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Do My Ethics Look Big In This?

Updated: Jul 20, 2018

Ethics by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0

Universities should be about more than developing work skills. They must also be about producing civic-minded and critically-engaged citizens - citizens who can engage in debate, dialogue and bear witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance. Henry Giroux, 2013

What do we mean when we talk of producing civic-minded and critically-engaged citizens; how might this be done and by whom?

You may wonder what this quote has to do with CoDesRes, but the production of civic-minded and critically-engaged citizens is a pursuit that involves ethical considerations. Giroux states that this is something universities should be engaged with and in turn, this responsibility will fall to academics and researchers, which leads us to the issue of ethics.

CoDesRes contribution to Giroux's understanding of the universities' remit is threefold;

  • the pCr praxis that the project uses was developed to embed an ethos of social and environmental justice in its processes and encourage whole systems thinking for self-organisation

  • the aim of the project is to utilise and iterate this methodology through pedagogical and community contexts

  • within these contexts it is hoped that the ability to critically think through concerns and develop creative solutions through collaboration for civic ends

and will therefore involve in this instance, opening up a number of ethical considerations. Although, the project is low risk, many of our participants are considered vulnerable; children, mature minors, elders or those differently-abled, which has meant we have had to submit for a full ethical review.

The need for ethical clearance

The protection of human participants within research is a high priority for researchers and research projects, necessary to prevent irresponsible practices and unethical behaviour when contributing to the production of knowledge and human understanding. Past abuses have been documented extensively e.g. Josef Mengele’s experiments in Auschwitz, Wendell Johnson’s study with orphan children or Lauretta Bender’s research at Creedmore Hospital, such practices are now regulated against through national and international guidelines.

Research Ethics Committee approval must be granted before any data can be gathered for research that involves human participants, and UCD’s Office of Research Ethics insures that projects are in accordance with local, national and international policies.

UCD’s Research Ethics committee, Sciences are the body to which CoDesRes must apply, to to insure an independent assessment of the research and its methods. In line with national and international policies and UCD's full ethical review process we must address the following issues in our submission;

  • our overall plan and goals

  • our research methods including data-gathering and analysis

  • how we will recruit participants

  • how we will protect any sensitive information in line with the GDPR

  • how we will dealing with or responding to any unexpected events or findings

  • and how we interpret and disseminate our findings

This includes providing examples of recruitment information; informed consent letters for parents, children and other participants; questionaires, surveys and focus groups, leaving the study forms; as well as child protection policies; insurance and risk assessments; debriefing documents and how we will share the information and when.

To insure participation in the study conforms to ethical standards of informed consent – information for the participants must use accessible language so that their consent is given on the basis of fully understanding the process. This means a clear description of the projects and the requirements of the participants as well as highlighting benefits and risks and insuring these are clearly understood.

Generally, the benefits must out weigh the risks and all risks to individuals should be minimised. Clear communication channels and procedures should enable participants to ask questions and if they wish, inform the research team that they no longer want to participate. All participants are free to leave any research study at any time.

Training and Protocols

In addition,internal protocols such as Garda Vetting, Child Protection policies, alignment with General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and Training in GDPR, research methods and research integrity further insure ethical standards and best practice.

The CoDesRes team has extensive experience of working within diverse constituencies and with diverse participants; children, youth, elders, international students, inter-cultural groups and mixed and differently-abled groups including those with mental health issues and spectrum conditions.

The project has a child protection and vulnerable adults policy in line with TUSLA recommendations and also will be adhering to local institutional policy where relevant e.g. Coláiste na Sceilge’s safeguarding and child-protection procedures, The O’Connell Centre with project activities covered by public liability insurance.

The team have worked in a broad range of educational contexts; formal and informal with individual team members holding qualifications in inclusive teaching and learning as well as first and second level education. By consequence, the team are Garda Vetted multiple times and by numerous organisations; UCD; Kerry ETB; Kerry CoCo; the Heritage programme and the Asana School of English

The principal investigator holds research integrity certification in human subject protection, health and safety, conflict of interests and intellectual property, as well as formally recognised certification in research methods and GDPR. Other team members will also be completing this training and hold additional qualifications in safeguarding, first aid and survival and management and communications.

The CoDesRes ethical submission’s supporting documentation totalled 55 pages and detailed extensive processes and procedures to insure ethical practice and maintain research integrity.

Research integrity

In Ireland, the guiding documents regarding research integrity are as follows:

UCD is a research intensive university with a widening participation agenda and the largest academic institution in Ireland, and one of the main research-performing and research-funding organisations signing the National Policy Statement on Ensuring Research Integrity in Ireland (2014). All the signatories have agreed the following four commitments;

  • Commitment 1 – We are committed to ensuring the highest standards of integrity in all aspects of our research, founded on basic principles of good research practice to be observed by all researchers and research organisations.

  • Commitment 2 – Education and promotion of good research practice are the foundations of research integrity. We are committed to maintaining a national research environment that is founded upon a culture of integrity, embracing internationally recognised good practice and a positive, proactive approach to promoting research integrity. This will include support for the development of our researchers through education and promotion of good research practices.

  • Commitment 3 – We are committed to working together to reinforce and safeguard the integrity of the Irish research system and to reviewing progress regularly.

  • Commitment 4 – We are committed to using transparent, robust and fair processes to deal with allegations of research misconduct when they arise.

To insure the statement remains relevant and adaptive to best practices, a forum was established in 2015 as an outcome of the creation of the National Policy Statement. The forum will steer the research integrity agenda in Ireland in Innovation 2020, the Irish Government strategy for research and innovation, science and technology. Further, it will report annually to the Innovation 2020 Implementation Group, with guidelines for the Investigation of Misconduct in Research, available for adoption locally through integration into the policies of individual research-performing organisations.

UCD is also a member of the Irish Universities Association’s Working Group on Research Integrity and is committed to promoting the performance of research to the highest standards of professionalism and rigour by its staff and students, and to the accuracy and integrity of the of the research record in publications and elsewhere. UCD's Research Integrity Officer is the Registrar, Professor Mark Rogers 

To ensure research upholds research integrity national research funders are incorporating references to the National Policy Statement in their Call documents and award Terms and Conditions. The Environmental Protection Agency, the funders of the CoDesRes project, is one such funder. This gives a clear mandate for CoDesRes to demonstrate research integrity in its approaches to research and upholding best practice in the care and inclusion of its participants.

Inclusive Design

The CoDesRes project and its team sit within SMARTlab and is affiliated to the Inclusive Design Centre Ireland (IDRC), within the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.The IDRC was established in December 2013, to provides the national and international framework for interdisciplinary expertise to deliver on major research programmes in Research, Policy and Practice for Inclusive Design, including Assistive Technologies for People with Intellectual and other abilities and disabilities.

The pCr praxis underpinning the CoDesRes project, is an inclusive situated design-thinking process. Developed to embed social and environmental justice in its methods, inclusion is considered as an integral facet of its design process. As a place-based design intervention the pCr praxis seeks to challenge assumptions, find or re-define problems within geo-specific communities and encourage alternative strategies and solutions that are inclusive and accessible. Rather than challenging top-down or bottom-up approaches to community development, the aim is to encourage an inside-out approach. To do this the key objective of the CoDesRes project is to develop an accessible toolkit that contributes to youth, teacher and communities' self-organisation for resilience.

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