Scholars and academics who came together for a workshop recently agreed that a social research ethics governing body needed to be established in Nepal. One might wonder why the need for such a body has been felt now when research activities have been going on for a long time. We researchers take individuals and groups from different walks of life as our data source, but have we ever considered our responsibility towards our research participants? Have we ever thought that their engagement with us might put them at harm whether physical or psychological, ranging from discomfort, humiliation, constrained familial or societal ties to even violence? It is here that an ethics governing body comes into the context. Although ethical conduct of research does take up space and time in the research course syllabus, the question to researchers is whether the theory is actually put into practice. In the case of Nepal, a regulatory body to review research in the social sciences is starkly absent.
How many of us put research studies through an ethics review before initiating data collection? Those who do so are either Western-educated, have conducted research with foreign universities or are involved in research in the health sector. Ethical reviews of research in the health sector have been underway since the establishment of the Nepal Health Research Council (NHRC) in 1991. To date, this autonomous body under the Ministry of Health and Population has approved more than 1,200 research projects. These studies fall within the realm of the NHRC’s priority areas, namely health care delivery, reproductive health, mental health and environmental and occupational health. An independent Ethical Review Board within the NHRC screens research proposals for compliance with its ethical standards and administrative requirements and later submits the study protocols to one or more reviewers or experts in the proposed field of study.