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Equality and ethical research statement

Professional integrity

Research conducted by the NIHR Health & Social Care Workforce Research Unit is a valuable activity and contributes to the wellbeing of society. Members of the Unit strive to maintain the integrity and freedom to research and study, and to publish and promote the results of the Unit’s research including making data available for the use of researchers in the future.

Unit members have a responsibility both to safeguard the interests of those involved in or affected by their work, and to report their findings accurately and truthfully. They need to consider the effects of their involvement and the consequences of their work or its misuse for those they study and other interested parties. We abide by national laws and administrative regulations (for example, the Data Protection Act 1998, the Human Rights Act 1998, copyright and libel laws, Equality Act 2010) as they affect the conduct of our research, data dissemination and storage, publication and rights of research subjects.

Social researchers face a range of potential risks to their own safety. Safety issues, such as lone working while undertaking fieldwork, are considered in the design and conduct of the Unit’s social research projects and procedures. When appropriate, specific arrangements are made to reduce risks to researchers, as advised by different professional associations, such as the British Sociological Association and the Social Policy Association.

In the Unit’s relations with the media, we take into account the possible impact of our work on the reputation of social care and of social work and our institution host, King’s College London. We refrain from offering detailed expert commentary on our own or others’ research outputs if we feel too much weight may therefore be given by external stakeholders to partial or contentious evidence.

Relations with and responsibilities towards research participants

Unit members, when they carry out research, enter into personal and moral relationships with those they study, be they individuals, households, social groups or corporate entities.

Unit members have a responsibility to ensure that the physical, social and psychological wellbeing of research participants is not adversely affected by the research. We strive to protect the rights of those we study, their interests, sensitivities and privacy, while recognising the difficulty of balancing potentially conflicting interests.

Our research relationships with participants are characterised by trust and integrity, of which confidentiality is a central pillar (see below for more details on our approach to confidentiality). However, where the public interest or the law dictates otherwise and particularly where we discover that participants are in immediate danger, due to possible abuse for example, this confidentiality duty may need to be superseded by a duty to protect a vulnerable child or adult. In no circumstances would this confidentiality undertaking be discarded lightly, and participants are advised of situations where confidentiality can be broken in our information leaflets and consent forms. 

Consent procedures

Participation in our research is based on the freely given informed consent of those studied, usually involving a written and signed record. This implies a responsibility on the Unit to explain in appropriate detail, and in terms meaningful to participants, what the research is about, who is undertaking and financing it, why it is being undertaken, and how it is to be disseminated and used.

In some situations, access to a research setting is gained via a 'gatekeeper'. In these situations Unit members adhere to the principle of obtaining informed consent directly from the research participants to whom access is sought, while at the same time taking account of the gatekeeper's interests; for example, gaining additional research approval(s) if required.

Research participants are always made aware of their right to refuse participation whenever and for whatever reason they wish.

Unit members ensure that research participants understand how far they will be afforded anonymity and confidentiality and that they are able to reject the use of datagathering devices, such as voice recorders and video cameras.

Members of the Unit consider carefully the possibility that participation in research may be disturbing or distressing, and attempt to find ways to minimise or alleviate any distress caused to those participating in research.

Special care is taken where research participants are particularly vulnerable by virtue of factors such as age, disability, or possible problems with their physical or mental health. Researchers take into account the legal and ethical complexities involved in those circumstances where there are particular difficulties in eliciting fully informed consent.

Unit members respect participants, researchers, practitioners and other partners from all backgrounds, and of different ethnicities, age, gender, religion, sexual orientation and social class, and strive to ensure that all individuals are treated fairly with dignity and respect. 

Dissemination

We acknowledge that in our dissemination activities, we have a responsibility to play a role in minimising the chances of misuse. We therefore make a strenuous effort to give clear interpretations, which are warranted by the data.

Furthermore, we give full information on how research was undertaken; the limits imposed by the research design/s; and /or the practicalities and circumstances of the particular project.

However, we also acknowledge that in the last analysis we may not be in a position to always prevent misinterpretation of our findings; let alone action based on such misinterpretation.

Anonymity, privacy and confidentiality

The anonymity and privacy of those who participate in the research process are respected. Personal information concerning research participants is kept securely and confidential.

Appropriate measures are taken to store research data in a secure manner, with personal information usually kept in separate files. Where appropriate and practicable, methods for preserving anonymity are used including the removal of identifiers, the use of pseudonyms, and other technical means for breaking the link between data and identifiable individuals. 

Relations with and responsibilities towards sponsors and/or funders

The Unit ensures that sponsors and/or funders appreciate the obligations that researchers have not only to them, but also to society at large, research participants and professional colleagues and the research community. The relationship between sponsors or funders and the Unit is formulated to enable research to be undertaken professionally.

The Unit undertakes research with a view to providing information or explanation rather than being constrained to reach particular conclusions or prescribe particular courses of action. 

Equality and diversity

All research undertaken in the Unit aims to produce findings that reflect the populations we serve. Consequently, we make efforts to ensure that participation in our projects is from representative groups, ensuring that ‘seldom heard’ groups are included. Furthermore, we seek to ensure that no one is excluded from our studies on the grounds of ethnicity, gender, age, religious beliefs, sexuality or disability, and that our analyses address issues of discrimination and the different experiences of groups within society. 

Ethical approvals

In order to ensure that research undertaken by the Unit has identified all relevant ethical issues, and in order to comply with the requirements of funders and gatekeepers, we seek ethics approval from an authoritative, independent source if appropriate. Typically this means submitting research to the national Social Care Research Ethics Committee, but can sometimes involve other National Research Ethics Service research ethics committees or university ethics committees. Approval from such bodies provides those we ask to take part in research with independent reassurance that we have considered ethical issues that may arise. 

Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge the Statement of Ethical Practice drawn up by the British Sociological Association, the Social Policy Association’s Guidelines on Research Ethics and material provided by the Diversity and Equality Department, King’s College London in drawing up this statement.

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