Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Bringing Ethics Up to Date? A Review of the AIATSIS Ethical Guidelines

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Bringing Ethics Up to Date? A Review of the AIATSIS Ethical Guidelines

Article excerpt

Abstract: A revision of the AIATSIS Guidelines for Ethical Research in Indigenous Studies was carried out during 2009-10. The purpose of the revision was to bring the Guidelines up to date in light of a range of critical developments that have occurred in Indigenous rights, research and knowledge management since the previous version of the Guidelines was released in 2000. In this paper I present an outline of these developments, and briefly discuss the review process. I argue that the review, and the developments that it responded to, have highlighted that ethical research needs to be thought about more as a type of behaviour and practice between engaged participants, and less as an institutionalised, document-focused and prescriptive approach.

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There is a close and critical interdependence between the codification of ethical guidelines and the behaviours and practices that constitute good ethical research. These behaviours and practices form part of the context in which ethical codes operate. In considering the operation of the AIATSIS Guidelines for Ethical Research in Indigenous Studies (AIATSIS 2000, 2010), one question that is raised is the relationship between these Guidelines, the framework of national laws and policies, other organisational and institutional ethics and research guidelines and protocols, and, importantly, local and regional community Indigenous protocols and guidelines. The relative roles and relationships between and among different ethical standards and requirements need to be explored beyond the recent review of the AIATSIS Guidelines. As the operational and behavioural contexts in which codified ethical standards are formulated and administered are inseparable from the codes themselves, a better understanding of the varying levels of organisational and institutional governance and management of ethical standards has significant implications for the good conduct of research in Indigenous studies.

In mid-2009 the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) decided to conduct a review of its Guidelines for Ethical Research in Indigenous Studies (AIATSIS 2000). These Guidelines reflect ethical issues and practices in Indigenous research as at 2000, but there have been significant developments and questions in this area in the decade since they were released. In this paper I outline these developments, briefly discuss the process of conducting the review, and point to some of the issues to be considered for future developments in the preparation and operation of ethical research guidelines within institutional settings. As the consultant engaged to conduct this review, I was able to maintain a standpoint that was outside both the AIATSIS milieu and the formal academic research environment. This paper presents an opportunity to reflect on both the review process and the implications of that process for maintaining best practice standards in ethical research in Indigenous studies. The experience of conducting this review has brought into sharper focus a critical point. I suggest that, notwithstanding the importance of documents such as the AIATSIS Guidelines, what should be at the heart of good ethical research are behaviours and practices in an engaged participatory process, rather than an over-dependence on an institutionally based, prescriptive document.

In conducting the review, revisions and amendments to the text of the Guidelines were carried out on the basis of the reviewer's own evaluation and on comments received through the consultation process, which included input from the AIATSIS Research Ethics Committee. A discussion paper formed an essential component of the review process, and was placed on the AIATSIS website (AIATSIS 2010). The review process also provided an opportunity for wider issues to be canvassed. These included the operation of the Guidelines within the broader AIATS1S organisational culture; the role of the Guidelines beyond the duration of a funded research project; and the wider context of governance of ethical standards in organisational and institutional settings. …

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