policy, Canadian foreign policy in Africa and the scholarship of
teaching and learning, so things like large class teaching and the notion of
citizenship in higher education. My name is Hannah Dahlen and I’m
Professor of Midwifery in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Western Sydney
University and so my area of research is very much around birth, around how can we
make it safer for women and babies, around how can we improve outcomes for
women and babies and also very interested in systems of care that women
are you know experiencing in hospitals, in birth centres, at home and
looking at how we can make those systems better. Hi my name is James Arvanitakis, I’m
a Professor and a member of the Institute for Cultural and Society. My
research area covers three broad areas but they’re all interlinked. One, I look at citizenship and the way that people actually feel about their
citizenship, so I’m interested in the culture of citizenship. The second area i’m interested in is
pedagogies and the way that people learn, so I’m really passionate about
education and there’s a link between education and citizenship which I
sort of talk a lot about in my research. And the third area is also
looking at political theatre and this links because often theatre and different
forms of art are actually an expression for citizens, a way for citizens to express
themselves. Ethics is really important both from the
perspective of the participants you’ll have involved in your study and the
journey they go on while they’re in your study and as a researcher it’s a a good
protection for our research to make sure that before we even begin interacting with
the public we make sure we’ve got everything in
place to do that journey with minimal harm to them and to make sure that we
can publish our results at the end of the study. most of my research requires ethics
because i’m talking to people so my research methods are phenomenological
which means that I’m going out there and actually talking to people understanding
their experiences so almost every research project that i have has to do
with ethics and that involves having the ethics to be able to interview them or
to do focus groups or to give them surveys so across all of the ways in
which that I collect data whether it be on sexual reproductive health
experiences or whether it be on the experience of being an LGBT person i
still have to get ethics in order to be able to go out into the community
discuss things with people as well as to use that feedback that I get i think is factored in almost every
research I’ve ever done it’s a fundamental and very important
beginning process of any research so when we’re dealing with doing Mina
researching to eat humans weather which interviewing them whether it’s a randomized controlled
trial way we’re implementing an intervention it’s really really
important that ethics is the first step in that process before we do anything so one of the projects that i’ve been
working on is the genetic basis of celiac disease collection of DNA from
participants which does require ethics and they need to understand what it is
we will do with their sample once we’ve collected and not just the sample but
once we’ve done some analysis of that sample what we do with the data that
we’ve collected from that sample thinks is actually played a really important
part of my research I mean each of those requires me to interact with people in
their experiences and sometimes that experiences are quite positive the night
discussed with the experience and education or citizens has been has had
quite profound and positive impacts on them but the same time I’ve also
interviewed people spend time with people we’re actually they’ve had quite
negative experiences in the interactions with around issues of citizenship or
education and and so this is with expose a really important part because
sometimes those groups are quite vulnerable and so it’s important to kind
of be prepared in doing those groups I think that’s the most important part of
ethics it’s actually a powerful mechanism to
ensure that you’re prepared when engaging with groups specifically
vulnerable groups when I was analyzing internet blogs and internet media
outputs so with the blogs I didn’t have to get ethics because it’s
a publicly available content however i had an ethical dilemma and my
ethical dilemma was that I was people who put those blogs up didn’t expect it
was going to end up in an effort in a paper research paper so in order to protect their identity
and to protect some form of confidentiality i removed any
identifying parts of those blogs and I didn’t actually named them so that was
an ethical dilemma even though I didn’t require ethics so within genetics research at the
moment there’s huge discussions about the ethics of the knowledge that we gain
so we might uncover information that’s not the direct
relevance to the project so for example we might uncover that
someone has a susceptibility to breast cancer but that’s not what we’re
researching so when we planned our research we made
sure that participants could opt in or opt out of getting access to information
that her potential relevance to their future health we haven’t actually come across that
situation in real in reality but it’s something we have planned for that what
happens if we do uncover something that we weren’t particularly looking for and
then we planned what we would do if that were to arise and how we would handle
that yes i have encountered some dilemmas I
mean it is most of the dilemmas have to do with a look at it was saying I i
discussed intersections in people’s lives so in a research project you might
have FX to talk to people who are from a particular population but it also
happens that they you know fit the criteria for another study and so then
the question becomes well can that student actually discussed that
other study with them or how do you manage kind of the sample in a sense so I mean what you do with that is if
you need to get an amendment or if you need to contact the person again you do
that but obviously you run the risk of maybe losing the participant or the
sample not being as robust as you might want it to be and obviously the timings for both
people as well as the researchers to manage that yeah look of the gathered a number of
ethical dilemmas one ethical dilemma actually emerged when i was doing my out
my PhD my doctorate and that have happened because I was working with
social movements different social movements around the world and at one
time I was working with the social movement that was involved in a protest
and and what ended up happening was during the protest RT gas was fired toward the protesters
and I got caught in the middle of a bit of a la and it was a really important are there
is a really important moment to sort of capture and i was there at the time to
figure out what as a one as a researcher as an observer shooter be able to
capture and at what point do i need to withdraw and and not take part anymore
in in this process so it was a really really difficult decision at the mic and
I had to make that on the run it’s also difficult to ask people to
sign that ethical release form when they’re running away from t gas so in that in that moment I decided that
the most important thing was both the safety of the people I was working with
but also my own safety so what does this have to do with with
just withdraw from the process and walk away and i feel that anything else would
compromise people safety and and put in put people at risk and so that was a way
that I . with that so the difference between getting ethics
approval and being ethical actually they’re very different than all the same
thing so ethics approval is a formal process that you go through we’re a group of of academics and we’ll
look at the research and make sure that this is not going to harm the
participants being an ethical research however means that you have an ongoing
checking of yourself making sure that at all times you’re asking yourself am I making sure that this person isn’t
disadvantage am I making sure that I’m not causing
harm a my abiding by what I’ve been asked to abide by by the ethics
