Ethics

ASSR Code of Ethics

Introduction

ASSR brings together those interested in the social sciences as well as social science researchers working in a variety of settings. The membership includes people from throughout New Zealand and overseas. The committee is based in Wellington.

The main functions of ASSR are to support emergent researchers, to provide an avenue for networking, to advocate on behalf of the social sciences, to provide an ethics check and advisory service, and to make submissions.

ASSR members will often be engaged in work that has implications for groups within New Zealand society. It is important that members are aware of the possible implications of their work and that they ensure their work is of a high ethical standard. This code of ethics provides guidelines for ethical behaviour and decision making with respect to the conduct, management, publication and storage of research. Individual social science researchers must take responsibility for their own ethical conduct.

General Principles

  1. ASSR has an open membership policy. This means that membership of ASSR cannot be used as an indication of professional standing or competence. However, it may indicate a member’s interest in the social sciences and in being part of a social science network.
  2. ASSR recognises that members may be involved in research that is more appropriately covered by other professional organisations and that members should belong to the relevant organisation and abide by its code of ethics.
  3. Members shall work to improve the professional standing of social science research.
  4. Members shall act with integrity:
    – towards fellow researchers
    – within their specific disciplines
    – to the Social Sciences
    – to all those involved in the research.
  5. Members should be familiar with the implications of legislation for research and handling of information, such as the Privacy Act, the Human Rights Act, and the Official Information Act; as well as the international treaties to which New Zealand is a party.
  6. Researchers should take all reasonable steps to ensure that research design is appropriate to the values, culture and circumstances of the participants.

Principles Relating to Research Participants

Informed Consent: individuals should be informed about:

  • the purpose of the research;
  • the names of the researchers/agencies conducting the research;
  • what their involvement entails (including the possibility of future contacts by researchers wishing to follow up on the research);
  • their right not to participate and to withdraw their consent at any stage;
  • their access to the information they provide and feedback on the results of the research;
  • the risks and benefits resulting from their participation;
  • what will happen if they report participating in illegal activity – e.g. child abuse (mandatory reporting), or criminal offences.

If deception or covert observation is part of the research, the methodology should be approved by an independent ethics committee to ensure that participants are treated fairly and that adequate debriefing sessions are held with the participants.

When people are in a restricted environment (e.g. prison or residential care situations) or where they have limited decision-making skills (e.g. intellectual impairment or psychiatric disability), consent should be given by the potential participant as well as by a staff member or care giver.

Children should give informed consent on their own behalf, subject to the limitations of the age and maturity of the child, in accordance with Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Normally parental consent is also sought, but there are occasions when the refusal of consent by a parent or caregiver may not be in the best interests of the child (e.g. for a child wishing to take part in research investigating victimisation of children). The best interests of the child should be paramount (Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child).

Freedom from Coercion to Participate: potential participants may not see themselves as having real control over whether or not they participate – (e.g. if the research is done by a government department they may think participation is compulsory). Undue pressure should not be used to persuade people to participate, or to continue participating, in the research.

Individual Privacy: only necessary personal information should be collected.

Confidentiality: if the confidentiality of personal information cannot be guaranteed then participants must be informed at the earliest possible time.

Sensitivity to Participants’ Circumstances: physical and mental harm to the participant should be avoided, and sensitivity given to individual circumstances – e.g. age, gender, cultural background, disabilities, and values.

Principles Relating to Research Personnel

Research personnel may be people employed or contracted by the researcher(s) to undertake specific parts of the research, such as conducting interviews or surveys, and includes support staff.

Preliminary work: prior to undertaking any research, researchers have a responsibility to survey relevant literature and information to determine whether the research is necessary.

Selection: the selection of research personnel conducting fieldwork should take account of their acceptability to, and ability to communicate well with, the research participants.

Awareness: research personnel should be fully informed of their responsibilities as part of the research, and under the code of ethics used for the research.

Training: research personnel should be trained in all aspects of the work required of them.

Supervision/support: supervision must be provided to ensure that research personnel understand what is required of them, and that they are supported in their work. In special circumstances, additional counselling or debriefing sessions may be required.

Confidentiality: research personnel must maintain the confidentiality of personal information.

Accountability: researchers are responsible for taking all reasonable steps to ensure that research personnel conduct their work in a professional manner.

Principles Relating to Researchers Commissioned to do the Research

Before research commences, the principal researcher should clarify with those who commission the research the following:

  • Use of the research: the right of the researcher to use the research results commercially or otherwise, or to publish research and information independently from the client. When research results are published independently by the researcher, the institutional context within which the research took place should be made clear. This includes the objectives of the organisation commissioning the research, the nature and extent of funding, and the role of the organisation in framing and defining the research.
  • Responsibility for use of results: the nature of the responsibility and liability of the researcher regarding the use made of the research results by the client once the research is completed.
  • Multiple clients: when working for a multiplicity of clients who can be, or are in competitive positions, the right to use information and results across projects should be carefully defined.

Principles Relating to Research Reports

Confidentiality: any information which might lead to the identification of participants should only be published with their permission.

Acknowledgement: researchers should acknowledge the due contributions of all people and organisations associated with the research project or publication. They must not pass off as their own work which is rightfully that of others.

Peer Review: researchers should be willing to make draft research reports available for objective peer review.

Feedback of Results: the client/s, participants and research personnel involved in the research, should normally be given a report or a summary of the research findings, or be informed as to how they can access the research findings.

Principles Relating to the Storage of Information

Confidentiality: information should be stored in a way which protects the identity and confidentiality of the participants, and ensures safe custody of the data. Only the researcher should have access to identifying information.

Destruction of Information: information will be destroyed by the researcher in a manner which will maintain confidentiality of information. E.g. shred paper, professionally wipe video and audio tapes (recording over them does not destroy the data), reformat computer disks.

Computer Information: files containing confidential information should not be stored on shared directories nor should they be accessible by Internet. Computer disks, CD ROM and backup tapes should be securely stored. Researchers working in Government departments should be aware that from time to time departmental backups may be taken and this information stored at National Archives.

Archiving and Data Warehousing: researchers must ensure that information is not archived in such a way that participants can be identified at a later stage. Where possible, archived information from the research should be made available to the research community for use in future work.

Future Access to Information: archived information should be fully documented including methodology and rationale.

Association of Social Science Researchers
PO Box 5043
Wellington
New Zealand

March 1996

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