Feminist Research Ethics

Feminist Research Ethics

4. Key Principles of Research Ethics

The Canadian Government’s Tri-Council Policy Statement on ‘Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans,’ (2014) includes the following fundamental principles of research ethics (see under Chapter 1, B ‘Core Principles’):

  • Respect for participants: treating participants in a way that recognises their intrinsic value and strives to “respect autonomy and… protect those with developing, impaired or diminished autonomy.”
  • Concern for welfare: ensuring that the physical, mental or spiritual health, and social, cultural and economic wellbeing of participants and their communities is protected, and they are not exposed to unnecessary risk or harm.
  • Justice: treating participants fairly and equitably with equal respect and concern, and ensuring the benefits and burdens of research participation are distributed in such a way “that no segment of the population is unduly burdened by the harms of research or denied the benefits of the knowledge generated from it.”

Key strategies for implementing these principles include:

Obtaining Informed Consent: providing participants with an accurate account of the nature of the participation, as well as foreseeable risks and benefits of participating in the research project, in a format that is easy for participants to access and understand. This ensures that participation in research is based on a voluntary (that is, not obtained under coercion, undue influence or duress), and fully informed decision by participants.

There are different forms in which informed consent may be obtained, including oral and written consent. Consent may have to be explicitly obtained for capturing different types of data. For example, in the GenUrb Project we are seeking consent from participants for audio recording, recording still images or photographs, as well as moving images, or video recordings.

Particularly in the case of projects that may be conducted over a longer period of time (for example, a number of years), consent may also need to be obtained on an ongoing basis. This includes keeping participants informed about any relevant changes or updates that may be relevant to their consent to participate in the research.

Where circumstances prevent written consent from being obtained from participants, alternative forms of consent may be sought, such as verbal consent, and researchers may be required to maintain records indicating that such consent has been sought. For example, in the GenUrb Project researchers are provided with a specific script to use when explaining and collecting verbal consent from participants.

Protecting Confidentiality and Privacy: The duty of confidentiality “includes obligations to protect information from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, modification, loss or theft. Fulfilling the ethical duty of confidentiality is essential to the trust relationship between researcher and participant, and to the integrity of the research project (Canadian Government, 2014).” At the same time the right to privacy ensures that “an individual has an opportunity to exercise control over personal information by consenting to, or withholding consent for, the collection, use and/or disclosure of information”.

Protecting the confidentialty of privacy of participants could include measures, such as:

  • keeping records of participants’ personal identification information (such as their names, locations, or contact information) separate from transcribed data so that the two cannot be linked,
  • making participants anonymous by not disclosing their names and instead using codes or pseudonyms in analyzing or writing up data.

Reflection Exercise

• Why are ethics important in research?

• What ethical considerations may apply to your research context?

• What are the possibilities and challenges for obtaining informed consent and protecting confidentiality and privacy in your research context? What strategies can you can use to ensure that these basic ethical principles are observed?




  • Listen to an audio podcast by Dr. Rose Wiles from the UK National Centre for Research Methods on ‘What are qualitative research ethics ’ for a discussion of principles and case studies on key ethical principles such as ‘informed consent’, and ‘confidentiality’.
  • Read a research guide by Professor Bren Neale and Dr. Esmee Hanna from the ‘Timescapes’ project at the University of Leeds that discusses situated and emergent ethics in the context of conducting qualitative longitudinal research over time, including ‘consent as an ongoing process’.
  • Download ‘Anonymisation Guidelines ’ that outline strategies for ensuring that participants anonymity is protected in the research process, developed by the Timescapes Project.
  • Download a template GenUrb ‘Information and Consent Form’ for use in a qualitative research project involving interviews (adapted from the York University ‘Informed Consent Form’, and Timescapes project sample ‘Consent Form’).