Ethics implications may be difficult or impossible to quantify or anticipate in full prior to the start of a research project, especially in longitudinal or ethnographic research. Researchers should endeavour to determine possible ethics issues and how these will be managed (not least through the methodological strategy and instruments they adopt) and the relevant ethics review that will be required.
Where anticipated, we expect researchers to assess the likelihood and magnitude of potential ethics issues that may arise during the research lifecycle and develop strategies and a framework of responsibilities in advance. For example, when doing research in sensitive cultural environments or with populations which are considered vulnerable, researchers may find themselves in situations of increased responsibilities and expectations which may not fall within the research's objectives and scope. Researchers should abide by their legal obligations and maintain the integrity of the research project. Guidance and support from research ethics committees and research organisations are valuable resources in dealing with such situations.
Our ethics case studies illustrate how different projects carry potentially different ethics issues. However, not all risks that are identified within a project can or should be avoided, and risks should be measured against the expected benefits of the research. But it is important that researchers, research organisations and research ethics committees develop awareness of potential and emerging ethics issues.
Projects that involve researchers or partners from more than one area of expertise or discipline can have further ethics implications, especially where the research team includes researchers or partners from non-social science areas or non-academic organisations. For example, social science researchers working with medical researchers who undertake qualitative research as part of a non-clinical trial should be aware of potential issues when working in interdisciplinary research. The form of vigilance required for the management of physical risk in medical or biomedical research is usually inappropriate for the management of the risks that may apply in social science research. Equally, non-academic partners (eg in some forms of participatory research, or when working with other professionals such as filmmakers) may have different understandings and experiences of ethics requirements. Research ethics committees should provide guidance and advice to researchers about ways in which risks can be minimised and participants protected from harm, while at the same time offering advice on the different degrees and prioritisation of risk.