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Ethics – Context

users in focus groups

How should you conduct yourself in specific situations?

People-based design research can take place in a wide variety of contexts and take different forms.

Face-to-face interviews or focus groups

  • Participants should be able to check without difficulty the identity and bona fides of any individual and/or their employer conducting a project
  • Consideration should be given to the location to ensure that participants are not at risk of being directly harmed or adversely affected as a result of taking part
  • Stimulus material must be safe and appropriate for the age of children/young people involved

Internet-based research

Internet and other research using new technologies can take place in a range of settings, for example via email, chatrooms or instant messaging. These pose new ethical dilemmas.

For example, what constitutes ‘privacy’ in an online environment? How easy is it to get informed consent from the participants in the community being researched? What does informed consent entail in that context? How certain can the researcher be that they can establish the ‘real’ identity of the participants? Researchers will often encounter new or unfamiliar ethics questions and dilemmas. There is a growing literature on ethics in online research. A good starting point is the Association of Internet Researchers 2002 Guidelines and the British Psychological Society’s Conducting Research on the Internet: Guidelines for ethics practice in psychological research online (2007). See Key Sources

Internet research and children

In internet questionnaires, children and young people must be asked to give their age before any other personal information is requested. If the age given is under 16, the child should be excluded from giving further personal information until the appropriate consent has been obtained.

A notice informing children of the requirement for consent must be shown at the point where personal information is requested. This notice should be clear and prominent and must include an explanation of the subject matter and nature of the research and details of the agency undertaking it, with contact information.

Personal data collected from children or young people must not be publicly posted or disclosed.

Postal and self-completion research

Where the age of the respondent is known, questionnaires for children (those under 16) must be mailed to the parent or guardian, not to the child. Questionnaires for young people may be mailed direct.

Where the age of the respondent is not known but it is known that a majority are likely to be under 16, questionnaires should be mailed to parents or guardians and must carry a notice explaining that consent is required for completion by children.

Where the age of the respondent is not known but it is known that some are likely to be under 16, all questionnaires must carry a notice explaining that consent is required for completion by children and include an explanation of the subject matter and nature of the research and details of the agency undertaking it, with contact information.

There must be space on the questionnaire for the responsible adult to sign that they have given their consent for the child to complete the questionnaire. A stamped addressed envelope should always be provided.

Further reading

Grinyer, A (2007) The ethics of Internet usage in health and personal narratives research, Social Research Update, Spring 2007, University of Surrey

Hudson, J.M. and Bruckman, A. (2004) ‘Go Away’: Participant Objections to Being Studied and the Ethics of Chatroom Research, The Information Society, Vol.20, No. 2:127-139.

Nosek, B &  Banaji, M (2002) E-Research: Ethics, Security, Design and Control in Psychological Research on the Internet, Journal of Social Issues Vol 58, no 1 2002 pp 161 – 176