I.  Purposes of Research
II.  Subject Matter of Research
III.  Research Methods Used
IV.  Institutional Review Boards
V.  Issues for Administrators

    Ethical issues arise due to the purposes of research, the subject matter of research, and the types of methods that are used.

I. Purposes of research

    However lofty the stated purposes of research, the products of research in the public sector may be to provide tools for manipulation and control for some segments of society at the expense of others. For example, the tendency to describe some populations as deviant leads away from focusing on larger problems of the distribution of political, economic, and social power. Social scientists need to be aware of the possible uses to which their research may be put.

    Research should not only enhance the researcher's career, but also benefit the group, organization, or population studied. Those who fund and conduct research also reap its benefits. Yet there is little funding to explore alternatives to the status quo.

II. Subject matter

    What populations can be studied with little risk or harm? Are there some populations which are routinely subjects of research, while others are ignored? Populations with little social or political power (e.g., children, the elderly, the poor, mentally disabled, students, patients, criminals, delinquents, addicts, the military, etc.) are often targets of research, while those with substantial power are not.

    Those who "own" or "run" organizations are usually in charge of the research that goes on in them. The people who are the "subjects" of the research may have neither the power to shape the research nor the ability to refuse to participate.

A. Is participation voluntary?

1. Participants must be voluntary and not coerced.

2. Participants cannot be threatened with a loss of other, unrelated benefits (e.g., food stamps, bilingual education)

3. Participants cannot be offered unreasonably large inducements to participate (e.g., prisoners)

4. Information must be provided about all risks or potential risks of participation, including physical harm, pain, discomfort, embarrassment, loss of privacy, exposure to illness, etc.

5. Information must be provided about all benefits or potential benefits of participation, for example, free health care, monetary incentives, the value of the research to science, etc.

6. The ratio of risks to benefits should be stated

7. Are the benefits sufficient to allow participants to put themselves at risk? Should the study be done at all?

8. Are the participants' rights and well being sufficiently protected?

9. Are the means of obtaining informed consent adequate and appropriate?

10. Participants can withdraw from the study at any time, refuse to comply with any part of the study, and refuse to answer any questions.

III. Methods

    Most ethical violations correspond to illegitimate use of the investigator's power. Researchers need to be trained to be concerned, as social scientists, with people as well as with research design, methodology, etc.

A. Ethical concerns include:

1. Involvement without consent:
through participant observation or covert observation;
through unknown intervention in ongoing programs or operations;
through field experiments.

2. Disguising the true nature or purpose of the research:
the way it will be used is not revealed;
information is withheld that would affect informed consent;

3. Deceiving the research participant:
to conceal the purpose of the research;
to conceal the true function of the participants' actions;
to conceal the experiences the participants will have to undergo;

4. Leading participants to commit acts that lessen their self-esteem:
cheating, lying, stealing;
harming others;
yielding to social pressure contrary to one's ideas;
prohibiting the rendering of aid when needed;
behavioral control or character change;
denial of the right to self-determination;

5. Coercion that abridges freedom of choice
research is linked to participation in organizational or institutional programs;
"requests for participation" are worded in such a way that it is difficult to say no;
participation is made a requirement of a college course;

6. Physical or mental stress:
threat to identity
emotional shock

7. Invasion of Privacy:
covert observation;
unnecessary questions of a personal nature on interviews or questionnaires;
disguised, indirect, or projective tests;
using third-party information without consent;

    It is also the ethical responsibility of the researcher to ensure that the data are accurately collected, coded, entered, analyzed, and interpreted, so as not to perform a disservice to the subject population.

After the project is over, the researcher should:
remove any harmful after-effects from the participants;
maintain anonymity and/or confidentiality;
publish the findings in reports and articles;
store the data for use by other researchers in the future;
inform participants of the results if they so choose;
inform colleagues and professional associates of the research.


IV. Institutional Review Boards

    In 1991, the federal government adopted a uniform policy for the protection of human subjects. All organizations that receive federal funds must have an Institutional Review Board. A. IRBs review all proposed research involving human subjects to ensure that:

1. Risks must be minimized; vulnerable populations may not be abused;

2. Risks must be reasonable in relation to the benefits of the study

3. The selection of subjects must be equitable

4. Subjects may not be coerced into participating

5. Informed consent must be obtained appropriately and documented

6. Data collection must be monitored to assure subjects' safety

7. Adequate protection of subjects' privacy and confidentiality of data

    Exemptions are normally granted for most surveys and observations of public behavior, unless the individuals can be identified and the data could impact their finances, employment, or reputation if made public. Some public demonstration projects (experiments or quasi-experiments) may also be exempt.

V. Issues for Administrators

    Informed consent statements should accompany any research project not exempted by the conditions set by the IRB.
A. These statements should include:

1. The general purpose of the research
2. Whom the participant can contact with questions or complaints
3. How and why the respondent was selected
4. Information about all procedures to be conducted and the time it will last
5. Information about any risks, inconveniences, or discomforts
6. Notification of the participant's participation is voluntary, that they may refuse to answer any question, and that they may withdraw at any time
7. Information about the benefits of the research
8. The extent of anonymity or confidentiality
9. What will be done with the data
10. Obtain a written or verbal agreement from the respondent to participate

B. Administrators may also have clients whom other researchers may want to contact for other projects. Administrators:

1. have an obligation to protect agency personnel and clients
2. must ensure that clients' benefits are not affected by research
3. should review the Informed Consent form for the research
4. should obtain an agreement about what will be done with the data
5. should be aware if the research will result in any program or service changes
6. should ascertain what will happen to programs created by the research, once the project is over
7. should understand where findings will be reported
8. should decide if the research is appropriate for the public sector, or whether it will be a waste of time.