In qualitative research building a rapport and friendships with participants is often presented as a means to gain access and data from research participants. However, as Helen Kara discusses, using friendship in an instrumental way presents serious ethical issues for researchers.
This very useful London School of Economics Blog story reflects on an important ethical issue for humanities research and research that is participant led designs. This reflection on the relationship between participant and researcher is very different from the typical design of clinical trials and a great proportion of medical research. This is a useful read for researchers (especially early in their career) and research ethics reviewers (especially if they are unfamiliar with the review of such research).
On the one hand, it is common for people to use interpersonal skills to help us get what we want from others in our day-to-day lives. This applies whether we want a loan from a credit agency, a prescription from the doctor, a response to a complaint – in a multitude of situations, presenting our most polite and friendly selves can help to get the results we want. So it is arguable that it makes sense also to use these everyday methods in research.
“we know that people generally agree to participate in research for their own reasons rather than ours. And, where that reason is to get a little human company and kindness, which is lacking from their own lives, the practice of building rapport begins to appear even more suspect”.
On the other hand, research encounters are rather different from everyday encounters. This applies particularly to qualitative research where a researcher may spend a considerable period of time giving a participant their undivided attention. This is an unusual and often a welcome experience for participants, who often describe it in positive terms such as ‘therapeutic’, ‘cathartic’ or ‘a treat’.