What are Ethics?

The term ‘ethics’ refers to a set of standards or principles by which a group or community regulates its behaviour, allowing distinctions to be made about what procedures are ‘acceptable’ or not, (see: Flew 1984). This usually involves consideration of a range of interests in the specific context of the study, some of which compete with each other, such as:

  • The interests of the Research project in furthering knowledge;
  • The interests of wider society;
  • The interests of the Research Community;
  • The interests of the ‘field-workers’ (particularly if any dangers are involved);
  • The interests of any ‘gatekeepers’ or ‘sponsors’;
  • The interests of the research subjects

It is the last set of interests, which tends to get the greatest consideration, particularly in evaluation. The interests of the research subjects centre on the following issues:

  1. Anonymity (subjects remain nameless throughout the evaluation – this is usually very difficult to maintain as subjects generally become known to the researcher) and so…
  2. Confidentiality is usually assured – a purposive attempt to remove from the research documentation any elements that might reveal the subjects’ identities. This may involve the use of pseudonyms, but even here, it is still important to ensure that the information gathered cannot be traced back to individuals (Gibbons, DC., 1975). Additionally the interests of researched subjects may be infringed by...
  3. Deceiving subjects – through deliberately misleading or omitting information,
  4. Coercing subjects to participate – this may be subtle in that subjects may feel obligated to those who help them. In this case, the request to participate should come from someone not known to the subjects. It is also important to stress that their agreement or refusal will in no way effect the services they receive, and that they can pull out of the study at any time,
  5. Leading subjects to answer in a particular way,
  6. Generally harming the subjects in some way through inducing stress, pain, anxiety, diminishing self-esteem or invading privacy.


Types of evaluation
Informed consent