This page has been archived.

III. Ethical Considerations in Surveys

Webpage last modified: 2008-Sep-11

Introduction

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" [32]. 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 [28], for a recent review). For example, the Declaration of Helsinki [39], 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.

Guidelines

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.

  1. Protect the rights of free will, privacy, confidentiality and well-being of research participants, and minimize the burden of study participation to the greatest extent possible.
    Rationale
    Procedural steps
    Lessons learned
  2. Maintain sensitivity to cultural and social differences.
    Rationale
    Procedural steps
    Lessons learned
  3. Observe professional standards for managing and conducting scientifically-rigorous research at all stages of the study.
    Rationale
    Procedural steps
  4. Report research findings and methods.
    Rationale
    Procedural steps
    Lessons learned
  5. Document materials and procedures related to the ethical conduct of the study and ethics committee reviews.
    Rationale
    Procedural steps

Glossary

Confidential, confidentiality
Securing the identity of and any information provided by the respondent to ensure to the greatest extent possible that public identification of an individual participating in the study and/or his or her individual responses does not occur.
A process by which a sample member voluntarily confirms his or her willingness to participate in a study, after having been informed of all aspects of the study that are relevant to the sample member's decision to participate. Informed consent can be obtained with a written consent form or orally (or implied if the respondent returns a mail survey), depending on the study protocol.
Coversheet
Electronic or printed materials associated with each case that identify information about the case, e.g., the sample address, the unique identification number associated with a case, and the interviewer to whom a case is assigned. The coversheet often also contains an introduction to the study, instructions on how to screen sample members and randomly select the respondent, and space to record the date, time, outcome, and notes for every attempt.
Ethics review committee or human subjects review board
A group or committee that is given the responsibility by an institution to review that institution's research projects involving human subjects. The primary purpose of the review is to assure the protection of the safety, rights, and welfare of the human subjects.
Fact sheet
A sheet, pamphlet, or brochure that provides important information about the study to assist respondents in making an informed decision about participation. Elements of a fact sheet may include the following: the purpose of the study, sponsorship, uses of the data, role of the respondent, sample selection procedures, benefits and risks of participation, and confidentiality.
Pledge of confidentiality
An agreement (typically in written form) to maintain the confidentiality of survey data that is signed by persons involved in data collection, post-survey processing or analysis.
Proxy interview
An interview with anyone other than the person about whom information is being sought (e.g., parent, spouse).

References

[1] American Anthropological Association. Code of ethics of the American Anthropological Association (1998). Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.aaanet.org /committees/ethics/ethcode.htm

[2] American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) (2006-07). Best practices for survey and public opinion research. Lenexa, KS: AAPOR. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.aapor.org /bestpractices

[3] 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

[4] American Statistical Association (1999). Ethical guidelines for statistical practice. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.amstat.org /profession/index.cfm?fuseaction=ethicalstatistics

[5] Armer, M. & Grimshaw, A. D. (1973). Comparative social research: Methodological problems and strategies. New York: Wiley.

[6] Australian Market and Social Research Society. (2003). Code of professional behaviour. Retrieved September 7, 2008, from http://www.mrsa.com.au/index.cfm?a=detail&id=2649&eid=138

[7] Benson, G. (2007). The impact of privacy laws on survey data quality: A European case study. Presentation made at the Council for Marketing and Opinion Research, Atlanta, GA.

[8] Bulmer, M. (1998). The problem of exporting social survey research. American Behavioral Scientist, 42, 153-167.

[9] Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences (CIOMS) (2002). International ethical guidelines for biomedical research involving human subjects. Geneva: CIOMS. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.cioms.ch /guidelines_nov_2002_blurb.htm

[10] Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASRO) (1997-2008). CASRO Code of Standards and Ethics for Survey Research. Port Jefferson, New York: CASRO. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.casro.org /codeofstandards.cfm

[11] Couper, M. P., & de Leeuw, E. D. (2003). Nonresponse in cross-cultural and cross-national surveys. In J. A. Harkness, F. J. R. Van de Vijver, & P. P. Mohler (Eds.), Cross-cultural survey methods (pp. 155-177). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

[12] Dawson, L. & Kass, N. E. (2005). View of US researchers about informed consent in international collaborative research. Social Science & Medicine, 61, 1211-1222.

[13] Doumbo, O. K. (2005). It takes a village: Medical research and ethics in Mali. Science 4, 307(5710), 679 — 681. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.sciencemag.org /cgi/content/full/307/5710/679)

[14] European Union (EU). (1995). Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and the Council on the Protection of Individuals with Regard to the Processing of Personal Data and on the Free Movement of Such Data. Official Journal of the European Communities No. L281/31 (November 23, 1995).

[15] Freed-Taylor, M. (1994). Ethical considerations in European cross-national research. International Social Science Journal, 142, 523-532. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.unesco.org /most/ethissj.htm

[16] Hershfield, A. F., Rohling, N. G., Kerr, G. B., & Hursh-Cesar, G. (1983). Fieldwork in rural areas. In M. Bulmer & D. P. Warwick (Eds.), Social research in developing countries (pp. 241-252). New York: Wiley.

[17] ICC/ESOMAR. (2007). ICC/ESOMAR international code on market and social research practice. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: ESOMAR. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.iccwbo.org
/uploadedFiles/ICC/policy/marketing/Statements/ ICCESOMAR_Code_English.pdf

[18] International Statistical Institute (ISI). (1985). International Statistical Institute declaration on professional ethics. Voorburg, The Netherlands: ISI. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://isi.cbs.nl /ethics.htm

[19] Kearl, B. (Ed.). (1976). Field data collection in the social sciences: Experiences in Africa and the Middle East. New York: Agricultural Development Council, Inc.

