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Webpage last modified: 2008-Sep-11
These guidelines focus on ethical concerns with regard to human subject research. Human subject research is "a systematic investigation...designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge" with "a living individual about whom an investigator ...conducting research obtains (1) data through intervention or interaction with the individual, or (2) identifiable private information" . Although this definition is drawn from a U.S. source, these elements are widely accepted on an international level as definitive of human subject research.
There is no lack of source material on ethical guidelines for human subject research (see , for a recent review). For example, the Declaration of Helsinki , originally adopted by the World Medical Assembly in 1964 and most recently revised in 2004, defines the ethical responsibilities of physicians to their patients and to the subjects of biomedical research. The principles in the Declaration of Helsinki have been extended to include social science human subject research. Professional organizations, such as the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), the World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR), and the European Society for Market Research (ESOMAR), have also developed ethical codes and guidelines for their members.
In addition to these self-regulatory measures, many countries have legislation in place that affects human subject research (e.g., data protection legislation and requirements for ethics review committees). Whether working in familiar surroundings or in new contexts, researchers must make sure they are informed about, and comply with, relevant legislation. When working in other countries or locations, researchers may need to comply not only with local requirements, pertaining to the place where they are collecting data, but also with their own country's requirements.
As might be expected, there is considerable overlap in the principles contained in the various ethics codes, professional association guidelines, and government regulations. This section attempts to consolidate their common elements, as well as to highlight concerns particular to cross-cultural studies. It is important to recognize that researchers may confront tradeoffs between ethical principles. For example, maintaining sensitivity to cultural differences by having other family members present during the interview may conflict with ethical obligations to protect confidentiality and to minimize error in respondent reporting. For further information on the ethical principles presented here, please see the listing of ethics codes, declarations, guidelines, and other resources for researchers conducting cross-cultural human subject research that is provided in the References section.
Goal: To ensure that participating research teams follow widely accepted standards for ethical and scientific conduct from the design of the study through implementation and reporting.
The social researcher's responsibility to protect the human rights of study participants is universally prescribed in ethics codes and guidelines, such as the Declaration of Helsinki , and monitored by ethics review committees. In addition, the collection of accurate data depends upon the cooperation of respondents: individuals are more likely to agree to participate in a study and to give complete, accurate information if they feel that they can trust the research organization. Finally, a positive experience with regard to the research interaction encourages participation in future research.
Designing study protocols that are sensitive to cultural traditions and norms is vital to building trust and gaining cooperation. Being respectful of cultural norms and customs also leaves individual participants with a positive impression of the research community. Beyond the individual level, it may forestall negative political and social consequences. Finally, participation in social science and health studies may promote awareness of research issues in the community.
Researchers have a responsibility not only to protect participants but also to adhere to ethical management practices and to conduct research that meets the scientific standards of their field. The reader is referred here to other chapters which provide useful guidance on meeting scientific standards for the design, implementation, analysis, and documentation of cross-cultural surveys. See all chapters, as listed in the Procedural Steps below.
Professional social science organizations generally agree that their members should report findings to benefit the widest possible community. From this it follows that data collection agencies should provide full information to allow readers and data users to assess both methodology and results. Dissemination of results and research reports also increases public confidence and alerts potential users to limits of accuracy and reliability, avoiding misinterpretation of findings. In addition, sharing documentation on study methods can assist other researchers in making informed choices about research design and implementation in future studies. While providing access to study data and methods is advantageous for the reasons outlined here, researchers must also assess the risk of a breach of confidentiality and address this concern when preparing data for dissemination.
In research that involves human subjects, it is critical to maintain documentation of materials that were used to inform potential participants about study participation and subsequently record consent, in case there is ever a question of ethics violations or a request for additional information from an ethics review committee. In addition, documentation of all survey procedures including those related to the ethical conduct of the study is a key element of high-quality scientific research.
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 American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) (2005). AAPOR code of professional ethics & practices. Lenexa, KS: AAPOR. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.aapor.org /aaporcodeofethics
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