Ethics in Research: Field Work and Action Research

Session Report
Riya Rajvanshi

LPPYF Law and Public Policy Youth Fellowship is an Online National Summer School Program, a Two-Month Online Immersive Legal Awareness & Action Research Certificate Training Course and Internship Program, from June-August 2023 by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. An informative and interactive panel discussion on “Ethics in Research: Field Work and Action Research and Field Work” was held by Dr. Amar Jesani, Editor, Indian Journal of Medical Ethics (IJME) Mumbai, India, Visiting Professor, Centre for Ethics, Yenepoya Uni, Mangalore.

Importance of Ethics in Research

The significance of ethics in research was explained by Dr. Amar. Research ethics are extremely important because they serve as the moral and intellectual framework for the scientific community. It makes sure that the quest of knowledge is done honestly, openly, and with regard for everyone’s rights and dignity.

Ethical research protects against harm to participants—both human and animal—and encourages resource management. Due to the fact that ethical behavior forbids fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism, it promotes trust in research findings. Furthermore, ethical principles promote the spread of truthful and balanced information, advancing knowledge and enhancing society. Ultimately, upholding ethical principles in research is not merely a moral obligation; it is a fundamental pillar that upholds the credibility and integrity of the scientific endeavor.

Research Ethics Framework: Benchmarks or Criteria for Ethical Research

Then, he elaborated on the eight benchmarks of ethical research. Ethical research is guided by several benchmarks to ensure the responsible and moral conduct of research activities. Here are eight key benchmarks of ethical research:

  1. Social value: The social value benchmark of ethical research underscores the fundamental principle that research should contribute meaningfully to the betterment of society. It recognizes that the pursuit of knowledge should serve a greater societal purpose, making a positive impact and contributing to the collective welfare.
  2. Scientific Validity: This benchmark ultimately ensures that research outcomes are grounded in sound science, enhancing the knowledge base and fostering confidence in the results, which can inform policy, practice, and further scientific inquiry.
  3. Favourable Risk-Benefit Ratio:The favorable risk-benefit ratio benchmark is a central ethical principle in research that underscores the importance of carefully assessing and balancing the potential risks and benefits of a study for all participants involved. In ethical research, it is imperative to minimize harm to participants while maximizing the potential benefits of the research. Researchers must conduct a comprehensive risk assessment, taking into account physical, psychological, and social risks that participants might face during the study. These risks should be minimized through robust safety measures and participant protections.
  4. Fair Selection of Study Population: Fair selection of the study population is a crucial benchmark in ethical research, emphasizing the principle of justice and equity. It dictates that the process of recruiting participants for a research study should be conducted impartially, without bias or discrimination. Researchers must avoid favouring or excluding individuals or groups based on arbitrary or unjustifiable criteria.
  5. Informed consent: Informed consent is a fundamental ethical principle in research that requires researchers to obtain voluntary and informed agreement from individuals who participate in a study. This process is essential to protect the rights, autonomy, and well-being of research participants. Here are key aspects of informed consent in ethical research as Voluntary, Disclosure, Comprehension, Documentation. 
  6. Privacy and Confidentiality: Privacy and confidentiality are fundamental ethical principles in research that are crucial for protecting the rights, well-being, and trust of research participants.Maintaining privacy and confidentiality in research is not only a matter of ethical responsibility but also a legal requirement in many cases. These principles help build trust between researchers and participants, ensuring that individuals are willing to participate in studies without fear of their personal information being misused or disclosed inappropriately. Researchers must always prioritize the protection of participant privacy and the confidentiality of their data throughout the research process.
  7. Independent Review by Research Ethics Committees: A key component of ethical research is independent assessment by Research Ethics Committees (RECs), which makes sure that the pursuit of knowledge is done with the utmost respect for human rights and dignity. These panels of specialists from many fields carefully evaluate study ideas to make sure they follow strict ethical standards. They carefully examine every facet of the study, including its scientific veracity and the safeguarding of participants’ rights and welfare.This impartial oversight is indispensable in maintaining the ethical integrity of research, striking a vital balance between advancing knowledge and safeguarding the welfare of individuals. Independent review by RECs safeguards not only the credibility of research but also the trust that society places in the scientific community’s commitment to ethical conduct.
  8. Collaborative Partnership: Collaborations are at the core of ethical research, highlighting the shared accountability of academic institutions, researchers, and the general public in respecting moral standards. Collaborations in ethical research go beyond the research team and may involve interaction with a range of stakeholders, such as research participants, institutions, funders, and regulatory organizations. Through these collaborations, the research process is made more transparent, accountable, and trustworthy.