[20] Marshall, P. A. (2001). The relevance of culture for informed consent in U.S.-funded international health research. In Ethical and policy issues in international research: Clinical trials in developing countries, Vol. II: Commissioned papers and staff analysis (Chapter C). Retrieved June 9, 2008, from http://bioethics.georgetown.edu/nbac/clinical/Vol2.pdf

[21] Milgram, S. (1965). Some conditions of obedience and disobedience to authority. Human Relations, 18(1), 57-76.

[22] Mohler, P. P., Pennell, B-E., & Hubbard, F. (2008). Survey documentation: Toward professional knowledge management in sample surveys. In E. D. de Leeuw, J. J. Hox, & D. A. Dillman (Eds.), International handbook of survey methodology (pp. 403-420). New York/London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates/Taylor & Francis Group.

[23] Mohler, P. P., & Uher, R. (2003). Documenting comparative surveys for secondary analysis. In J. A. Harkness, F. J. R. Van de Vijver, & P. P. Mohler (Eds.), Cross-cultural survey methods (pp. 311-327). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

[24] National Bioethics Advisory Committee (NBAC). (2001). Ethical and policy issues in international research: Clinical trials in developing countries, Vol. 1: Report and Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission submitted to the President of the United States, April 18, 2001. Bethesda, Maryland:NBAC. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://bioethics.georgetown.edu /nbac/pubs.html

[25] National Commission for Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. (1978). The Belmont Report: Ethical principles and guidelines for the protection of human subjects of research. DHEW Publication No. (OS) 78-0012. Washington, D.C.; Government Printing Office. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://ohsr.od.nih.gov /guidelines/belmont.html

[26] Office for Human Research Protections. Institutional Review Board Guidebook. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.hhs.gov /ohrp/irb/irb_guidebook.htm

[27] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (1981). Guidelines on the protection of privacy and transborder flows of personal data. Retrieved June 11, 2008, from http://www.oecd.org/document/18/ 0,3343,en_2649_34255_1815186_1_1_1_1,00&&en-USS_01DBC.html

[28] Singer, E. (2008). Ethical issues in surveys. In E. D. deLeeuw, J. J. Hox, D. A. Dillman. (Eds.), International handbook of survey methodology (pp. 78-96). New York/London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates/Taylor & Francis Group.

[29] Sugarman, J., Popkin, B., Fortney, J., & Rivera, R. (2001). International perspectives on protecting human research subjects. In Ethical and policy issues in international research: Clinical trials in developing countries, Vol. II: Commissioned Papers and Staff Analysis. E1-30. Bethesda, Maryland. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://bioethics.georgetown.edu /nbac/pubs.html

[30] Twumasi, P. A. (2001). Social research in rural communities (Second edition). Accra, Ghana: Ghana Universities Press.

[31] United States Department of Commerce. (2000). Safe Harbor overview. Retrieved June 9, 2008, from http://www.export.gov/safeharbor/SH_Overview.asp

[32] United States Department of Health and Human Services Office for Human Research Protections. (2005). US code of federal regulations, Title 45, Part 46. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.hhs.gov
/ohrp/humansubjects/guidance/45cfr46.htm#46.102

[33] United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2008). Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP): International Issues. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.hhs.gov /ohrp/international/

[34] United States Government Printing Office. (1949-1953).Trials of war criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals under Control Council Law No. 10. Nuremberg, October 1946 - April 1949 (The Nuremberg Code). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.hhs.gov /ohrp/references/nurcode.htm

[35] Victoria, N.A. (1968). Encuesta sobre el condicionamiento socio-cultural de la fecundidad en areas marginales, urbanas metropolitanas, ladino rurales e indigenas-tradicionales. Guatemala: ICAPF/IDEASAC Paper.

[36] Warwick, D. P. (1983). The politics and ethics of field research. In M. Bulmer & D. P. Warwick (Eds.), Social research in developing countries (pp. 315-330). New York: Wiley.

[37] World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR). (n.d.). WAPOR code of professional ethics and practices. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.unl.edu /WAPOR/ethics.html

[38] World Health Organization (WHO). (2000). Operational guidelines for ethics committees that review biomedical research. Geneva: WHO. Document TDR/PRD/ETHICS/2000.I. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.who.int /tdr/publications/publications/ethics.htm

[39] World Medical Association (WMA). (1964). Declaration of Helsinki: Ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects (adopted 18th WMA General Assembly, Helsinki, Finland, June 1964; amended 29th WMA General Assembly, Tokyo, Japan, October 1975; 35th WMA General Assembly, Venice, Italy, October 1983; 41st WMA General Assembly, Hong Kong, September 1989; 48th WMA General Assembly, Somerset West, Republic of South Africa, October 1996; and 52nd WMA General Assembly, Edinburgh, Scotland, October 2000. Notes of Clarification added by the WMA General Assembly, Washington 2002 and Toyko 2004). Ferney-Voltaire, France: WMA. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from http://www.wma.net /e/policy/b3.htm

[40] World Psychiatric Association (WPA). Declaration of Madrid (adopted WPA General Assembly, Madrid, Spain, August 1996; and enhanced by the WPA General Assemblies in Hamburg, Germany on August 8, 1999, in Yokohama, Japan, on August 26, 2002, and in Cairo, Egypt, on September 12, 2005). Geneva: WPA. Retrieved September 7, 2008, from http://www.wpanet.org/content /madrid-ethic-engish.shtml

Return to top

Previous chapter | Next chapter | Home

© 2008 The authors of the Guidelines hold the copyright. Please contact us if you wish to\n publish any of this material in any form.