Ethical Considerations of Qualitative Research
This is a summary of ethical considerations of qualitative research derived from the third chapter of the book qualitative research methods for social sciences by Bruce Berg and Howard Lune. The chapter starts with an overview of the ethical roles of social scientists when carrying out qualitative researches. It acknowledges that the role of social scientists in ethical matters is much greater as compared to that of other people, especially the average people. The second part of the chapter proceeds to give a historical overview of research ethics and this links ethical issues in researches to the biomedical researches that were carried out by the Nazi scientists during the Second World War.According to this chapter, the brutality of the Nazi medical practices is what resulted in the establishment of various principles that affect diverse human subjects and these principles became the basis of other principles that were founded later. Nevertheless, before the 1960s, only a few laws governed human researches (Berg, & Lune, 2012) and as such no legal actions were taken against researchers that acted unethically when conducting researches, including the Nazi scientists. In addition, for a long time, there was a general inability to develop common ethical codes in researches.
This inability to devise a common ethical code for all human research, led to the failure of many early attempts to develop the ethical codes of ethics. However, this changed in 1966 when the American surgeon general was able to issue the first ethical codes that governed researches in public health (Berg, & Lune, 2012). This implied that the public health service had to review all the researches that it funded. By so doing, the public health service made sure that researchers did not cause any harm on the participants and that participants were aware of the possible threats and benefits of participating in the researches before taking part in researches. These concepts formed the basis of the ethical considerations in researches, especially within the public health arena.
The need to develop comprehensive ethical codes led to the creation of the institutional review boards (IRBs) and these are groups of individuals that monitor researches to make sure that human subjects involved in any researches do not experience any form of injury, whether emotional or physical. The irony is that, while some people acknowledge the roles that IRBs play in preventing human injury during research, there are those that criticize IRBs because theyperceive them as obstacles to their researches. IRBs have many duties and roles and these include the following. First, they make sure that the researchers have the informed consent of participants in any research whereby they generally require researchers to obtain written consents from all participants involved in the research. The informed consents indicate that research participants will get involved in the researches on a voluntary basis. The chapter reveals that IRBs find qualitative researches to be more challenging than quantitative researches do. For this reason, qualitative researchers have so far tried as much as possible to comply with the federal regulations on conducting researches. According to these authors, the process of conducting qualitative researches evolves at every stage because it is usually ongoing and this is why perceive such processes as a social contract between the research participants and the researchers (Berg, & Lune, 2012).
Second, during the initial formation of the IRBs, the IRBs were assigned the role of reviewing the adequacy of consent procedures in protecting human subjects only. However, with time, their mandate broadened to include all public funded researches. Today, the IRBs are charged with the responsibility of making sure that researchers inform the research participants of any possible risks and benefits of participating in the researches. In cases where it is unnecessary for the IRBs committees to evaluate researches, the IRBs chairs may assess the signed informed consents and this substantially reduces the work for the IRBs while maintaining ethical standards in researches. The chapter also evaluates the concepts of both passive and active consents that are possible in any research.
Furthermore, the chapter gives an assessment of a number of professional bodies that have developed ethical codes with time. Some of these include the American psychological association, American nurses’ association, and the American sociological association just to mention a few. The chapter reveals that the American society of criminology is yet to formalize its own code of ethics (Berg, & Lune, 2012).
Apart from evaluating the associations that have developed their ethical codes, the chapter also evaluates some of the common ethical concerns that are associated with behavioral research. Some of these ethical concerns are the participation of the research participants in the research voluntarily despite their awareness of the potential risks of getting involved in the research. The authors claim that inasmuch as the idea of voluntary participation in the research is good, it is not easily attainable at all times. They claim that social scientists sometimes abuse this idea by making it appear justifiable even when in violation of the set rules. For this reason, despite the good intentions of the idea of voluntary participation in the research, the authors question its nature. They argue that it would be dangerous to include participants that participate in the research on a voluntary basis simply because they might be different from other people who do not volunteer to get involved in the researches. If this happens, then the results of the researches cannot be the true representation of the population.
The authors further argue thatresearchers can easily use coercion as a means of indirectly getting the research participants to participate in the researches, thereby violating the concept of voluntary participation (Berg, & Lune, 2012).Based on these arguments, voluntary participation in researches has been a highly debated and contentious issue with some people arguing that it is bad while others feel that it is good. This makes voluntary participation in researches very controversial and the chapter concludes the matter by claiming that it does not have an ideal solution for this. For this reason, researchers should develop ethical codes to deal with the contentious issues as they conduct researches.
The chapter also analyzes the ethical dilemma that is linked to overt research. With regard to these researches, the authors claim that researchers ought to counterbalance their social duties and responsibilities, especially when dealing with distrustful people, such as criminals and drug addicts.A major controversy surrounding overt research is that some people tend to be more vulnerable to researches, and can easily participate, while others are not. This jeopardizes the results of the researches because researchers rarely involve or interview some groups of people while they interview certain groups too much (Berg, & Lune, 2012).
The chapter further explores the concepts of implied consent and informed consent. With regard to these two aspects, the authors claim that researchers need to get informed consents from the research participants or their representative bodies. The informed consent should inform participants of the potential risks and benefits that relate to getting involved in the research. The chapter states that the two reasons for obtaining informed consent are helping the research participants participate in the research in full awareness of what they are getting into and also helping IRBs monitor voluntary participation in the research process. In order to address the ethical dilemma that is linked to informed consent, the researchers should maintain high levels of confidentiality and not reveal information contained in the informed consents to anyone except to the IRBs when the need arises. For large-scale surveys, implied consents can replace informed consent (Berg, & Lune, 2012) and in such circumstances, the researchers take time to explain the purpose of the study and potential risks and benefits of the researches to the research participants before they begin conducting the studies. The commitments by the participants to answer multiple questions in the studies are an indication of the implied consent. In order to deal with the ethical dilemma that relates to implied consents, researchers should ask the respondents if they are willing to continue with the researches after they have explained everything concerning the study and its implications to the research participants. The implied consents become effective, the moment the researchers accept to continue with the researches.
The other ethical issue that is assessed in this chapter is in relation to anonymity and confidentiality. The chapter tries to differentiate the two aspects by defining confidentiality as an active attempt that tries to excludes anything that might reveal the identity of the research participants from the research records. On the contrary, anonymity is defined as any attempt in the research that tries to keep the research participants nameless. Where anonymity is not a guarantee, it is usually necessary to provide the research participants with a high degree of confidentiality by giving them letters of confidentiality that are signed by both researchers and participants. These letters are an assurance to the respondents that researchers will not reveal their identities to anyone. With regard to keeping any revealing or sensitive records, researchers should keep such records for a specified period before destroying them. This necessitates the need for researchers to have various strategies to help them safeguard confidentiality in their researches. First, they must obtain certificates of confidentiality from the federal government because this offers indemnity of researchers from any coercion by the courts of law to reveal the names of the respondents in their researches at any given time. Secondly, researchers can opt not to keep any identifying record and destroying such records immediately the research being conducted is complete and this consider much safer than obtaining certificate of confidentiality. Nevertheless, to avoid any questions regarding ethical standards relating to confidentiality, researchers must exercise caution when handling the research data by making sure that such data do not fall into the wrong hands of the members of the public (Berg, & Lune, 2012). The chapter is concluded by an evaluation of a careful and objective research design.
Berg, B., & Lune, H. (2012). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences. Boston: Pearson.