Research Methods: Considering Ethics in your research

Eira Patterson | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Challenges in information sharing

An issue that arises often for researchers is how much information to provide to participants to enable informed consent to be achieved. The tension arises due to the potential for the information given to participants about the project may result in them saying things or behaving in ways that they would not have done if they had not known this information. For example if a group of children are being observed and their discussions recorded to find out about the factors influencing the types of talk taking place, they may try harder to work collaboratively and engage in discussion than they would have under normal circumstances.

So the research process itself will then have an impact on the findings of the research. The ethical considerations in the decision about how much information to share with participants relate to whether you have provided enough information for informed consent to be achieved. A useful question to consider is whether the information that you decide not to share with participants would have resulted in them making a different decision about their involvement in the research.

The other aspect of relating to the information that you share in the information sheet which is a particular issue in qualitative research relates to the fluid nature of the research design. In a qualitative research study, it is often the case that from the data collected early in the research, interesting themes emerge from preliminary analysis of the data which you had not anticipated when you produced your research proposal and went through the process of gaining consent. These themes may result in you wanting to modify the research questions and take the research in a different direction.

If the discovery of emergent themes results in the need for significant changes to the research design, for example the use of different methods in the next phase of the research, then you need to inform participants (and gatekeepers where appropriate) of this and gain informed consent for these changes. Also it is important to keep the Ethics Committee which is supporting your research informed of any significant changes and where appropriate to re-apply for consent to continue with the research. However if the impact of these emergent themes on your research results only in a change in the focus of some of your research questions, and unlikely to have any impact on the ethical considerations for the participants in the research, gaining of further participant and institutional consent will not be necessary. However where possible it is good practice to share any change of direction with participants and keep the Ethics Committee informed through periodic updates of the progress of your research.