Ethics

Writing Ethics Into Your Qualitative Proposal

A qualitative research proposal is comprised of many pieces and parts that are necessary to convey the researcher’s justification for conducting the research, how the research will be conducted (including the strengths and limitations of the prTQF Proposaloposed approach), as well as what the sponsor of the research can expect in terms of deliverables, timing, and cost. The eight sections of the Total Quality Framework (TQF) proposal are discussed briefly in this 2015 post in Research Design Review. One of the sections in the TQF proposal is Design. This is where the researcher discusses the research method and mode along with Scope and Data Gathering (consistent with the TQF Credibility component), and analysis (including aspects of processing and verification as described by the TQF Analyzability component). Another important part to the Design section is a discussion of the ethical considerations associated with the proposed research.

Every research proposal for studying human beings must carefully consider the ethical ramifications of engaging individuals for research purposes, and this is particularly true in the relatively intimate, in-depth nature of qualitative research. It is incumbent on qualitative researchers to honestly assure research participants their confidentiality and right to privacy, safety from harm, and right to terminate their voluntary participation at any time with no untoward repercussions from doing so. The proposal should describe the procedures that will be taken to implement these assurances, including gaining informed consent, gaining approval from the relevant Institutional Review Board, and anonymizing participants’ names, places mentioned, and other potentially identifying information.

Special consideration should be given in the proposal to ethical matters when the proposed research (a) pertains to vulnerable populations such as children or the elderly; (b) concerns a marginalized segment of the population such as people with disabilities, same-sex couples, or the economically disadvantaged; (c) involves covert observation that will be conducted in association with an ethnographic study; or (d) is a narrative study in which the researcher may withhold the full true intent of the research in order not to stifle or bias participants’ telling of their stories.

Furthermore, the researcher should pay particular attention to ethical considerations when writing a proposal for a focus group study. The focus group method (regardless of mode) brings together (typically) a number of strangers who are often asked to offer their candid thoughts on personal and sensitive topics. For this reason (and other reasons, e.g., the moderator may be sharing confidential information with the participants), it is important to gain a signed consent form from all participants; however, the reality is that there is no way the researcher can totally guarantee confidentiality. These and other associated ethical considerations should be discussed in the Design section of the focus group proposal.

Online Group Discussions: Participants’ Security & Identity Questions

Every researcher working with human subjects strives to ensure the highest ethical standards. Regardless of whether the research is quantitative or qualitative in fingerprint-illusions-6nature – or in the field of health, communications, education, psychology, marketing, anthropology, or sociology – researchers care about protecting the confidentiality, anonymity, and basic “rights” (such as privacy and freedom of thought) of the people who agree to be part of their studies. It is with this in mind that, in addition to gaining IRB approval (as required), researchers openly discuss the goals and intended use of their research with participants, as well as asking them to carefully read and agree to the appropriate consent forms. Online group discussions (focus groups) present a particularly delicate matter. Unlike any other overt form of research – unlike an online survey dominated by closed-end questions, or an online in-depth interview with one person at any moment in time – the online group discussion – with its amalgamation of many people (typically, strangers to each other) responding at length to many open-ended questions over the course of multiple (possibly, many) days – potentially raises important security and identity concerns among participants. Even with a signed consent form, online group participants may still have serious doubts about the containment of their input to the discussion and, hence, their willingness to contribute Read Full Text

To Deceive…or Not?

Ethical considerations play an important role in the research we do.  Of all researchers, however, the ethnographer may be the most likely to face difficult ethical considerations and decisions that deceivedirectly impact study design.  One reason is that covert observation is a fairly common design feature in ethnographic research and these researchers live with the secrecy of deception.

There are many well-documented covert ethnographic studies, some of which became highly controversial for their use of deceptive tactics.  Carolyn Ellis (1986), for example, conducted a nine-year observation of a Guinea (traditional watermen) community in the tidewater region of Virginia whose townspeople befriended her unaware that the sole purpose of her visits was to further her research endeavor.  She quickly became a “traitor” when her prize-winning book on the research went public.

Deviant and subculture groups have also been the target of covert ethnographies.  Humphreys’ (1970) classic study on male homosexual bathroom trysts involved  the researcher serving as a watchdog for quick sexual liaisons in public bathrooms between male strangers.  The researcher obtained the names and addresses of these men by using public records to look up their automobile license plate numbers.  One year later, he visited these men, pretended to be conducting survey research on mental health and, in so doing, conducted 50 interviews that Read Full Text