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The Ethics of Evaluation Research0

 

Evaluation research is used to assess the value of such things as services, interventions, and policies. The term ‘evaluation research’ makes it seem homogeneous but in fact evaluation research draws on a range of theoretical perspectives and a wide variety of quantitative and qualitative methods. However, there are three things evaluation research usually does that set it apart from other kinds of research. It:

  1. asks what is working well and where and how improvements could be made;
  2. involves stakeholders; and
  3. offers practical recommendations for action.

The American Evaluation Association (AEA), with members from over 60 countries, has five ‘guiding principles’ which ‘reflect the core values of the AEA’ (2018):

Systematic inquiry: evaluators conduct data-based inquiries that are thorough, methodical, and contextually relevant.

Competence: evaluators provide skilled professional services to stakeholders.

Integrity: evaluators behave with honesty and transparency in order to ensure the integrity of the evaluation.

Respect for people: evaluators honour the dignity, well-being, and self-worth of individuals and acknowledge the influence of culture within and across groups.

Common good and equity: evaluators strive to contribute to the common good and advancement of an equitable and just society.

The question of how research ethics review processes should engage with evaluation research has not yet been definitively decided in many research institutions in Australia and New Zealand. Helen Kara’s article alerts us to the degree to which evaluation researchers encounters novel ethical issues. We shall explore some of the possible institutional approaches in a forthcoming Patreon resource.

This is unusual in being thorough – there is much more explanation in the document – and up to date. The Australasian Evaluation Society (AES) has Guidelines for the Ethical Conduct of Evaluations which were last revised in 2013. This is a much more discursive document – 13 pages to the AEA’s four – which offers guidance to evaluation commissioners as well as evaluation researchers. The AES guidelines also refer to and include Indigenous ethical principles and priorities. In particular, reciprocity is highlighted as a specific principle to be followed. This is another difference from the AEA document in which Indigenous evaluation and evaluators are not mentioned.
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The United Nations Evaluation Group also specifies evaluation principles in its ethical guidelines (2008) but they are 10 years older than the AEA’s. Beyond these, there are few codes of ethics, or equivalent, readily available from national and international evaluation bodies. Also, evaluation research rarely comes within the purview of human research ethics committees unless it’s being conducted within a university or a health service. And books on evaluation research rarely mention ethics.
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Recent research has shown that a proportion of evaluation researchers will assert that ethics does not apply to evaluation and that they have never encountered ethical difficulties in their work (Morris, 2015, p.32; Williams, 2016, p.545). This seems very odd to me, as I have been doing evaluation research for the last 20 years and I have encountered ethical difficulties in every project. It also seems worrying as I wonder whether the next generation of evaluation researchers are learning to believe that they do not need to think about ethics.
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In my recent book, Research Ethics in the Real World (2018), I demonstrated that ethical issues exist at all stages of the research process, from the initial idea for a research question up to and including aftercare. This applies to evaluation research just as much as it does to any other kind of research. I also demonstrated that there are some ethical considerations at the macro level for evaluation research, such as funding, stakeholder involvement, and publishing.
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Well-funded organisations or projects can allocate money for evaluation; poorly-funded ones cannot. This means that evaluation research is routinely done where funding is available rather than where evaluation is most needed. In the United Kingdom, where I am based, we have been undergoing an ideological programme of austerity involving massive cuts to public services over the last nine years. This has come from successive governments that have also prioritised evaluation research, funding expensive national ‘What Works’ centres on themes such as ageing, health, and childhood, right through the austerity years. Yet to the best of my knowledge there has been no evaluation of the impact of any service closure. This seems short-sighted at best – though it does illustrate my point that evaluation happens where money is being spent. Also, an explicit purpose of evaluation research is often to provide evidence to use in future funding negotiations, which means that results are effectively expected to be positive. This means that pressures associated with funding can introduce bias into evaluation research right from the start. Combine this with an evaluator who needs to be paid for their work in order to pay their own bills, and you have a situation that is well on its way to being a money-fuelled toxic mess.
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Involving stakeholders is a key principle of evaluation research. The AEA define ‘stakeholders’ as ‘individuals, groups, or organizations served by, or with a legitimate interest in, an evaluation including those who might be affected by an evaluation’ and suggest that evaluators should communicate with stakeholders about all aspects of the evaluation (2018). Again, here, the use of a single word implies homogeneity when in fact evaluation stakeholders may range from Government ministers to some of the most marginalised people in society. This can make involving them difficult: some will be too busy to be involved, some will be impossible to find, and some will not want to be involved. Which leaves evaluators caught between an impractical principle and an unprincipled practice. There is some good practice in stakeholder involvement (Cartland, Ruch-Ross and Mason, 2012:171-177), but there is also a great deal of tokenism which is not ethical (Kara, 2018:63). Also, even when all groups of stakeholders are effectively engaged, this can bring new ethical problems. For example, their values and interests may be in conflict which can be challenging to manage, particularly alongside the inevitable power imbalances. Even if stakeholders work well together such that power imbalances are reduced within the evaluation, it is unlikely those reductions will carry over into the wider world.
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Commissioners of evaluation are reluctant to publish reports unless they are overwhelmingly positive. I had an example of this some years ago when I evaluated an innovative pilot project tackling substance misuse. From the start my client said they were keen to publish the evaluation report. I worked with stakeholders to collect and analyse my data and made around 10 recommendations, all but one of which said words to the effect of ‘good job, carry on’. Just one recommendation offered constructive criticism of one aspect of the project and made suggestions for improvement. My client asked me to remove that recommendation; I thought about it carefully but in the end refused because it was fully supported by the evaluation data. We had two more meetings about it and in the end, my client decided that they would not publish the report. This was unfortunate because others could have learned from the evaluation findings and methods, and because failure to publish increases the risk of work being duplicated which results in public funds being wasted. Sadly, as a commissioned researcher, I had signed away my intellectual property so it was out of my hands. Everyone involved in evaluation research can tell these kinds of tales. However, it is too simplistic to suggest that publication should always be a requirement. In some cases, the publication could be harmful, such as when a critical evaluation might lead to the economy of service closure, to the detriment of service users and staff, rather than to more resource-intensive improvements in policy and practice. But overall, unless there is a good reason to withhold a report, the publication is the ethical route.
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As the AEA principles suggest, evaluation researchers are in a good position to help increase social justice by influencing evaluation stakeholders to become more ethical. I would argue that there are several compelling reasons, outlined above, why all evaluation researchers should learn to think and act ethically.
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References

