Ethics in Research

As with every other area of social work, ethics is an important discussion.The NASW has a specific document completely focused on ethics (NASW Code of Ethics).Research requires specific ethical considerations. Sensitivity in conducting research is among those important considerations.The following lists some important areas to consider;

  1. Voluntary Participation: Giving a small stipend is acceptable to the research participant, but giving to large of amount of money can change the outcomes of the study.
  2. Informed Consent: Participants must be told about the risks & benefits of the study.This is normally done though having participants sign a legal document.
  3. Do No Harm: The study needs to not harm participants physically or emotionally.Studies such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is often cited for an example of do no harm.
  4. Deception: Deceiving participants in any way (even if it does not harm them) is considered unethical.This could even include being deceptive about who you are or what you are doing.
  5. Analysis & Reporting:All results must be published and done in an unbiased way.
  6. Sensitivity to Diversity: The researchers must take notice of various areas regarding diversity.

Researchers must also look at the types of promises that they give to their participants, so that they can follow though with them.

Two terms that are easy to confuse are anonymity and confidentiality. These terms are defined as…
Anonymity: Research cannot match individuals with their responses (“I don’t know who you are”)
Confidentiality: Researcher promises not to reveal individual data (“I won’t tell who you are”)

Qualitative research has the same ethical issues BUT in it the researcher is more likely to interact with the participant and have a closer ongoing relationship.Furthermore the research is often more flexible and fluid in it’s implementation.The research must be careful of not having any role conflicts (i.e. the researcher is also the participants therapist.Due to the highly personal nature of qualitative research, Sometimes qualitative studies have a “blurring” of roles.When it is possible, it is best to not have the researcher have these role conflicts.