Engaging with ethics

Glenys Forsyth considers what research ethics might look like for practitioners undergoing a professional practice qualification.

Choices Derek Bruff CC BY NC 2.0 1920x1080

The ethical principles underpinning the current research ethics system were developed based on a bio-medical ethical model. The assumption is that these principles are valid and applicable in all research situations. However, with the growth of social research and particularly practitioner research, increasingly the ethics system is seen as inappropriate for research that sits outside of a bio-medical context. The tensions created by a process considered ill-fitting for practitioner research appear to have led to a mindset that ethics is an add on, thus a process to circumvent. Despite a plethora of literature espousing this, the voices of practitioner researchers and those who support them appear to be missing. 

For these reasons Glenys Forsyth, an Advanced Facilitator in our College of Work Based Learning, began research to gain understanding of where research ethics practice rests in the thinking of practitioner researchers and those who support these practitioners through their practice inquiry process. Participants were drawn from those who had / were completing a professional practice qualification (learner) and those who supported them through this process (mentor). Following an initial on-line survey, respondents indicated their willingness to be interviewed by the researcher. In total, six learner and three mentor interviews were completed. 

Ethics relates to our ways of behaviour and ways of being, that make the distinction between good and bad and what is morally right and wrong. From the interview data, Glenys identified three dimensions as being important to developing an understanding of the scope of ethics:

  • Ethical self: Researchers need to have awareness of their moral codes and what drives their behaviour, understanding themselves in terms of their personal values, professional values, and the values of the organisation for which they work and the tensions between these is vital. Glenys's model assumes that the researcher’s personal ethics and professional ethics are fully integrated.
  • Researcher responsibility: Building, nurturing, and maintaining trusting relationships throughout the changing landscape of the research is the researcher’s responsibility. The concept of research ethics is likely to be new for professional practice researchers.  
  • Institutional ethics: This refers to the formal ethical review process required by the institution at which the research is undertaken. Participants saw this as a constructive learning and developmental process that helped them to identify gaps and / or blind spots in their research ethical thinking.

This model provides a framework for mentors of professional practice researchers to use to introduce them to the what and why of ethics early in their research journey. Glenys recommends explaining the connections between the ethical self, researcher responsibility, and institutional ethics. Practitioner researchers should come to see ethics not as a compliance task, but as a valuable practice to engage in.

June 2023

Image credit: Derek Bruff. Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial license 2.0.

Glenys Forsyth

Advanced Facilitator
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Published on 11 Oct 2023