Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Research Clearance and Ethical Issues

As I prepare to travel abroad on my fieldwork there are a couple of ethical issues I have had to confront in order to conduct research in Eastern Europe. I obtained human subjects approval all the way back in January because many of the fellowship applications require you to have this approval before you apply. As evident from this and my previous post, preparing to do fieldwork is a long process and actually, I have been planning and preparing for this trip for almost as long as the length of my actual trip will be. 

Human subjects approval is necessary for research involving people since I will be interviewing and observing people I had to get authorization from the human subjects committee at the University of Kansas before I could conduct my research. Some countries also have a human subjects boards within the country or university so I would recommend looking into that before conducting research. Also the European Union has Researcher's Mobility Portals now called EURAXESS in all member countries so researchers can check with those units about research clearance. Here is a link to the main website http://ec.europa.eu/euraxess/index.cfm/general/index Russia and Ukraine have no such authority although some universities have human subjects units so make sure that you cover your bases if you are performing research abroad. Some human subjects units will require you to get this in-country clearance before they will authorize it on the US side. So again I would advise researchers to start thinking about this early!

The issue I am running into now is encrypting my email and computer. Since I will be in an authoritarian and semi-authoritarian countries I have to protect my sources and my files from being infiltrated. Most people advise encrypting your computer but the computer person I work with at KU advised against it because that would mean that he couldn't help me if something went wrong with my computer. I am going to put a password on my computer to protect it. I also keep the names of my subjects separate from their interviews and in different non-descriptive folders on my computer but I feel like there should be more I can do to keep my information safe and I plan on looking further into different types of encryption in the future.

The final ethical issue I am dealing with is hiring someone to transcribe my interviews for me. I will be conducting interviews in Latvian and Russian and decided after spending so much time with the interviews for my master's thesis that I would hire someone to do it for my dissertation. There is a big debate in the scholarly community about this and how it takes you away from your research and inserts other impressions of the interviews into your research. For me it is mostly a time issue because no matter how good your language skills are, a native speaker can always transcribe the text faster. I plan to advise my transcriber to transcribe everything in the interview and then I will go back over an compare them for accuracy. I also take notes during the interview of non-verbal communication which I plan to add to the transcription once it is completed so it's not like I am hiring someone and never looking at their work ever again until I analyze the interviews. I will not have any identifying information in the interviews but just in case I plan to cover my bases and train the research assistant on ethical research practices. At the SSRC seminar the professors developed a human subjects training powerpoint in Russian and I plan on going over this with whoever I hire to help me transcribe.  

This post ended up being way longer than I anticipated but I think ethical issues are very important in conducting research especially when you are traveling to another country to conduct this research. There the do no harm principle is more important than ever because we are outsiders going into a community and in my view we should leave it better and not worse than we found it. If anyone has any advice on encryption or ethical considerations for research I would love to hear about it!

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