The Joy of Ethics

I really enjoy completing ethics forms. Everyone I have told this to gives me a slightly bemused look and says “really?”, and then quickly changes the subject. But I do. I find completing ethics forms satisfying and exciting. It means the beginning of a new project, which is always the fun bit. I like deciding what questions I want to ask and reading the literature to find the gaps. I like considering what methods would be best, whilst not having got to the headaches that sometimes come with the practicalities of carrying them out. I like considering ethical quandaries, and as someone who shouts about social justice a lot, I like thinking about how to make the work I do stand up to those principles. I enjoy all of the preparatory work of research, and for me the ethics submission is the culmination of it all.

Considering what issues might come up in research projects and how we can either avoid them or overcome them is the heart of considering ethics applications. How can we ensure research does no harm? By thinking about how others will be affected by what we say and do. I enjoy this kind of work because it is the application of the principles that I claim as a gold standard. I might not always be able to do it perfectly, but I enjoy the challenge and find it a good way of planning out what I want out of my research and what the best way to do it is.

At the moment I’m doing some planning for a research project that requires a third party to distribute questionnaires at specific events, collect them and then returns copies to the research team, alongside contact details for the participants. How to do this in a way that is secure, confidential, maintains anonymity, and ensures that nothing gets lost or missed is my current quandary. It’s like a Professor Layton puzzle that counts as work! What’s not to love? it also means that I have to figure out the logistics of the research now rather than later, and as I am both a worrier and a planner, this suits me down to the ground.

One of the specific ethical issues I always try to consider when planning research is accessibility. Can I create the research materials in different formats so that people with disability or different levels of ability can be involved? Do I need to consider language barriers in the work? A past project involved some work in Wales, and so all the materials had to be translated into Welsh. No one asked for them in Welsh, but we were prepared if they did. Ensuring that research can be accessed by as many people as possible is positive, as it means samples are more inclusive, and new perspectives may be uncovered. Additionally, as much of my work focuses on social work and mental health, ensuring that researcher considers accessibility is consistent with these areas and the values they embody.

A lot of my research work (and teaching work) is very paper oriented; questionnaires, consent forms, information sheets, all are usually printed or online. In future I’d like to find other formats for these types of research tools to greater improve accessibility. If any of you have come across strategies for this or have experience of it, please let me know!

About Jess Urwin

Lecturer in social work at De Montfort University, youth justice researcher, musician, crafter, constant reader.
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