Research Methods (1) Interviews

6. Ethical issues to consider in recruitment of participants

(a) Using gatekeepers:

  • Particularly in the case of doing research with vulnerable populations, you may need to work through gatekeepers to access participants.
  • Gatekeepers may have a role in protecting vulnerable people.
  • However, the use of gatekeepers, who may exercise some power over the circumstances of potential participants may raise other ethical issues, for example, about whether participation is voluntary and consensual.

(b) Inducements/compensation:

  •  You may need to consider whether to provide monetary or other form of inducement or compensation to your participants for participating in your research.
  •  In some cases, the offer of inducements may interfere with the validity of your findings or the ethical requirement for voluntary participation, for example, if inducements effect the responses that participants give to your questions, or if participants are dependent on the inducements that you offer.
  •  However, in other circumstances, for example, when participants may come from a marginalized group from a lower socio-economic background it may be appropriate to offer some compensation for your use of the participants’ time.

(c) Obtaining voluntary and informed consent:

  • It is important to ensure that you acquire voluntary and fully informed consent from your participants prior to interviewing them. This includes ensuring that prior to consenting to take part participants are fully briefed on the nature of the research, what is expected of them and how the findings of the research will be disseminated. Research ethics protocols may require researchers to obtain written consent from participants. Where this is not possible researchers should acquire verbal consent prior to conducting the interview.

For a more detailed explanation of ‘informed consent’ see Module 1: Feminist Research Ethics.

Case Study:

In their study on artificial reproductive technologies and commercial surrogacy in India, feminist scholars, Sarojini Nadimpally and Anindita Majumdar explain that reproductive technology providers and medical tourism agents acted as gatekeepers to women engaged in these actvities.

“Since the providers are the point of entry/access for the researchers, it is a challenge when providers are unresponsive and disinterested, or when they refer the researchers only to women users who are ‘success stories’” (2017, p. 301).

They reflected on the impact of these gatekeepers on their interactions with the women that they interviewed.

“The doctors often insisted that the interviews be conducted within the hospital premises. Similarly, the agents insisted that the interviews be conducted under their supervision or at their office or home […] In each case, the interviews had to be conducted in the presence of an agent. In these instances, we were not able to talk to the surrogates for a long duration, and such settings had an inhibiting influence on the surrogates” (2017, p. 301).

Reflection Exercise:

  •  What are the potential ethical issues that can arise in using different recruitment methods for the community you are studying?


Nadimpillay, S. and Majumdar, A. 2017. Researching assisted conception from a feminist lens. In: K. Kannabiran and P. Swaminathan eds. Re-Presenting Feminist Methodologies: Interdisciplinary Explorations. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 297 – 312.