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Ethical Issues

Role of the Qualitative


Basic Assumptions about How

Research Should be Conducted

should be protected from harm.

Subjects should have their identity protected.
Subjects should be fully informed about the
research study.
Participation is voluntary.
Study procedures should show respect for
cultural values and beliefs.

Some studies can potentially harm

participants. Consequently risks should be
minimized. Potential harm can include:

or physical danger.
Emotional arousal or stress
Observation or release of findings can cause
embarrassment or social distress.
Observation can involve misinformation or
deception. Participant observation techniques
should be used cautiously.

In order to make sure that participants are protected,

all studies must be reviewed by human subjects/ethics
review committee. Your projects must be reviewed by:

agency in which your study will be

DSWE Human Subjects Committee
In rare cases, the University Human Subjects
Committee may be asked to review your
study if the department committee thinks that
participants may be potentially harmed.

Except for observation in public settings,

Participants must give consent to participate.
We are especially concerned about:

under 18 (consent must be obtained

from parents).
Involuntary clients
Any participants likely to be vulnerable to
coercion or undue influence.

Components of Informed
Consent Include:

explanation of evaluation
procedures is made.
Respondent is given an explanation of risks
and benefits
An offer is made to answer any additional
questions about the project (contact
information must be included)
The participant is told that he or she can
withdraw at any time.

Steps must be taken to protect

participants from harm:

must be protected. We must

not identify people who participate in the
If the study is likely to cause emotional
arousal, we must make provisions to refer
participants to a mental health professional
for counseling.

Methods for Protecting

Confidentiality Include:

Responses must be anonymous (as feasible).

All information that can be attributed to individuals is kept confidential. Fictional
names are often used in qualitative analysis or code numbers are assigned to
individuals for conducting the analysis. Respondents may be referred to using
terms that do not indicate name/characteristics of individuals such as
respondent or participant). In small samples, care should be taken not to
reveal much about personal characteristics of respondents such as ethnicity or
job title if it would help readers identify individual respondents.
A coding system can be used to track returned surveys or case records.
However, the coding system should be kept in a secured location separate from
the responses.
The responses are also kept in a secure location; only the researcher will have
Any instruments that could identify a respondent should be destroyed after data
analysis if it can not be kept in a secure location. This includes tape recordings.
Information about individual respondents should not be shared with agencies or

Methods used to verify

consent to participate

Return of surveys implies consent (surveys should be

distributed with letters that contains information about
the study and human subjects protections).
Participation in phone interview implies consent.
Signed consent forms from participants (in some cases it
may be sufficient to provide verbal information).
IMPORTANT!!! Consent forms are needed for all
research-related interviews other than interviews with
public officials. No consent forms are needed for brief
interviews in public settings
Public behavior (observations) generally does not
require consent.

Cover letters and consent forms should

contain the following information:

A description of the purpose of the study.

An explanation as to how participants were selected.
A statement that participation is voluntary and that participants may withdraw at
any time.
A description about procedures and what will be required from participants.
Emotionally sensitive issues that might be exposed and/or follow-up resources
that are available if required.
A description of how information will be recorded if videotaping or audiotape is
A description of any discomforts and any known risks.
An explanation of who will have access to the data and information about the
identity of respondents.
A description of how the data will be made public or of any other persons who
may make use of the data
Contact information (for the researcher or the researchers institution) if the
participant has any questions.

Additional human subjects


Payment for participation (o.k. if everyone is paid).

Case record analysis requires that steps be taken to
protect confidentiality of subjects and people
described in the case record.
Deception. (May be used in some cases where it will
not cause undo harm or when authorities have been
given permission).

Ethical Issues in Qualitative


Researchers must state values and biases in writing reports.

Researchers must take steps to ensure that accurate accounts of
participant perceptions are written
Researchers have a responsibility to use the data to enhance
social change.
Consent is sometimes obtained through personal interaction with
individuals or communities (entry). The researcher must establish
trusting relationships.
Participants may be viewed as partners in the research process
and always as the social equal of the researcher.

Establishing accuracy of data

is called trustworthiness.

Rather than reliability and validity of instruments, in

qualitative research we talk about whether the
research is trustworthy.
Padgett defines trustworthy studies as those that
are ethical and fair and that portray respondents
experiences and perceptions accurately.
Assumption is that the researcher is the instrument
and that the observation or interview is filtered
through the researcher and the researcher writes
up the findings.

Primary Trustworthiness

(Hawthorne Effect) have people

reacted to being studied.
Researcher biases, own values/perceptions
or becoming too close or two distant from
Respondent biases may lie or be to helpful

Procedures for establishing


Obtaining feedback on written results from

Prolonged engagement (observational studies or
interviews conducted over a long period of time)
Member checking asking respondents for feedback
on data analysis and coding
Triangulation using several data sources (for
example, both interviews and observation) or more
than one observer.
Peer debriefing and support
Negative case analysis
Audit trail

Cultural Competency

Check to make sure that subjects can understand concepts

described in survey or interview guide (pre-test). Are terms used
that may have different meanings in different cultures.
Is the level of language appropriate to the participants?
Translations should be checked for accuracy and
appropriateness of language to social class, age, and other
demographic characteristics of participants (for example, formal
versus informal Spanish).
Do study procedures violate any cultural norms (check with an
informed source in the community).

Other qualitative issues:

Boundaries (appropriate amounts of involvement vs. social

Keeping records of ones own reactions as part of the research
process dont interject them into the setting though.
Protect confidentiality except in situations involvement immediate
Make sure to take precautions to protect ones self.
Need to be able to establish relationships with respondents
(engagement skills).
Need to be flexible especially during the data collection
process and open to new things and ways of understanding

Re: Moral dilemmas Reporting

negative behavior (from Padgett):
Sometimes our respondents are involved in
activities that are not dangerous, but are still
illegal, for example, shoplifting, prostitution,
drug use, or truancy from school. Qualitative
researchers cannot allow their personal or
moral concerns about these behaviors to
interfere with the promise of confidentiality (p.

For reporting abuse, Padgett

suggests that the researcher
consider whether

is necessary or beneficial to report when

data is being collected.
It may be sufficient to use the findings to
engage in social action after the final report is

DSWE requirements for human

subjects review

Submit pink human subjects forms to 292 instructor

for the review process.
Submit your methodology chapter.
Submit a copy of your research instrument.
Submit a copy of cover letters and consent forms.
For secondary analysis, provide a detailed
description of the data base to be used and how the
data was originally obtained. (See human subjects
procedures on course web page or department