RISK TO WELL-BEING OF RESEARCHERS IN QUALITATIVE
Please note that this Commissioned
Inquiry is now complete.
The final report is now available,
to download click here. Please note
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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
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’
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.
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