Participatory research (PR) practice can be viewed as being, in itself, an ethical approach to research in that it involves a high degree of accountability and responsibility towards the research participants. The approach requires ongoing reflexivity and sensitivity to emergent ethical issues. However, difficulties can arise in addressing the structured requirements of ethical review processes.
In this sub-section the ethos of PR and the ‘ethical demands’ on the researcher are introduced. A spectrum of degrees of involvement of participants is given and the importance of not giving people unrealistic expectation about the extent of involvement or outcomes is highlighted.
In this sub-section the radically democratic and accountable ethics of PR are explored, together with a critique concerning the disparities that can arise between ideals and practice. The necessity for ongoing ethical rigour is emphasised in terms of developing ethics iteratively and relationally, and willingness to negotiate competing ethical views.
This sub-section sets out PR’s proactive ethical approach to assisting the community researched through collaborative action, well targeted recommendations and effective dissemination of research finding. The necessity for care in avoiding predetermined or ill-thought through action outcomes is explored.
This sub-section explores problems that can arise with regard to fulfilling the expectation of gaining written informed consent in situations where consent may be implicit, ongoing and negotiated.
PR has a strong inherent ethic of respectfulness, democracy, accountability and compassionate responsibility. However, it is necessary to be aware that the unfolding process-orientated approach which necessarily stems from these ideals can create problems in meeting the structured requirements of many ethical review processes. The issue of explicit, formal informed consent can generate particular problems.
The case study illustrates the creative community approach which is possible within the PR paradigm and demonstrates the ongoing sensitivity to emergent ethical issues which is necessary when conducting research of this kind.