Utilizing Participants' Strengths to Reduce Risk of Harm in a Study of Family Estrangement
Qualitative health research 2011 Aug; 21(8): 1136-46
In this article I examine some issues involved in researching vulnerable populations and sensitive issues, and the challenges and risks of researching issues of a deeply personal nature. Participants might have complex needs and vulnerabilities, but they also have many resources to ensure their own well-being. I ask researchers to move beyond the minimum standards espoused by human ethics committees, and utilize participant strengths to further reduce the risk of harm. My reflections on a study of older people who were experiencing family estrangement highlight some of the actions that participants used to increase their personal safety. I discuss the usefulness of "strengths" questions in assessing risk and facilitating participant strengths to minimize harm. Finally, I propose a three-way model for reducing risk that involves the "lessons learned" from ethics committees, researchers, and the participants themselves.
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