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Research ethics is shorthand for a commitment to make sure that research benefits rather than harms people. Research should always be undertaken responsibly, with full consideration of how others are impacted in the process of creating new knowledge.


Principles for ethical research

We have adopted the following six key principles for ethical research from the Economic and Social Research Council.

  • 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.

In practice, this means that our researchers are trained in research ethics, keep up-to-date with guidance on ethical research and must follow a process to ensure that any new projects we start have been submitted to ethical review by independent individuals who are experienced in this field.


Research Ethics Committee

The research team cannot just begin a piece of work. A research project proposal is written, and a Research Ethics Form has to be completed, reviewed and approved by at least two members of the Research Ethics Committee before any potential participants are contacted or data is collected.

The Youthscape Research Ethics Form has been designed in accordance with current guidance from the British Sociological Association, and from the International Ethical Research Involving Children (ERIC) project. Current members of the Ethics Committee are:

  • Susan Lousada (Former NHS Research Ethics Advisor)
  • Dr Peter Hart (Research Fellow, University of Leeds)

The messy reality of youth-work research ethics

While ethical protocols, information sheets and consent forms are important features of a well-designed research project, they don’t prevent researchers from making mistakes. Nor can they “replace the need for self-critical, imaginative and responsible ethical reflection about issues which may arise in the course of research” (BSA). We can’t anticipate every situation that will present a quandary for researchers, and in many cases we need to think on our feet as we seek to act ethically. This is particularly the case in some forms of research with young people in informal youth work settings.

Our previous Head of Research Phoebe Hill has written about some of these challenges in relation to her own PhD, which involved research in an open-access drop-in. You can read her paper ‘The formal vs informal clash: the challenges of ethnographic research with young people in a youth drop-in context’ in the journal ‘Youth and Policy’ here. You can also read the research of Dr Peter Hart, one of our Committee members, here, whose study ‘An Ethnographic Study of Ethical Practices in Relationships Between Young People and Youth Workers’ explored ethics and ‘boundaries’ in the context of youth clubs.

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