Some questions and ideas about Ethics

I have some questions about ethics.

One is about whether I’ll need to do two rounds of Ethics approval for my thesis project; one prior to recruiting primary participants and the second prior to recruiting secondary participants – given that we won’t have nailed down the exact nature of the Conversations until I’ve recruited the primary participants. I’d like to avoid a two-stage approval process if at all possible, as I can see it slowing things down to the point of the primary participants not only losing motivation, but totally forgetting about the project, which unlike me they won’t have been living and breathing throughout.

Another issue is this blog; while literally no-one is hanging on to my every word here, I am technically laying open all my thoughts to the entire internet. I need to give some careful thought to how I’m going to continue the degree of recorded reflection that I find necessary to clarify my thoughts, while preserving the anonymity of participants.

On the subject of anonymity, I have a strong desire to capture visual artefacts to illustrate the Conversations, but need to do this in an ethical way; i.e. one that avoids any kind of harm to participants (including embarrassment) and preserves anonymity. I thought it might be possible/effective to capture images that don’t reveal identities but communicate something of the feel of the interview; spaces, places, hands, coffee cups, shoes… something like that?

Another thought that came to mind when reading what Guy Thomas says about ethics is about harm to a community. I think there is a risk with this kind of intervention that the kinds of changes it produces may not be wholly positive. I don’t think it’s a major risk, but all the same it will be important to elaborate on the likely or possible benefits in order that benefit and risk may be weighed up. Benefits might include personal advantages to participants, and/or advances in knowledge resulting from the study.

There isn’t a problem from my perspective about being open and honest in all dealings with participants; to my mind there is no need for concealment or misrepresentation as the goal is to reach a shared understanding of one another’s experience; it is not, for example, about bringing the other around to one’s own point of view. What will be interesting is the extent to which the primary participants share this aim, or at least are able to act in accordance with it!

One final thing that comes to mind is the likelihood that participants will be setting up conversations with people from non-English-speaking backgrounds, or those with unseen disabilities such as learning difficulties or mental health issues. Primary participants may even fit into those categories. I’d like some advice from more experienced researchers about whether and how to seek disclosure from participants on these matters, and how I’d need to act on that kind of information.

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