Skip to 0 minutes and 9 secondsEthics is absolutely critical in research, whether you're talking about animal research or human research. It's there to protect our participants, and it's there to protect us as researchers. Whatever science is being produced, people need to be able trust that science, both in terms of the conclusions being reached from scientific research, but also how the research was conducted in the first place. There's been examples in the past as an example with immunisation, where claims of have been made about immunisations causing problems like Autism. And they have been shown to be due to fraudulent behaviour and that really creates mistrust in the public about science and the scientific process.

Skip to 0 minutes and 47 secondsAnd so it's really important that we behave in an ethical way when conducting our research, but also in how we interpret our findings. So even though as individuals, we all have our own set of values and things that we care about. We can't let that override. I think one of the challenges with ethics is that people see it as a tick box. I've checked that and I've checked that, and I've passed my ethics. So now I can forget about it.

Skip to 1 minute and 12 secondsReally ethics is fundamental to every step that you take in a research project from the point of designing that project and the point of even thinking about what project to look at because some projects are just inappropriate and shouldn't be researched. Researchers need to be proactive about ethics because it goes to the heart of protecting the people or the animals that they're conducting the research on. So engaging with ethics committees and ethics structures allow researchers to check their ideas, to check their protocols, and to make sure that they are conducting their research in a way that's morally correct but will also achieve the outcomes of their experimental designs.

Skip to 1 minute and 56 secondsThe importance with ethics in terms of being able to undertake your research is if you don't get ethics, you can't publish your results. Ethics is important because it protects our participants, but it also protects researchers. It protects the organisation. So in a sense it's a risk management. There's a great obligation for a researcher to try to make sure that the piece meets academic requirements for the top publishers, meets the ethical requirements of the university. But for me also, it must also meet a kind of a development ethics approach. I think ethics are critical to good research. And one of the reasons for that is because, in essence, as a researcher you're doing a public good.

Skip to 2 minutes and 48 secondsSo you should always have the public good in mind. You're doing something to improve the world, to make people healthier, to make people happier, whatever it happens to be. And so it's not only the greater population who's going to benefit from your research, but its also the subjects in your research that you have to think about in that context. Ethics is important because doing research is about power relationships. It's about people gifting their knowledge to you, gifting their experiences, their ideas to you as a researcher. And it's generally an inequitable power relationship because you as a researcher you can then use that knowledge and do an analysis on it in ways that that person doesn't have control over necessarily.

Skip to 3 minutes and 28 secondsSo, therefore, it's very important that the person who is being researched, the participant in the research has full awareness of their rights and you have full awareness of your responsibilities in those ways. So I see that exchange of knowledge, particularly in qualitative research where you do a lot of interviews, that exchange relationship is very important in terms of the researcher recognising that power relationship. And ethics procedures, as much as are they are rather tedious at times, does require you to highlight that issue around power and issues of coercion.

Have you ‘done’ ethics yet?

Submitting your ethics application is a key milestone in your research journey.

In the research community, the question: ‘have you done ethics yet?’ is a popular one. So, what does it mean to ‘do ethics’?

The question refers to that point in your project when the ethics application has been completed and submitted for review. Yes, it is a key milestone, but it’s important to remember your commitment to ethical conduct is an ongoing professional responsibility. It starts with the way you design your research and continues until the moment it ends.

Are you ready to complete your ethics application?

Start by reflecting on the following questions:

  • Is my proposed research based on a genuine search for knowledge?
  • Have I planned my research with honesty and integrity?
  • Are there conflicts of interest? Have these been acknowledged and addressed?
  • What are the risks to people who involve themselves in my research and are these balanced by the benefits?
  • What is my commitment to ethical conduct?
  • How will I ensure informed consent?
  • How I am ensuring the integrity of my data and records?
  • Am I familiar with the ethical requirements relating to publishing research and also confident with authorship rules?

In addition, the Ethics experts at Griffith University offer the following tips and advice for your consideration.

  1. If you’re asking yourself ‘Do I need ethics approval?’ Then yes, you probably do.
  2. If you have access to a supervisor and/or a research ethics advisor, take advantage of their expertise. They are a great (and free) resource and are there to help.
  3. In doubt? Don’t guess. If you’re working with an institution, check their ethics manual or contact them directly for guidance. If you’re conducting independent research, check what online guidelines are available and applicable in your area.
  4. Put yourself in the participants’ shoes. Ask yourself: ‘Would I volunteer for the activity I’m thinking about for my research?’ Really?
  5. The ethics review process is a discussion, not an exam. You can’t ‘fail’ ethics. You may just need to resubmit.
  6. Identifying ethical issues does not mean your research can’t or won’t be approved, or able to continue. Seek advice, meet the requirements and keep focussed on your research goals.
  7. Remember, research ethics is a practical exercise. It requires you to match activities with resources and benefits with risks.
  8. The ethics reviewers see a lot of projects. For example, Griffith University reviewed well over a thousand projects in 2017. So, keep your application brief, clear and interesting.
  9. Ethics is not a once off, ‘tick and flick’ exercise. It requires consistent reflection on your motivations and actions throughout the research process.

Some institutions have appointed a network of Research Ethics Advisers, who can provide valuable advice prior to you submitting your application to a research ethics committee. Others may utilise the committee’s secretary, chairperson or ethics officer.

If you ARE working with an institution, check what guidance is available and seek consultation during the design of your project and prior to preparing your research ethics review application.

Your task

What stage are you at with your research? Are you ready or getting ready to complete an ethics application? Have you had any experience completing an ethics application in the past? Select the comments link and share your thoughts or experiences on the ethics application with the group.

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This video is from the free online course:

Why Ethics Matter: Ethical Research

Griffith University