Respectful research

Respectful research

How should researchers properly respect their participants? What does a research ethics centred on dignity look like?

The Busara Center for Behavioral Economics has launched a program of research focused on putting Participants’ Voice First, under their 3-year CREME – culture, research ethics and methods – research agenda.

That agenda asks five questions:

  1. What are the experiences, understandings and preferences of our research participants, including those who are most likely to be excluded from such conversations, when it comes to the respectfulness of our research?
  2. How can we improve the experiences of research participants, including those who are most likely to be excluded from such conversations, better align with their understandings and incorporate their preferences into our research agenda in ways that make it more respectful of their dignity?
  3. What combination of protocols, measures, systems and practices, including IRB processes, will ensure that we maintain those improvements across all of Busara’s projects, including those employing remote research methods, and allow other research implementers to do the same?
  4. What is the relationship between ethical practice and data quality?
  5. How do the answers to these questions vary across gender, racial, national and economic groups?

Initial qualitative research demonstrates that – while participants generally had a good experience of research – they wanted to see improvements around consent and feedback.

We explored giving feedback should look like in an experiment. Through qualitative interviews (n=19) we developed a feedback message. We sent the SMS to half of the 400 participants in the prior research project, and completed follow up interviews with 338 of them. Giving participants feedback made them significantly more likely to say they were treated respectfully (p<0.01), and significantly less likely to say that they find it difficult to speak up in community meetings (p<0.05). It had no significant impact on their desire to recommend Busara, their likelihood to change something in their lives as a result of their findings, or their motivation to conserve the forest. (Desire to recommend Busara and the motivation to conserve the forest were already very high).

We infer that even simple low-cost feedback, the least researchers can do, makes a difference. Future studies will experimentally study different modes of communicating feedback and different feedback message content.

“They (open-ended questions) are the best types of questions to use in research because they do not confine someone to a certain point, but instead, the person will have the freedom to talk. Even things that are out of topic will play a certain role in the research process” (Male 26 years old, Kibera)

Image credit: Busara Center for Behavioral Economics.