American Evaluation Association (2018) Guiding Principles. Washington, DC: American Evaluation Association.

Australasian Evaluation Society (2013) Guidelines for the Ethical Conduct of Evaluations. www.aes.asn.au

Cartland, J., Ruch-Ross, H. and Mason, M. (2012) Engaging community researchers in evaluation: looking at the experiences of community partners in school-based projects in the US. In Goodson, L. and Phillimore, J. (eds) Community Research for Participation: From Theory to Method, pp 169-184. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

Kara, H. (2018) Research Ethics in the Real World: Euro-Western and Indigenous Perspectives. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

Morris, M. (2015) Research on evaluation ethics: reflections and an agenda. In Brandon, P. (ed) Research on evaluation: new directions for evaluation, 31–42. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

United Nations Evaluation Group (2008) UNEG Ethical Guidelines for Evaluation. http://www.unevaluation.org/document/detail/102

Williams, L. (2016) Ethics in international development evaluation and research: what is the problem, why does it matter and what can we do about it? Journal of Development Effectiveness 8(4) 535–52. DOI: 10.1080/19439342.2016.1244700.
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Recommended reading

Morris, M. (ed) (2008) Evaluation Ethics for Best Practice: Cases and Commentaries. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Donaldson, S. and Picciotto, R. (eds) (2016) Evaluation for an Equitable Society. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.

Contributor
Helen Kara, Director, We Research It Ltd | profilehelen@weresearchit.co.uk

This post may be cited as:
Kara, H. (26 January 2019) The Ethics of Evaluation Research. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/the-ethics-of-evaluation-research

Australia Day honours recognise contributions to human research ethics0

Posted by Admin in Human Research Ethics on February 25, 2019 / Keywords: , , ,
 

We wish to add our congratulations to two recipients of honours on Australia Day who have made important contributions to human research ethics in Australia over the last 35 years.

Distinguished Prof. Don Chalmers was chair of the Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC) from 1994 to 2000. During this time he, together with Regis Mary Dunne AO, conducted a national review of the role and functioning of institutional ethics committees which led directly to the first National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans in 1999.

The 1999 National Statement replaced the 1966 NHMRC one-page Statement on Human Experimentation to which numerous supplementary notes had been added across three decades.  The 1999 document was a significant landmark in human research ethics in Australia, not only because it brought that NHMRC history together but also because it was endorsed by the Australian Vice-Chancellor’s Committee, the Australian Research Council. The Australian Academies of the Humanities, Science and Social Sciences also endorsed the Statement and it was supported by the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. As a member of AHEC in 1998-99, I remember how Don led these initiatives and negotiations with characteristic diplomacy, tact and good humour.

