Doing no harm? A discussion of ethical challenges and safeguards for researchers “in field"

Friday, October 11th 9:00am – 11:00am

  • Dr. Janina Isabel Steinert, University of Göttingen / University of Oxford (janina.steinert@spi.ox.ac.uk)
    I am a Postdoctoral Researcher in Development Economics at the University of Goettingen, Germany, and hold a PhD from the University of Oxford (Department of Social Policy and Intervention). My research interest lies primarily in the field of development economics, but also draws on aspects of global health and conflict research. I have gained extensive fieldwork experience from managing two randomised controlled trials and a clinical cohort study in India and South Africa. 

The workshop idea is motivated by a range of ethical challenges that my colleagues and I faced when conducting field research, mostly linked to the following aspects:

a) Emotional burden faced by the researcher (mostly enumerators), which was associated with interviewing vulnerable research participants. In our case, project participants were children who had been sexually and physically abused.

b) Security risks for research staff, which are linked to high criminality and political instability in many study settings, as well as high risk of road accidents.

c) Racial and cultural frictions within multi-nationally composed research teams, often consisting of PIs/project managers from high-income country contexts and local research staff (enumerators, drivers…) from low-income backgrounds.

  • Identifying challenges and ethical frictions that other development researchers have experienced “in field.”
  • Designing solutions and best practice guidelines to address these challenges.
  • In a first step, participants would be put together in small groups and encouraged to talk about their own experiences with fieldwork and the challenges that they have faced when implementing field research. The challenges would be collated on a poster and then presented to the whole group. 
  • In a second step, the challenges defined in step 1 would be assigned to different groups. Each of the groups would then engage in a brainstorming exercise on how the challenges could be alleviated or overcome. Again, the solutions will be summarized on a poster and then presented to the whole group.

The workshop would be addressed to researchers who have conducted field research, specifically in a low- or middle-income country. The workshop would offer a “safe space” for participants to share their experiences and challenges and also to learn about possible coping strategies and best practices for future research projects.

  • Recommendations and guidelines on how to conduct safe and ethical field research.