This ESRC framework for research ethics sets out good practice for social science research, detailing our principles and expectations from researchers, research organisations (ROs) and research ethics committees (RECs).
This guidance should be observed by ESRC-funded researchers and ROs, and may be useful to other research-related audiences. It is complementary to the policy and guidelines for good research conduct, the Universities UK concordat to support research integrity and relevant guidance of professional societies and disciplinary bodies.
New situations constantly emerge in the social science arena which require creative approaches to ethics issues. This framework offers general guidance together with useful case studies. It cannot replace the need for self-critical, imaginative and responsible ethical reflection about issues which may arise in the course of research, but it can help guide and illustrate how to proceed.
The six principles of ethical research
Our six key principles for ethical research are:
- research should aim to maximise benefit for individuals and society and minimise risk and harm
- the rights and dignity of individuals and groups should be respected
- wherever possible, participation should be voluntary and appropriately informed
- research should be conducted with integrity and transparency
- lines of responsibility and accountability should be clearly defined
- independence of research should be maintained and where conflicts of interest cannot be avoided they should be made explicit.
Researchers, ROs and RECs should consider ethics issues throughout the lifecycle of a research project and promote a culture of ethical reflection, debate and mutual learning. The lifecycle of research includes the planning and research design stage, the period of funding for the project, and all activities that relate to the project up to,and including, the time when funding has ended. This includes knowledge exchange and impact activities, the dissemination process – including reporting and publication – and the archiving, future use, sharing and linking of data.
Ethics in practice
Ethics issues are best understood within the context of specific research projects, and we encourage the research community to share guidance, experience and solutions to ethics dilemmas to facilitate innovative research. Our ethics case studies highlight some ethics issues encountered by our funded researchers. We welcome suggestions for case studies to add to our portfolio.