Research Methods: Considering Ethics in your research

Eira Patterson | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Challenges to negotiating access

A significant challenge that a researcher faces in the process of gaining informed consent is negotiating access to participants within a particular context where a professional gatekeeper is legally in charge of ensuring the well-being of the individuals they are responsible for within that context e.g. an educational setting. In order to achieve this it is essential that you present an overview of your research clearly and professionally to the professional gatekeeper, demonstrating how you have taken into account all the possible ethical issues that may arise. In this way the professional gatekeeper will be able to make an informed decision about whether to enable you to proceed further with your research in their organisation. NOTE a gatekeeper cannot provide informed consent for you to engage with participants in your reserach, their role is to decide whether it is appropriate for you to engage in the process of gaining informed consent from participants and parents/guardians (where appropriate). It is possible that you may not be successful in negotiating access to an educational context, and often this is not a reflection on the way you presented your research plans, but rather the current circumstances surrounding the organisation, for example there may be particular challenges that are facing at that time or else the views and attitudes of the professional gatekeeper to research in general or the aspect of research you are focusing on.

If you are successful in negotiating access to the organisation, your next challenge is to gaining consent from potential participants or their parents / guardians. At this level the ethical consideration that you need to focus on is ensuring that the participants themselves are enabled to exercise their own free will with regard to whether they themselves want to participate in the research. In a school setting there is the danger that children or young people feel pressurised to participate as the research project is perceived to be part of the programme of the class and because the majority of the class are participating (David, Edwards and Aldred, 2001). This can be further complicated by parents / guardians agreeing to the involvement of a child or young person, without gaining their views on this first. Therefore it is your duty to ensure, as far as possible, that the way in which involvement is portrayed enables individuals to make their own choices about whether they want to be involved.