Our first scenario raised questions about the process of obtaining consent.
Check the original post here: https://sebstudentblog.com/2021/11/01/ethics-scenario-for-discussion/
The Principle of Educated Prior Informed Consent in our society’s Code of Ethics reads: “Educated prior informed consent must be established before any research is undertaken, at individual and collective levels, as determined by community governance structures. Prior informed consent is recognised as an ongoing process that is based on relationship and maintained throughout all phases of research. This principle recognises that prior informed consent requires an educative process that employs bilingual and intercultural education methods and tools, as appropriate, to ensure understanding by all parties involved. Establishing prior informed consent also presumes that all directly affected communities will be provided complete information in an understandable form regarding the purpose and nature of the proposed programme, project, study or activities, the probable results and implications, including all reasonably foreseeable benefits and risks of harm (be they tangible or intangible) to the affected communities. Indigenous peoples, traditional societies and local communities have the right to make decisions on any programme, project, study or activities that directly affect them. In cases where the intentions of proposed research or related activities are not consistent with the interests of these peoples, societies or communities, they have a right to say no.” (https://www.ethnobiology.net/what-we-do/core-programs/ise-ethics-program/code-of-ethics/code-in-english/)
The Code of Ethics reminds us it is important to obtain consent at both individual and collective levels. In this case, local officials have granted permission for the research project, but they are unlikely to represent the diverse perspectives within their community. When you ask each individual for consent, you receive a range of responses. Healer 1 is eager to participate, emphasizing that it will benefit their community. Healer 2 does not provide consent based on their negative experience with a prior research project. Healer 3 initially provides consent but is reticent to share information because it may be misused. Healer 4 also provides consent but later asks you not to share the information as it would negatively impact their livelihood.
One option is to exclude Healers 2, 3 and 4 and work only with Healer 1. However, Healers 3 and 4 raise a concern that sharing information from Healer 1 could have negative impacts on others in their community. Healer 1 may not have considered these impacts when they consented to the interview, since these concerns were not identified in the consent process. From our perspective, an appropriate course of action would be to organize a community meeting to discuss the benefits and potential harms of the research project. As a researcher, you need to be open to shifting the focus of the research and/or modifying your approach to address these concerns. For example, you might find a way to write and publish an analysis that does not disclose specific uses, or you might decide to refocus your research on another species that is widely known within the community and does not pose any risk through misuse.
In any case, involving the community as early as possible in the research design will help avoid and address these kinds of challenges.
We did not receive any responses to the blog post, or sent to the Ethics Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org, but we hope it led to some discussions of the ethical questions we encounter in our research. The next Ethics Scenario will be posted on Friday the 22nd.