If Ethics Committees Were Designed for Ethnography
Fitzgerald, Maureen H.
Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics 2006 June; 1(2): 71-78
WHERE DID THE ETHICS REVIEW PROCESS go wrong for qualitative research, and how can we make it right, or at least better? This paper begins with an excerpt from an ethnography of attempting to attend an ethics review-related workshop, which exemplifies that the ethics-review process is based on epistemological assumptions aligned with positivistic research, and does not fit the qualitative research process. We suggest that a new format for ethics review, based on assumptions associated with qualitative research and ethnography, might be a better fit. In this model the researcher becomes the expert and the committee the learner or ethnographer. In this process the ethics review process is guided by four core open-ended questions that facilitate a fuller and richer exchange of information. The second part of this paper presents strategies that may lessen the risks associated with the unknown or emergent aspects of qualitative research. These strategies include a dual consent process and the co-opting of journal editors or thesis review boards to review ethical considerations prior to publication or sign off, and a renewed focus of ethics training.
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