All research should be carried out to the highest ethical standards. It’s important to: protect the respondent or respondents; help ensure good quality research; and maintain the integrity of the research industries who depend on goodwill to attract future respondents.
Imagine my dismay, then, at reading that research carried out by the Troubled Families Unit doesn’t seem to have thought about the ethical implications of their research.
Compounding the issue is that this wasn’t a piece of general research, but research where vulnerable members of society were the principal respondent.
Summarising Nick Bailey’s original blog post on the subject, the research seems to have made the following crucial errors:
- Respondents were not free to decline to participate or to withdraw, a basic tenet of ethical research.
- Bailey suggests that the identity of the respondents might not be protected.
- The department’s definition of ‘social research’ and defining the research as a ‘dipstick/informal information gathering’ is dubious.
Neglecting ethical standards has arguably harmed the respondents involved, the social research industry and the government, and I’d certainly take a closer look at the method section and results.
Getting it Right
Getting the ethics right is so crucial for your research; you can’t afford to get it wrong or it will harm your brand. You even need to consider the ethical needs of a straightforward online survey.
The easiest way to make sure you meet your ethical obligations is to employ a market research or social research professional. For a minimal cost they can protect your respondents, the industry (which is important to ensure there are respondents in the future) and your brand.