Do No Harm? Ethical Challenges and Safeguards for Research Endeavours in the Global South


Project Description

Conducting field research in the Global South is characterised by a wide range of ethical complexities. To date, ethics principles and guidelines are largely focused on ensuring the safety and wellbeing of study participants. While we strongly acknowledge the importance of this, we argue that the key principle of “do no harm” should equally apply to research staff, including local enumerators, field supervisors, and project managers. Their experiences have to date not been collated in a systematic way, beyond some anecdotal evidence.

The project consists of different work packages:

  1. Systematic review on the ethical challenges experienced by research staff conducting fieldwork in the Global South. This will help establish a sound evidence base on the ethical challenges documented by existing research literature. 
  2. Review of existing guidelines/principles/procedures to judge if and how ethical challenges for research staff are already considered and followed. 
  3. Qualitative interviews with research staff from the Global South and North at different hierarchical levels (including local enumerators, field supervisors, field managers, (PhD) students, as well as principal investigators).
  4. Quantitative online survey on the working conditions, job satisfaction, and emotional wellbeing of local and international research staff. 

Ultimately, insights from all work packages will serve as a guidance for developing normative ethical principles and standardised research guidelines to adequately protect local and international research staff on all hierarchical levels. These will be disseminated to academic institutions, ethical review boards, and funding bodies.

The project is a collaboration with Dr. Jana Kuhnt (Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik), Dr. Lennart Kaplan (Universität Göttingen) and Ana Garcia-Hernandez (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin).

Project Publications

Steinert JI, Atika Nyarige D, Jacobi M, Kuhnt J, Kaplan L. A  systematic review on ethical challenges of ‘field’ research in low-income and middle-income countries: respect, justice and beneficence for research staff?BMJ Global Health. 2021; 6(7), e005380.

Bangura I, Chakraborty A, Garcia-Hernandez A, Kaplan L, Kuhnt J,  Muhumad AA, Steinert JI, Tellez D. Ethical failures in global health research: violations of Sustainable Development Goal 8, decent work for all. Lancet Global Health (Correspondence). 2022; 10(5), E619.

Kaplan L, Kuhnt J, Steinert JIDo no harm? Field research in the Global South: Ethical challenges faced by research staff. World Development. 2020; 127, 104810.

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