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Using the CERD framework to think through the duties of a researcher

Alison Fox explains how using four dimensions to appraise Social Science research can help ensure a study is ethically planned and conducted.
So starting the ethical appraisal process, starting to think about the outcome, which seems probably a strange place to start. Obviously, the positive outcomes that you’re planning for your study and hoping for in terms of benefits, but also considering the potential for negative outcomes, or the potential for harm that might be caused by your plans to study. And this could be termed in terms of ethical thinking within the academic world as consequential thinking, thinking about the consequences. So the aim is to maximise the benefits of the study.
And for this you need to think about whom those benefits would be, and how you would maximise the benefits to ensure that your study is worthwhile and to balance the value you see in your study against any possible risks. Then you need to be thinking about the whole research environment in which your study proposal is set. So start thinking about the responsibilities you have as a researcher. So to whom all these responsibilities? Some of these will involve awareness and the compliance with legislation, so which pieces of legislation are relevant to your study? Some will relate to responsibilities to particular case of practise, whether those are national, regional, or local, to be organisational setting you’re working with as appropriate.
Or just local norms, the expectations of you as a researcher in the setting that you’re planning to work with. And in terms of academic thinking about ethics, this can be termed ecological thinking, thinking about all the ecological connections that are going to need to be made by you as a researcher and planning your study, such that your study is done in a way that you’re being responsible. So as your study starts to be shaped and you start to become much clearer about who the stakeholders are and who the participants and any gatekeepers thinking about who’s involved with your project. You need to be starting to think about the key ethical principles of respect.
So how would you show respect for people in your study? In terms of academic thinking about ethics, this can be termed relational thinking, and this relates to the relationship building that you’ll need to do to show empathy with people in your study, to think about things from their perspective, to be able to build trust so that you can sustain relationships throughout the study. Trust is very easily lost, and takes much more work to be built. And this will show that you’ve been respectful during the study. So you might feel that you’re ready to start.
You know what your study is going to be about, you know your responsibilities, and you know with whom you’re working and how you want to work with them. You need to be clear that you will meet your obligations as a researcher, that you know what your duties are as a researcher– and I use that word specifically because in academic terms, this can be referred to as deontological thinking. Those duties are to yourself and to others, it should really be remembered.
And in doing so, you’ll feel you have some confidence in the approach that you’ve taken and the methods you’re going to use, and that you have developed, effectively, a personal code of ethics for your study that you can use to plan, carry out, and report your study, and be sure that you’re doing things right.

This animation summarises the last four weeks of this course in terms of how the CONSEQUENTIAL, ECOLOGICAL, RELATIONAL, DEONTOLOGICAL framework can be useful for thinking through the multiple dimensions of ethical appraisal of a research study. We hope you have found this framework useful whether as a researcher preparing to undertake a study or as an evaluator of other researcher’s studies.

If you are on Twitter, using the #FLresearchethics hashtag, reflect on how using all four dimensions of this framework can be useful to researchers and those evaluating the ethicality of Social Science research. You may think this framework has applicability beyond the Social Sciences. You may feel that it can help you identify some key issues in a study you are currently planning or writing up.

Whilst the four dimensions do not offer advice on what to do, by ensuring you have raised your awareness of possible issues and highlighted ones which repeatedly appear when you use the different lenses, you can anticipate possible issues and make decisions, based on what might be described as a ‘personal code of ethics’. If this helps you, share your experiences.

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People Studying People: Research Ethics in Society

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