Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Ethical Issues in Conducting Community-Based Participatory Research: A Narrative Review of the Literature

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Ethical Issues in Conducting Community-Based Participatory Research: A Narrative Review of the Literature

Article excerpt


Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a methodology increasingly used within the social sciences (Banks et al., 2013). CBPR emerged in the 1970s, in concert with critical theories and social change movements, all of which started to influence knowledge building in the social sciences (Healy, 2001). According to Minkler (2004), CBPR is a methodology that is heavily influenced by the theoretical bases of Kurt Lewin's (1948) theory of action, Paulo Freire's (1970) critical pedagogy, and other third world scholars whose aim was to develop "revolutionary approaches to inquiry as a direct counter to the often "colonizing" nature of research to which oppressed communities were subjected" (p. 686). Lewin's (1948) theory of action emphasizes "the active involvement in the research of those affected by the problem under study through a cyclical process of fact-finding, action, and reflection, leading to further inquiry and action for change" (Minkler, 2004, p. 686). Freire's (1970) critical pedagogy accentuates Conscientizaçao, which he theorized was the first step of "praxis," or the action of the oppressed to take action against oppression. Praxis at the collective level produces social transformation (Freire, 1970).

CBPR is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of research methodologies, including participatory research, participatory action research, feminist participatory research, action research, and collaborative inquiry (Minkler, 2004). At its core, they share five key attributes: (i) community as a unit of identity; (ii) an approach for the vulnerable and marginalized; (iii) collaboration and equal partnership throughout the entire research process; iv) an emergent, flexible, and iterative process; and (v) the research process is geared toward social action.

CBPR is an approach that is widely endorsed among social work researchers, as it is aligned with the profession's core mission, values, and principles namely, the pursuit of social justice, self-determination, empowerment, and capacity building, amongst others (Branom, 2012). CBPR, proposed as an alternative to traditional top-down methodologies, is often heralded as a transformative grass-roots approach to research that can facilitate social change particularly for disadvantaged groups and communities (Branom, 2012).

While there is no shortage of literature that highlights the benefits and potential of CBPR, relatively little discussion exists on the ethical issues associated with the methodology (Mikesell, Bromley, & Khodyakov, 2013). In particular, current gaps within the literature include ethical guidance in (i) balancing community values, needs, and identity with those of the individual; (ii) negotiating power dynamics and relationships; (iii) working with stigmatized populations; (iv) negotiating conflicting ethical requirements and expectations from Institutional Review Boards (IRBs); and (v) facilitating social action emerging from the findings. For CBPR's commendable goals and potential to be realized, it is necessary to have a more fulsome discussion of the ethical issues encountered while implementing a CBPR study (Nygreen, 2009). Further, a lack of awareness and critical reflection on such ethical considerations may perpetuate the very same problems this methodology seeks to address, namely, inequality, oppression, and marginalization.

The purpose of this article is to provide a narrative review of the literature that identifies ethical issues that may arise from conducting CBPR studies, and the recommendations by researchers to mitigate such challenges. Before presenting the methods, findings, and discussion, we situate ourselves within this topic, by providing a brief overview of our backgrounds, interests in the topic, and our investments and intentions for this paper.

Backgrounds of Authors

Crystal Kwan

I am a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.