Don has made important contributions to genetic and genomic research through the Centre for Law and Genetics at the University of Tasmania and to genomic screening and research through his membership of national working groups.

The national recognition of becoming an Officer of the Order of Australia is a fitting addition to his receipt of the NHMRC Ethics Award in 2010.

Prof. John McNeil, who had received an AM in 2008, was also appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia. Although his contributions have been primarily in clinical epidemiology, cardiovascular research and public health, the award also recognises his chairing of the human research ethics committee of the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne for 30 years.  I had the privilege of attending the committee’s meetings on several occasions and recognised the skill and experience that he brought to that role.

John’s commitment to the value of clinical registers was influential in his strong support for the introduction of an opt-out approach to Chapter 2.3 of the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research in 2014.

Prof Colin Thomson AM
AHRECS senior consultantcolin.thomson@ahrecs.com

This post may be cited as:
Thomson, C. (25 January 2019) Australia Day honours recognise contributions to human research ethics. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/australia-day-honours-recognise-contributions-to-human-research-ethics

Self-plagiarism? When re-purposing text may be ethically justifiable0

Posted by Admin in Research Integrity on January 19, 2019 / Keywords: , , ,
 

In an institutional environment where researchers may be coming under increasing pressure to publish, the temptations to take short cuts and engage in duplicate or redundant publication can be significant. Duplicate publication involves re-publishing substantially the same data, analysis, discussion and conclusion without providing proper acknowledgement or justification for the practice. Such behaviour is often condemned as ideoplagiarism or self-plagiarism, locating this practice as a parallel activity to that which appropriates other people’s ideas and words and reproduces them without due acknowledgement.

There are good reasons for censuring self-plagiarism – it distorts the academic record where meta-analyses are not aware of the duplicate publication, and provides an unfair advantage when academics’ track records are being compared. In an earlier publication (Israel, 2015), I detailed some examples of social scientists who engaged in self-plagiarism. However, I also argued that ‘It may be appropriate to publish similar articles in different journals in order to ask different research questions, link to different literatures or reach new and different audiences’ (p.163). I would like to explore some of the situations that I have encountered in the last few years where I believe re-use of text might not be inappropriate and, indeed, might actually be the ethical thing to do.

Global rankings and national assessments of universities are largely based on research inputs and outputs. Mostly, the output indicators privilege publications in international higher-ranking journals; the vast majority of those only publish in English. However, there are several good reasons why research outputs should also appear outside English-language journals. First, researchers may be funded by research councils from countries that are not Anglophone. Those research councils may indeed want to maximise their international impact by publishing in English. However, they may also recognise that they have an obligation to support researchers in their countries who are not fluent in English; indeed, they ought to be supporting the maintenance of their own languages and ensuring that scholarly discourse continues to be conducted in their native tongues. This is a policy supported by the National Committees for Research Ethics in Norway (2006), for example.

Second, researchers often have made a commitment to disseminate the results of their studies to participants or to policy-makers – where either of these communities are not English-speaking, republishing in a language other than English may be entirely appropriate.

So, revising a published paper and translating that into a language other than English might be a laudable way of preserving a research culture in a small language group, influencing policy-makers or returning a benefit to a low- or middle-income country (LMIC). This activity, of course, needs to be acknowledged and transparent and cannot be double-counted as a research output.

Following a roundtable discussion of social research ethics hosted by the University of Haifa, a chapter that I co-authored (Allen and Israel, 2017) was recently translated into Hebrew and published in an Israeli journal. Gary Allen and I a greed to do this in order to encourage further discussion of human research ethics in Israel. The decision was taken with the approval of our original editors and publishers.

In 2018, I co-authored an article on research ethics in Taiwan with a Taiwanese academic (Gan and Israel, in press). This will be published in Developing World Bioethics and we shall explore the possibility of modifying it for a Mandarin version aimed specifically at a readership of Taiwanese academics and policy-makers. While many senior Taiwanese academics are fluent in English, this is less likely to be the case among those who have not completed postgraduate qualifications in North America, Australasia or the United Kingdom. Publishing in Mandarin would extend access to our work (including allowing it to be found in a search using Traditional Chinese script), and may make it more readily available for undergraduate teaching. Sometimes, we can craft opportunities to help readers of other languages without translating the entire article. A recent article that I co-authored with Lisa Wynn (Wynn and Israel, 2018) took advantage of the American Anthropologist’s novel angle for each chapter when the briefs from commissioning editors are so similar policy of publishing all abstracts in both English and Spanish. At our request, the editors agreed to add abstracts in Arabic and French.

