Ethics and my research

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(T847, Block 1, Activity 9)

The first thing that crops up in my mind when I think about ethics is the material I covered as part of juggling the B-ball in Tu812.  This drew on von Foerster to describe ethical action as acting in a way that opens up – rather than closes down – possibilities for others.

I am reminded too of the material I looked at recently written by Edgar Schein on research and consultancy where he talked about the psychological contract that exists when a researcher takes the role of ‘helper’ to a client.  In essence, I have a responsibility to act in the interests of ‘my client’ (which in the case of my research project, I think of partners in the partnership and through them the people of Newcastle).  Schein also comments that it is inappropriate to ‘let the client off the hook’ in terms of their own learning….. and that takes me back to TU812’s discussions of social learning and its role in managing systemic change.

These ‘ethical’ ideas are very much at the heart of my interest in action research approaches. From my reading so far these are founded on the same paradigm and theories as systems thinking in practice – so they resonate with me a lot.

In the Preface to The Handbook of Action Research, Reason and Bradbury state “our purpose is to contribute to the ongoing re-visioning of the Western mindset – to add impetus to the movement away from a modernist worldview based on a positivist philosophy and a value system dominated by crude notions of economic progress, towards emerging perspectives which share a ‘postmodern’ sentiment.” (page xxiii).  I also love the bit where they say “We see a growing unease with ‘ivory tower’ scholarship which increasingly is seen as a waste of intellectual and financial resources.  We also see an increased recognition of the importance of participation …. not least because participative approaches are more impressive in terms of the results they produce” (page xxi).

Oh – think I got a bit distracted from the activity in hand.

The course materials talk about ethical issues in the context of confidentiality of information imparted by research participants.  It creates problems of being able to share it.  I suppose a more collaborative approach places the choice on each participant – they can disclose what they want to.  Reporting to ‘third parties’ is more difficult especially where small sampling is used.  I think this is something to bear in mind in the design because it would be really odd to gather info that you cannot share in order to support learning and growth.  Perhaps, get permission for quotes that are likely to be identifiable in end reports?


Reason, P. & Bradbury-Huang, H. eds., 2006. Handbook of Action Research Concise Paperback Edition., London: Sage Publications.

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