He gave a thorough explanation of all the standards for moral research. According to him, upholding these standards ensures that research is conducted in an ethical and responsible manner, upholding the values of fairness, respect, and the pursuit of knowledge for the greater good while safeguarding the rights and well-being of people and communities involved in the research process.

Additional ethical challenges in Community-based research, Action research, Participatory research

He then focused on other ethical concerns in community-based research, action research, and participatory research after the session. Due to their collaborative and context-specific nature, community-based research, action research, and participatory research can present special ethical issues. Additional moral issues for each of these research philosophies include the following:

Community Research: Also referred to as community-based research (CBR), community research is a method of conducting research that actively incorporates communities. It seeks to resolve pressing problems, strengthen communities, and provide knowledge that can be put to use. The dedication of community members to collaboration as collaborators rather than as passive subjects of study is a crucial component of community research.

For example, in public health, a community research project might involve working closely with a neighborhood to identify health disparities and develop interventions that address specific health concerns. Researchers might collaborate with community health workers, residents, and local organizations to design and implement health education programs, conduct surveys, and collect qualitative data that reflect the community’s unique needs and perspectives.

Action Research: Action research is a dynamic and participatory method to study that concentrates on resolving practical issues, enhancing procedures, and promoting constructive change in particular circumstances. It entails a cycle of planning, acting, observing, and reflecting that is frequently carried out by practitioners or stakeholders who are directly involved in the situation being investigated. Action research’s dedication to closing the gap between theory and practice is one of its defining traits.

The principle that those who will be most impacted by a problem should actively participate in discovering solutions is embodied in action research. It equips practitioners to work as both researchers and agents of change, advancing their professions’ understanding while advancing their own. This approach highlights the practical application of research and its capacity to drive positive change in various professional and academic settings.

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a research methodology that combines aspects of action research and participatory research. Collaboration between researchers and the community or stakeholders under study is strongly emphasized. In addition to addressing practical issues, PAR aims to equip participants with the information they need to actively contribute to problem-solving and societal change.

Active Participation Research is an effective instrument for tackling complex social, environmental, and health-related problems because it acknowledges the importance of local knowledge, views, and experiences. It eventually promotes a sense of ownership and social justice in the research process by empowering communities and stakeholders to be proactive agents of change in their own lives and settings. PAR exemplifies the democratization of research and its potential to create sustainable, community-driven solutions.

He mentioned addressing these ethical challenges in community-based research, action research, and participatory research requires a deep commitment to collaboration, open communication, and a strong ethical framework that prioritizes the well-being and agency of all involved stakeholders. Researchers must navigate these challenges with sensitivity, respect, and a dedication to promoting ethical research practices.

Misconduct in Data Collection, analysis & Publications

He focused on Misconduct in Data Collection, Analysis, & Publications as he concluded the seminar. Research ethics are gravely violated by improper data collecting, processing, and publication practices, which compromise the objectivity and legitimacy of the scientific method. Here are a few examples of typical wrongdoing in each of these categories:

1. Data Collection:

  •  Fabrication:  Creating or inventing data that were never collected. For example, recording fictional survey responses or laboratory results.

   2. Data Analysis:

  •  Falsification: Manipulating or altering data to fit a desired outcome. This could involve selectively omitting data points or changing values to make results appear more significant than they are.
  • Inappropriate application of statistical methods:  Searching through data for patterns or relationships without a clear hypothesis, which can lead to spurious findings.

3. Publications:

  • Plagiarism: Not only unethical in data collection but also in the publication of research, copying someone else’s work without proper citation is a form of misconduct.
  • Authorship credits : Failing to give appropriate credit to individuals who made significant contributions to the research or the paper.

The session was concluded by Dr. Amar stating that misconducts in any of these areas and ethics undermine the trust and integrity that the scientific community relies on. It may have far-reaching effects, such as harm to careers, resource waste, and diminished public trust in scientific research and ethics. Rigid ethical standards, accountability, and transparency are crucial throughout the study process to prevent such wrongdoing. Peer review procedures, institutions, and researchers all have important jobs to do when it comes to preventing and dealing with misconduct in data collection, analysis, and publication.

Riya is a Research Intern at IMPRI.

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