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Ethical Insights: Exploring Qualitative Research Dynamics

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Ethical Insights: Exploring Qualitative Research Dynamics

Session Report
Trisha Shivdasan

The Generation Alpha Data Centre, at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi conducted a Four-Month Online National Winter School Program on ‘Public Policy Qualitative Participatory Action Research Fieldwork Fellowship’ from December 16th , 2023 to 20th April, 2023. 

The course, spread over four months, provides a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience in conducting action research and fieldwork led by esteemed experts. Through a combination of engaging lectures, interactive workshops, networking, guidance by thematic experts and practical exercises,

On the second day our first speaker, Dr Amar Jesani, independent Researcher and Teacher (Bioethics and Public Health); Editor, Indian Journal of Medical Ethics commenced with Dr. Jesani introducing to the audience the evolving landscape of the “Indian Journal of Medical Ethics,” expanding into bioethics and healthcare, welcoming contributions from social scientists. The session unfolded in four key segments, covering the importance of ethics in research, the research ethics framework, distinctions between quantitative and qualitative research, and specific ethical issues in action and participatory research.

The Role of Ethics in Research:

Dr. Jesani navigated the broader landscape of ethics, distinguishing between normative and non-normative research, emphasizing the importance of discerning what “ought to be” in both scientific and moral contexts. The session illuminated the ethical obligations in protecting participants, researchers, and institutions from potential harm, particularly focusing on the vulnerabilities of the less powerful in the research ecosystem.

Research Ethics Framework:

The eight components of the research ethics framework took center stage, with an emphasis on social value, scientific validity, and maintaining a favorable risk-benefit ratio. Dr. Jesani expanded on the spectrum of potential harms in social science research, acknowledging the broader implications beyond physical harm, including social, economic, and dignity-related harm.

Informed Consent:

The critical role of informed consent, especially in qualitative studies, emerged as a focal point. Dr. Jesani stressed the voluntariness of consent and the interactive nature of obtaining consent, highlighting the importance of accommodating participants in the research process.

Prudent Information Consumption:

Information overload in qualitative research was addressed, emphasizing the researcher’s responsibility in selecting and presenting information carefully. Dr. Jesani highlighted the need to inform participants about potential harms, enabling them to make informed decisions about their involvement.

Privacy and Confidentiality:

Foundational principles of privacy and confidentiality were explored, distinguishing privacy as a participant’s right to control shared information and confidentiality as the researcher’s obligation to protect entrusted information. Various levels of confidentiality were detailed, emphasizing meticulous measures to safeguard participant identities.

Ethics Review:

A significant emphasis was placed on the mandatory ethical review for health research in India, underscoring its importance in ensuring the integrity of qualitative research, especially when potential harm is involved.

Challenges in Illegal Activity Research:

The intricate ethical challenges associated with researching illegal activities were discussed, with a stress on the need for absolute confidentiality to shield participants from potential legal repercussions.

Collaboration Ethics:

Ethical considerations in research collaborations were explored, shedding light on issues related to academic freedom, authorship, and budget allocation. Dr. Jesani urged researchers to scrutinize collaboration contracts to ensure equity and protection of academic principles.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Ethical Distinctions:

Distinctions between the ethical considerations in qualitative and quantitative research methodologies were elucidated, emphasizing the interpretive and constructivist nature of qualitative research.

Reflexivity:

The session concluded with an emphasis on reflexivity in qualitative research ethics, acknowledging the researcher’s subjectivity and advocating for the procedural application of established ethical principles with innovative adaptations.

In-depth Self-Disclosure and Micro Ethics:

Dr. Jesani delved into the critical aspect of researcher self-disclosure during fieldwork, emphasizing transparency about the researcher’s identity, background, and personal affiliations. The session extended to micro-level ethics, emphasizing the heightened considerations during intimate, prolonged interactions.

Action Research and Participatory Action Research:

The transition to action research elucidated the active intervention and judgment involved, with a focus on the cyclical nature and unique ethical considerations. Participatory action research was introduced as a more collaborative but challenging approach, emphasizing the need for researchers to navigate political implications and potential conflicts.

Ethical Implications for Staff:

A critical dimension introduced was the ethical considerations for research staff engaged in fieldwork, especially in conflict zones. Dr. Jesani shed light on the emotional, physical, and employment-related challenges faced by research staff in high-stress situations.

Conclusion:

The session concluded by emphasizing the holistic ethical landscape in qualitative research, encompassing self-disclosure, micro-level ethics, action research dynamics, and staff well-being. Dr. Amar Jesani’s comprehensive exploration provided valuable insights into the multifaceted ethical considerations inherent in qualitative research, encouraging a reflective and responsible approach. The open floor allowed participants to engage with the complex ethical dimensions presented in the session, fostering a continued dialogue on ethical practices in research.

Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Trisha Shivdasan, a research intern at IMPRI.

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