I wonder if fear of being seen as self-plagiarising also inhibits academics writing book chapters in research ecosystems where chapters do not count for much. I have repeatedly been invited to write chapters that give an overview of social research ethics. Initially, I tended to say yes. However, it is difficult to continually deliver a novel angle for such a chapter when the brief from the commissioning editor is so similar. I have collaborated with co-authors in order to develop new directions. However, sometimes this is not practicable and yet there may still be some value in repurposing existing text and tailoring it for a new audience. For a recent edited collection where I was invited to write a review of global regulation of human research ethics, the publishers as a matter of policy quite understandably challenged any article that relied on previously published work for more than ten per cent of its material. However, the editor had approached me looking for a synthesis of work that included, updated and condensed material that had already appeared in my single-authored book (Israel, 2015). I had raised the matter of overlapping text with him, and so he was able to persuade the publisher that a far larger fraction was warranted in this case. My book publisher also agreed.

I have not encountered much discussion of these matters in the published literature. But, I spend much of my time running professional development in research ethics. In these fora, I counsel researchers that when confronted by an ethical issue they ought to attempt to discern what might be an ethical response, act on that analysis and then publicly acknowledge and, where necessary, defend their actions.

There are several principles that might in some circumstances provide support for the argument that I have traced here. Of course, any strategy needs to be guided by the requirements of research integrity and so we should be citing and acknowledging any other work to which we refer appropriately and accurately (Researcher Responsibility 27, Australian Code, 2018).

The Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings (TRUST Project,2018) considers that fairness in research in low- and middle-income countries requires that:

Feedback about the findings of the research must be given to local communities and research participants. It should be provided in a way that is meaningful, appropriate and readily comprehended. (Article 3)

Similarly, the 2018 Australian Code places responsibility on researchers to ‘Disseminate research findings responsibly, accurately and broadly…’ (Research Responsibility 23). Any strategy should also be tested in Australia against the principles adopted by the National Statement (2007, updated 2018). In this context, the most pertinent of these are integrity, which would require honesty and commitment to recognised research principles, and justice which would require a fair distribution of the benefits of research. None of these codes or guidelines explicitly considers repurposing existing text, nor do they focus their discussion of dissemination on academic publications. Nevertheless, they do require us to consider what dissemination strategy might be most appropriate and this may well involve adapting and translating material for academic publication in order to reach new audiences.

So, here is my advice for those who are considering re-using text that they have previously published:

  1. Assess whether your reasons are ethically defensible;
  2. Seek the agreement of those involved in your first publication – co-authors, editors and publishers; in some cases, publishers will want a specific form of acknowledgement;
  3. Seek the agreement of those involved in the new publication that will be reproducing material – any co-authors, editors and publishers;
  4. Clearly acknowledge in the new publication that you are drawing on the earlier publication and do so with the agreement of the various parties, and
  5. Where it would be misleading not to do so, also note the relationship between publications in your CV and any job or grant applications.

References

Allen, G & Israel, M (2018) Moving beyond Regulatory Compliance: Building Institutional Support for Ethical Reflection in Research. In Iphofen, R & Tolich, M (eds) The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research Ethics. London: Sage. pp.276-288. Published in Hebrew as

גארי אלן ומארק ישראל 2018 מעבר לציות רגולטרי: בנית תמיכה מוסדית ברפלקציה אתית במחקר

The Study of Organizations and Human Resource Management Quarterly3(1). pp.16-30.

Gan, Z-R & Israel, M (in press) Transnational Policy Migration, Interdisciplinary Policy Transfer and Decolonization: Tracing the Patterns of Research Ethics Regulation in Taiwan. Developing World Bioethics.

Israel, M (2015) Research Ethics and Integrity for Social Scientists: Beyond Regulatory Compliance. London: Sage.

National Committees for Research Ethics in Norway (2006) Guidelines for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences, Law and the Humanities. Available at: https://www.etikkom.no/globalassets/documents/english-publications/guidelines-for-research-ethics-in-the-social-sciences-law-and-the-humanities-2006.pdf (accessed 15 January 2019).