committee because once you get the sign-off really you’re on your own and you could
veer off into unethical behaviour so the ethics approval is the formal part but
the ethical behavior is the accountability that the research and
must put on themselves I don’t think there’s a huge difference
between them but what they represent here are different elements right so
ethics approval is a process that goes through reviewing ones research to make
sure that you’re engaging in an ethical set of practices so it’s an important
point apart important part of research to ensure that you get feedback from
colleagues from people who are thoughtful about ethical practice to
make sure that you’re operating in a way that that protects those who you’re
you’re seeking to engage with so in actual fact I sort of view them as
sort of connected similar and necessary I think you can be in ethical researcher
and not necessarily need that makes approval but also in terms of being and
ethical researchers about the types of questions you’re asking how you’re
asking them what your research is about what you’re trying to gain from it so you know there’s obviously those
questions that are involved about is it for profit is it for company is it for
you know some sort of external I guess benefit or is it for the benefit of
research for the really important difference between ethics approval and
being an ethical researcher in some ways I think there probably is a tick box you
can sort of go through the processes you know just sort of answer all the
questions we answer the questions that people want what Judah answer but it’s
not necessarily the same has been difficult researcher the local
researcher is actually thinking of your of the people you want to work with your
that we want to interview the people that you want to engage with and
actually thinking about what you’re doing for them research at its best is a two-way
process a real engagement is a two-way process with both parties benefit both
the the research on his case myself and the communities that I work with and to
benefit for them to benefit i really have to understand what they need to get
out of this research project and so being ethical researcher is taking that
boy approached once you have that board approach that bought a philosophy
embraced and you put the people that you’re interviewing first and in the
center you know people simply thinking then equal processes simply follow it’s quite a much easier
process to do if you start from that first position of being an ethical
researcher and then moving on to ethics that you should start thinking that if
it’s as soon as you got you have your project decided and you should be having
conversations with your supervisors about what ethics you would need what
the time frames are to get those ethics and you probably should set aside a good
six months at the start of your project both to familiarize yourself with what’s
already been done but also plan your protocols have planned the journey
that you think your participants will take with your research you need to
start thinking about ethics very very early and for the most part starting to think about ethics includes
your methodology and usually you start thinking about your methodology early you have your question what you want to
do then you have to think about how am I going to get this information what impact does that have on the people
that I might be talking to or the organization i might be working with or
the institution where i need to actually participate with people so as part of
those early discussions and ideas about your methodology have to think okay how would this fit into this application
process because it’s not reasonable to think about your methodology right when
you need to apply for ethics it’s too late so you need to be thinking about it at
least three to six months in advance before you apply for ethics exactly how
you want to do this so inevitably there are challenges when you are asking for
ethics one that really comes to mind is when we asked for any approval to video
in a cesarean section the contact between the mother and the
baby and what we were doing was an ethnographic research which meant just
purely observation it wasn’t an intervention however the ethics committee couldn’t
understand that we weren’t going to be intervening and they were asking for
protocols and they wanted to know a sample size and so there was a clear
misunderstanding of the methodology and this went on for quite a long time until
I wrote to the chair of the the ethics committee and suggested that we come and
actually talk to them and present to them what actually a photography was in order
for them to understand and make a better decision and he very quickly ended up
passing that ethics approval but we had a long process trying to get them to
understand the methodology we are using was not an intervention yeah absolutely i think for the most
part it has to do with the timing really because the timing has to be just right
because you know the ethics committee only meets especially if it’s some of
the research that I do where the questions I’m asking people are very
sensitive the population groups i’m interested in
indigenous populations people with disabilities people in vulnerable settings it has to take time to go
through the ethics committee so you have to really plan things out accordingly otherwise you might miss the
meeting that your population group is having where you wanted to do the focus
group and they’re not going to meet again for another six months and so you really have to be ahead of
the game and on top of the ball in terms of making your plan so that you develop
your research obviously in a way that’s going to fulfill the research agenda
that you’re going for but also working with the people that you need to work
with so that it gets through at the right time so i think the process of
ethics approval should be a conversation with the ethics offices so every time I
submit an ethics I never expected it’s just going to sell through first go
without any modifications it’s being put in front of a committee
that committee has community experts University professional staff on those
committees who are experienced and they might pick up on something that you
haven’t thought of so it’s an ongoing conversation that
they might come back with points that you might not have thought of you then
can address those points you can modify your protocol you send it back and and
ultimately you should be able to get ethics approval so that you’re happy
with your project and they agree that it’s done in an ethical way so i
wouldn’t expect that you would just write it up submit and get tickets done you have to think of it as a journey
that you’re going to go on and conversations with those committees and
experts ethics and the ethics approval is meant to sort of help you and if you
treat it as something that is assisted or assistive and positive than an actual
fact you walk away from it enhancing your research project and
making it better if you think you’ve got a good idea don’t give up you will find a way there
are ways to do research ethically you just need to be persistent
get advice and get supported doing research for its own sake I mean in terms of getting information
and being able to use that is important but I guess doing research simply to
write a paper and you know that’s the end of it is perhaps not as far as
research could actually go or the best use of your time getting ethics approval
because you really want to be able to use that research to make a difference
in some way anyone who is undertaking research
should be my mother this is my belief we’re doing it to make the world a
better place we’re doing it to improve the lives of of people we’re doing it to advance knowledge so
that should always be a promise not all I’ve got this idea i’m really curious
and I i I’d like to go and see you know what we can do with this so if you keep that as the heart of what
you’re doing and you are able to explain that well then you know getting ethics
approval is not going to be a problematic thing

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