Cardiff
National Centre for Research Methods
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COMMISSIONED INQUIRY

RISK TO WELL-BEING OF RESEARCHERS IN QUALITATIVE RESEARCH

Please note that this Commissioned Inquiry is now complete.

The final report is now available, to download click here. Please note you will Adobe Acrobat to view this file.

Call for Evidence

Submissions/evidence are invited as part of an inquiry into risks to the well-being of researchers in qualitative research. Those persons submitting evidence may wish to draw our attention to lessons to be learned from experience. We are interested in submissions based on the experiences of researchers, research supervisors, members of ethics committees and anyone else involved in any aspect of the conduct and management of qualitative research. Submissions may embrace practical, regulatory and/or ethical issues and risks may include threats to mental/emotional health as well as exposure to physical hazards. The Inquiry is being conducted as part of the activities being undertaken by ‘Qualiti’, the Cardiff Node of the UK Economic and Social Research Council’s National Research Methods Centre. The aim of the inquiry is to produce guidelines for good practice of value to researchers, supervisors and other parties.

Broad Overview

There are risks to researchers in undertaking fieldwork. Some of these are obvious, some less so. These risks may impact on the physical, emotional or social well-being of researchers. Whilst there has been a concentration of effort in ensuring research ‘subjects’ are protected from the potentially harmful consequences of research (through ‘informed consent’ for example), there has been much less thought about protection of researchers from potential harm. It is likely too that researchers undertaking qualitative fieldwork are exposed to particular forms of risks, which arise from the characteristic emphasis of qualitative approaches on conducting research in naturalistic settings.

Qualitative researchers may experience a range of risks. Some risks relate to the physical well-being of researchers and correspond to conventional health and safety considerations in employment of all kinds. It is not difficult to think of situations in which researchers may be at risk of violence or other physical danger. Equally, researchers may become emotionally threatened, where, for example, the data being collected are distressing or the settings emotionally taxing. These different types of risk reflect the objectives of the research, the settings in which it is conducted and the characteristics of the participants in the research, both ‘subjects’ and researchers.

Researcher risks are a matter of urgent interest to a range of parties, not just researchers, but also research supervisors, research funders, insurers, ethicists, occupational health and safety personnel and others. Evidence and opinions are invited from all interested parties.

There have been past occasions where qualitative researchers have entered the field without fully understanding the implications of the research setting on their well-being. This is a situation paralleling a failure of ‘informed consent’, researchers should be able to make judgements as to the suitability of a research context with regard to ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ risk of harm to them. Clearly, it is desirable to develop ‘good practice’ guides and recommendations to reduce risks to qualitative researchers. However, practice guides should be such that they do not threaten the integrity of the research process itself. This is especially pertinent given that much qualitative research is carried out in naturalistic settings and, more specifically, is frequently dependent upon the quality of the relationships between ‘subjects’ and researchers.

It is recognised that researcher risk may vary by gender as well as by setting. Submissions are welcomed which document and explore this gender dimension.

This inquiry aims to collate and analyse accounts of qualitative research where issues of risk may have been present to locate these accounts in the existing research methods literature and to draw out practical recommendations.

Moderated Forum

Evidence for the inquiry will be gathered via a moderated web-based forum. On this forum contributors will be asked to submit evidence under one of four topic themes. This evidence will then be placed on the website in an appropriate topic stream. It is anticipated that aside from gathering evidence this will also generate online discussion around issues arising from evidence.

 

ESRC National Centre for Research Methods
ESRC - Economic & Social Research Council