National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council and Universities Australia (2007, updated 2018) National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research.Canberra. Available at: https://nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/national-statement-ethical-conduct-human-research-2007-updated-2018 (accessed 16 January 2019).

National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council and Universities Australia (2018) Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. Canberra. Available at: https://nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/australian-code-responsible-conduct-research-2018 (accessed 16 January 2019).

TRUST Project (2018) Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings. Available at: http://www.globalcodeofconduct.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Global-Code-of-Conduct-Brochure.pdf (accessed 16 January 2019).

Wynn, LL & Israel, M (2018) The Fetishes of Consent: Signatures, Paper and Writing in Research Ethics Review. American Anthropologist 120(4) pp795–806.

Contributor
Dr Mark Israel, Senior Consultant AHRECS | Profile | mark.israel@ahrecs.com

This post may be cited as:
Israel, M. (20 January 2018) Self-plagiarism? When re-purposing text may be ethically justifiable. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/self-plagiarism-when-re-purposing-text-may-be-ethically-justifiable

Consumer Co-design for End of Life Care Discharge Project0

 

In this issue, we are publishing an account of an end-of-life project in whose design there are some features that add to its ethical interest. Many of us are familiar with institutional policies about consumer engagement in human research and have served on project reference groups, but perhaps have less experience with the successful – and ethical – implementation of these. This project may add some valuable understanding of these matters, including:
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  • What insights do the design and information groups offer into the practice of research co-design?
  • Do those insights help to clarify the distinction between co-design and participatory action research?
  • Do those groups have advantages in demonstrating the project’s fulfilment of ethical principles of beneficence, respect or justice
  • Could those groups have a role in overseeing the ethical conduct of a project?
  • Given the subject of this research project, what sort of projects might make best use of groups such as those in this project?

We have invited the author and the research team to provide some follow-up reflection on issues such as these as the project progresses and is completed

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The End of Life Care Discharge Planning Project is led by Associate Professor Laurie Grealish from Griffith University. This research project partners with consumers at all stages, allowing consumers significant contribution. As part of the Queensland Health End of Life Care Strategy, Gold Coast Health is developing a process to support discharge for people near end of life who would like to die at home. A Productivity Commission Report in 2017 noted that although over 70% of Australians prefer to die at home, less than 10% do. This is attributed to the need for improvement in the transition between hospital and community care.

The outcomes of this study are expected to include: (1) an evidence-based discharge process and infrastructure to enhance the transition from hospital [medical wards] to home for end of life care; (2) end of life care information brochure for patients and their family carers; (3) stakeholder feedback to indicate that the process is feasible and satisfactory; and (4) a health service and non-government organisational partnership network to monitor the discharge process and enhance future integrated models of end of life care. Ethical approval has been granted by the Gold Coast Health Human Research Ethics Committee and Griffith University Human Research Ethics Committee.

For the research design stage, three groups were established: 1) Project reference group, 2) Project design group, and, 3) Project information group.

1. Project reference group – The aim of the project reference group is to consider the analysed data and reports from the sub-committees, provide advice on, as well as monitor, implementation strategies. This group is led by Associate Professor Laurie Grealish and has membership from a wide range of stakeholders including hospital clinicians and managers, researchers, community groups, non-government organisations and consumers.

2. Project design group – The purpose of this group is to design an evidence-based discharge process to enable people near the end of life to return home to die if this is their wish. Dr Kristen Ranse from Griffith University is the Chair of this group and the membership of the group includes representatives from Gold Coast Health, consumers, and non-government organisations.

3. Project information group – Led by Dr Joan Carlini from Griffith University, this group is to provide expert advice about what information people need as they consider dying at home. It was identified early by the group that there is an overwhelming amount of information available online and in brochures, leading to confusion. Since this group has stakeholders from a wide range of representatives from health care providers, nongovernment organisations, community groups as well as consumers, there has been a healthy generation of discussions. The consumers on the team led the way in selecting pertinent information and producing a draft document. This was then further modified by the committee, ensuring that the booklet is concise, but also a thorough source of information for end of life care.

The next stage of the project runs from Janulary to July 209, with implementation, data collection and anlaysis, and dissemination of finding.

Contributor
Dr. Joan Carlini, Lecturer, Department of Marketing, Griffith University | Griffith University profile, LinkedIn profile (log in required), Twitter – @joancarlini |

This post may be cited as:
Carlini, J. (18 January 2018) Consumer Co-design for End of Life Care Discharge Project. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/consumer-co-design-for-end-of-life-care-discharge-project

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