I wrote this book for several reasons. First, I was frustrated by the way existing research ethics books address the topic as though it exists in isolation. Second, I felt even more frustrated by the reductive approach to ethics taken by many research ethics committees and institutional review boards. In early 2015, when I was starting to think about the book in earnest, I analysed all the ethics application forms then lodged with TREAD. Those forms came from researchers around the world, yet they were startling in their similarity of focus. All were primarily concerned with participant well-being, some were also concerned with secure data storage, and a few expressed an interest in researcher well-being. And that was it. None of them questioned researchers about their ethical stance with respect to other aspects of research work; not even data analysis, where we know much misconduct occurs, nor dissemination, presentation of findings, working with literature, or the research question itself.
My initial plan was to write a book that would do two things. First, it would show how research ethics was inextricably linked with individual, social, professional, institutional and political ethics. Second, it would demonstrate the need for ethical thinking and action at all stages of the research process. I began working towards that end, interviewing people around the world and reading as much as I could. But then, in July 2016, I went to a seminar that developed my views further. The seminar’s topic was post-colonial and Indigenous research methods, and it was presented by three Indigenous researchers: Professor Bagele Chilisa from Botswana, Professor Helen Moewaka Barnes from New Zealand, and Dr Deborah McGregor from Canada. They explained that Indigenous research methods and ethics form a different paradigm from Euro-Western research and ethics.
I read Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies soon after it came out in 1999 and again when she published her second edition in 2012. But I didn’t know of any other literature about Indigenous research until I attended that seminar. The presenters opened my eyes to a growing body of literature on Indigenous research and ethics, and I began to read from that too. I learned that the Indigenous research paradigm pre-dates the Euro-Western research paradigm by tens of thousands of years. The Indigenous approach to ethics is very different from the Euro-Western approach, and – to me at least – fascinating.
I am not suggesting Euro-Western researchers should adopt or co-opt Indigenous ethical ways, or vice versa. Both ethical systems have developed with and from specific societies and cultures, and they are not directly transferable. I am suggesting that Euro-Western researchers could benefit from learning about Indigenous research ethics and considering them alongside our own ethical paradigm. So in my book, I have drawn on Indigenous literature alongside Euro-Western literature throughout, with the aim of providing a wider knowledge base than we could achieve by focusing on one paradigm alone. And I have demonstrated the links between research and other types of ethics, as well as offering practical examples and advice on managing ethical issues at each stage of the research process from planning to aftercare. If you’d like to know more, you can find the book here – sign up to the publisher’s e-newsletter for a hefty discount.