The research project I initially decided on seemed simple at first, but became gradually more complicated. If I was starting again, I wouldn’t choose to conduct research on my accommodation site, as I am a student leader there. Reflexivity involves being aware of one’s own context, and I assumed this would make things easier. Instead it complicated things. While information was easier to collect, I felt more concerned about my integrity and effects of my ethical decisions than I would have if I conducted research in an area where I was lacking connections.
Those I interviewed would hold me accountable for any harm the research caused them. To ensure I was acting ethically, I created consent forms for both interviewees, which had an assurance I would ‘take all the actions within my reasonable ability to minimise possible harm’. I could not use the ‘dominant approach’ (Kaiser, 2009) to ensure anonymity of the interviewees, as I had sought them out for interviews and knew who they were. Instead, my harm minimisation process consisted of the ‘alternative approach’ (Kaiser, 2009), which involved going over my usage plans for the information with the interviewees in advance, and scrubbing information that could be used to identify them from the report, replacing names with gender neutral pseudonyms.
I completed the research report and obtained a second consent from both subjects, this time allowing them to view their contributions in context. This allowed them to clarify any misrepresentations I needed to correct, and decide whether they were still comfortable with the information being published online. One interviewee asked me to clarify a few of their comments which could be interpreted in a negative light. One asked me to not publish the report publicly on my blog out of caution, but was fine with the report being submitted to be marked.
This was the cause of an ethical dilemma. Originally, I had planned to publish the finished report on my blog, and had implied I would do so in a survey blog post – ‘The final results are expected to be completed and uploaded by 06/06/2017’. After checking the project requirements, I found that I was not obligated as part of the subject to publish the research, just this reflection.
I decided to sacrifice a small amount of integrity, and agreed to not publish the report on my blog.
The justification for this decision was multi-faceted. While I was making a decision that could’ve been violating the trust of survey responders, I had already published the results of the survey on my blog, so I was not withholding the survey results from contributors, just the final report. Only one person had viewed the post at the time, and the contribution from the interviewee was of much more weight to the project than a potential survey responder. The harm that could result for the interviewer outweighed the value of to be gained by a resident that possibly responded.
While I sacrificed integrity, I maintained my ethical assurance to the interviewee that I would take action to protect them from any perceived harm.
Reflexively, I believe my context as a student leader and researcher created a minor conflict of interest during this research project. While I did mention my student leader position at the beginning of the report (as per the fifth rule of the Media Alliance Code of Ethics (Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, 2016)), I feel the fourth rule, ‘Do not allow personal interest, or any belief, commitment, payment, gift or benefit, to undermine your accuracy, fairness or independence.’ (Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, 2016) was violated.
This was because of my personal interest in maintaining good relations with the university, and it’s accommodation services, had a definite effect on the objectivity of my research practices. While I wanted to remain fair, I avoided asking overly inflammatory questions to the accommodation staff, as this would reduce trust in our relationship, and could destabilise my employment in a worse case scenario. I found that as a researcher, I was still accountable to myself. When weighing up the two, the stability of my life came before this university research project. The challenges I faced with objectivity were common to those faced by many internal researchers (Smyth & Holian, 2008).
In the end, I still feel I portrayed a fair depiction of the challenges faced by Australian university accommodation as an industry. But I will be wary of conducting internal research in the future.
Kaiser, K., 2009. Protecting Respondent Confidentiality in Qualitative Research. Qualitative Health Research, 19(11), pp. 1632-1641.
Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, 2016. Media Alliance Code of Ethics. [Online]
Available at: file:///D:/Downloads/160720_FAQs_MEAA_Journalist_Code_of_Ethics.pdf
[Accessed 5 June 2017].
Smyth, A. & Holian, R., 2008. Credibility Issues in Research from Within Organisations. In: P. Sikes & A. Potts, eds. Researching Education from the Inside: Investigations from Within. Abington : Routledge , pp. 33-35.