Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Unraveling Ethics: Reflections from a Community-Based Participatory Research Project with Youth

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Unraveling Ethics: Reflections from a Community-Based Participatory Research Project with Youth

Article excerpt

There is limited literature describing the ethical dilemmas that arise when conducting community-based participatory research. The following provides a case example of ethical dilemmas that developed during a multi-method community-based participatory action research project with youth in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Several ethical dilemmas emerged during the course of the study related to the community in which the research was being undertaken, the recruitment of participants, and the overall research process. As important are possible harms that may arise when the researcher is no longer involved. These ethical dilemmas and potential solutions are discussed in relation to social work research and community-based practice to raise awareness about the essential role of community in informing ethical research practices. Key Words: Ethical Dilemmas, Participatory Action Research, and Youth Engagement

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The ethical issues in community-based participatory research or community development work have not been explored or reported substantially within social work literature. One reason for this could be the absence of a clear definition of communitybased participatory research in mainstream social science research methodology textbooks. Community-based research is "a partnership of students, faculty, and community members who collaboratively engage in research with the purpose of solving a pressing community problem or effecting social change" (Strand, Marullo, Cutforth, Stoecker, & Donahue, 2003, p. 3). It could include a geographic community or a target population. Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a similar approach in that it "enlists research respondents as co-researchers who participate in defining the research questions, establishing methodology, and interpreting and applying the results" (Rodgers-Farmer & Tripido, 2001, p. 446) with the purpose of some form of social action on behalf of the target population/community. While community-based research and PAR are similar, they differ, primarily, on the role of the research participants in the research design. For the purposes here this idea of community-based participatory research follows from the definition of community-based research but includes the facilitation of a process of participant led social change.

Many social science books throughout the last three decades focus on the basic ethical questions of confidentiality and anonymity, and respecting and protecting the interests of those participating in the research (Bower & de Gasparis, 1978; Israel & Hay, 2006). Some research has explored the importance of considering the impact of research on communities and the subsequent ethical questions that arise as a result (e.g., Weijer, Goldsand, & Emanuel, 1999). Much of the focus of the prior research on ethical issues and communities pertains directly to research conducted in Aboriginal communities. Weijer et al. articulate guidelines to apply to non-Aboriginal communities that relate specifically to the role of the community as a partner in the research beyond informed consent. This work, though, is primarily exploratory and provides little insight relating specifically to ethical dilemmas that require consideration to minimize community harm.

Further examples demonstrate that specific population groups require different ethical considerations when conducting research. For example, Martin and Meezan (2003) identify the need to take further exploratory measures to protect participants from harm and to ensure findings are relevant to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgendered population groups. Similarly, Williams (2005) has articulated the significance of incorporating the historical and present processes generating negative outcomes for racial and ethnic minority research participants in the ethical framework of a research project, and Walsh and MacMillan (2006) developed recommendations for ethical research practices with maltreated youth. …

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