“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.” – Potter Stewart
Ethics is something that needs to be taken seriously when outlining and undertaking any form of primary research. Previously, I have discussed my proposal of using design probes and unstructured interviews to gain insights and further my understanding of Anxiety Disorders (AD). The “Research Ethics: Checklist for Approval” has a series of questions that will allow me to identify whether or not I will need to seek approval by the Faculty of Research Ethics Committee (FREC).
After completing this form I was fairly certain my research would not need FREC approval however, there was one question that I’d been unable to answer “Is there any reasonable and foreseeable risk of physical or emotional harm to any participant?” I believed the answer to that question was no, my reasons for this was because it was anonymous, participants could stop at any point and it was voluntary. Nonetheless, I seeked advice form my module tutor Jackie Leaver who also believed I wouldn’t need approval. But, she had a meeting with two other staff members both who had a lot of knowledge and expertise surrounding this topic. She kindly offered to take my proposal to them and ask their opinion.
When Jackie returned she explained that this project would be an ‘ethical minefield.’ AD is a clinical condition therefore, participant would be considered vulnerable. Furthermore, my research has the potential to open up a conversation that I am not equipped to deal with i.e drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, suicidal thoughts etc. Therefore, getting ethical clearance would be a monumental task and would essential turn my project into an ethics one. This was something I wanted to avoid.
Jackie did offer some alternative routes that wouldn’t require me to seek ethical approval from FREC. Her first suggestion was to talk to a professional within the industry (third party) that would be able to discuss their experiences, insights and stories (although they are bound by confidentiality and data protection so any details of the suffer would remain private) of dealing with AD. Another possibility could to talk to people on the other end of the spectrum. A person who is able to cope with Anxiety extremely well in day-to-day life, a person not on the AD spectrum.
At the time, I did not think my research would need ethical approval having purposefully designing it this way. It is my responsibility as a Master student to ensure that that I go through these processes and learn from them. I recognise that this process has made me more aware, and is something that will continue to crop up throughout my professional career.
Having discussed this issue with Jackie fully I now understand why my outlook was a little naive, even if it has left me feeling disappointed and un-motivated. At this point it was important for me to talk to Ben and let him know the outcome. Together, we were able to come up some ideas of potential avenues of alternative data collection and how I can move forward exploring concepts I had designed in the Crazy Six’s exercise. My task over the next couple of weeks is to:
- Email student support, the wellness centre and a local charity.
- Condense my idea focusing specifically on Social Anxiety Disorder.
- Collect existing data and first hand accounts from sources like YouTube, TedTalks, short films and documentaries.
- Start taking creative risks turning those testimonies into something tangible.