Children's Research Centre
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Ethical Research Principles

A number of research associations provide guidance for the conduct of ethical research. One such association is the British Education Research Association (BERA) which provides guidelines for anyone undertaking educational research. These guidelines are widely applicable to research ‘with’ and ‘by’ children and a wide range of social as well as educational research topics (BERA Ethical Guidelines 2018).

The last principle of the BERA principles to ‘maximise benefit and minimise harm’ to participants, is an intuitive and useful general principle to keep in mind. It prompts us to consider potential sources of harm referenced in the other principles.

BERA also provides two further helpful points for researchers:

  • Guidelines are not a set of prescriptive ways of conducting research. Instead they set out collective principles to which researchers should commit to comprising an ‘ethic of respect’ for ‘the person; knowledge; democratic values,’ the quality and integrity of research and the maintenance of ‘Trust’ between researcher and researched (BERA, 2018, p.3)
  • Ethical decision making ‘becomes an active deliberative, ongoing and iterative process of assessing and reassessing the situation and issues as they arise’ (BERA, 2018, p2).

These principles can guide researchers to plan and conduct research which has the well-being of children and young people at the heart of an inquiry – throughout the inquiry. Importantly, ethical considerations are not something that are simply considered in planning an ethical research project and then forgotten.

Five ethical principles shaping Social Science Research (BERA, 2018)

BERA’s guidelines are shaped by five ethical principles agreed by the Academy of Social Sciences (AcSS) in 2015 which help to frame ethical concerns which underly the practicalities of planning and conducting research:

  1. Social science is fundamental to a democratic society, and should be inclusive of different interests, values, funders, methods and perspectives.
  2. All social science should respect the privacy, autonomy, diversity, values and dignity of individuals, groups and communities.
  3. All social science should be conducted with integrity throughout, employing the most appropriate methods for the research purpose.
  4. All social scientists should act with regard to their social responsibilities in conducting and disseminating their research.
  5. All social science should aim to maximise benefit and minimise harm. (BERA, p.4)

(Emphasis added) (BERA Ethical Guidelines, 2018).

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