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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Kua hinga te tōtara i Te Waonui-a-Tāne, the tōtara tree has fallen in Tāne’s great forest1

 

It is with great sorrow that we note the passing of one of our consultants, Barry Smith.

Of Te Rarawa and Ngāti Kahu descent, Barry was an extraordinary man. A true kaumatua, his wit and wisdom on matters of indigenous health and indigenous research ethics is irreplaceable.

Showcasing the best of the leadership through humility, Barry was relied upon by committees to bring an appreciation of Maori – and research ethics more generally – to their work. More than that, because of his diplomacy and humanity he became the kamatua of the process that bought Māori ideas and ways of knowing to the research ethics sector in New Zealand. Just a small list of his appointments is indicative of the status accorded to him senior scientists, ethicists, and government officials and ministers; he was or had been a member (and often a chair) on all the national bodies that set ethical standards and/or reviewed the ethics of research in New Zealand.

– Chair, Royal Society of New Zealand Maori Reference Group on indigenous matters to the Society’s project on gene editing
– Chair, Ministry of Social Development Ethics Committee
– Chair, the Lakes DHB Research and Ethics Committee
– Former Chair, Ethics Committee of the Health Research Council
– Former Chair, multiregional health and disability ethics committee
– Member, Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ACART)
– Member, Auckland Regional Tissue Bank Governance Advisory Board
– Member, Health and Quality Safety Commission’s (HQSC) Perioperative Mortality Review Committee (POMRC)
– Member, committee re-writing New Zealand’s National Ethics Guidelines.
– Member, Marsden Fund project led by Tim Dare examining the ethics of predictive analytics.

Tena koe Barry Greetings Barry
kua wheturangitia Koe You who have been adorned as stars
ki te korowai o Ranginuia in the heavens
kua wehe atu Koe ki te po You who have departed to the night
Ki  tua o Te Arai To beyond
Ki te okioking To the resting place 
o o tatou tupuna Of our ancestors
Haere, haere, haere. Farewell, farewell, farewell

 

Why do we need Category D appointments on HRECs and how should we find suitable people?0

 

Judith C S Redman

The compulsory presence of the Category D members on Australian Human Research Ethics Committees (HRECs) can be controversial. Category D used to be termed ‘minister of religion’ and most HRECs recruited ordained Christian ministers to fill these roles, although at least one of the Monash University HREC Category D members has been a rabbi (recruited by me). People question the need for a ‘religious perspective’ on HRECs, especially on those that regularly look at research concerning issues like abortion, contraception or euthanasia, or stem-cell research where ‘the Church’ is seen to have negative stances. I am a Uniting Church minister and a long-term university chaplain, which makes me a prime target for recruitment to the Category D position on university HRECs. I am currently in my 18th year as a Category D appointment, serving my fourth university. Clearly, it is something I find interesting and rewarding and I would like to offer some comments on the nature of the position.

First, referring to the category as ‘minister of religion’ is misleading, because the role is not to provide a religious perspective per se. ‘Minister of religion’ was included as a category (along with lay woman, lay man and member external to the institution) in the First Report by the NH&MRC Working Party On Ethics in Medical Research published in 1982 (p 20) and incorporated into the first National Statement published in 1983. In the 1999 version of the National Statement, the position was listed as: ‘at least one member who is a minister of religion, or a person who performs a similar role in a community such as an Aboriginal elder’ (NHMRC, 1999, p 16 – emphasis mine), thus hinting that it was not the minister’s religious perspective that was being sought. In fact, even when Australian society was far less multi-faith than it is today, no one clergy-person could provide a representative religious perspective. The 2007 National Statement made the purpose more overt in describing the category as ‘at least one person who performs a pastoral care role in a community, for example, an Aboriginal elder, a minister of religion’ (NHMRC, 2007 p 81). This wording has carried across to the current revision. (NHMRC, 2018 p 87).

What, then, is it that Category D members of HRECs bring to meetings? What is pastoral care? Finding a simple definition is somewhat challenging but Grove (2004, p. 34) defines it as ‘all measures to assist an individual person or a community reach their full potential, success and happiness in coming to a deeper understanding of their own humanness’. Pastoral carers are not therapists, but they do come into contact with human beings at high and low points of their lives. Often, however, they see more every-day lows than those that typically cause people to make appointments with therapists – and very few people will pay a therapist to share joys. They do, however, come to congregational clergy and Aboriginal elders to share the joy of the birth of a child and to mark other rites of passage within the life of their communities. Pastoral carers thus have insights into how people make meaning in their lives that many other people are not privileged to share. They can therefore offer broader perspectives on how participants might respond to some kinds of research than can many other HREC members.

Second, ‘the Church’ does not have a uniform perspective on biomedical ethical issues. While some denominations have specific stances on abortion, contraception, euthanasia, stem-cell research and so on, others do not. In my own denomination, most forms of contraception are widely accepted although some, such as the ‘morning after pill’ would divide members and clergy alike. Abortion, euthanasia and stem-cell research are all controversial, with Uniting Church members and clergy holding a range of opinions very close to the spread found in the wider community. It is therefore not possible to assume that any given Christian minister of religion will be against this kind of research as a matter of principle. This would also be true for pastoral carers from other world religions. Further, it is my experience as someone who has worked in a multicultural and multifaith university environment for several decades that while the things that divide religions are the things we notice most, we have far more in common than things that divide us. A fundamental part of most religions is an attempt to help people to understand what it means to be human, so someone with pastoral care experience from within a religious context can offer valuable insights into the human condition that are not bound by the teachings of her or his religion. They may well, for instance, have supported people making difficult decisions about biomedical ethical issues and have a better insight into whether the researchers have put appropriate measures in place for support of participants.

In addition, ministers of religion are not the only people on HRECs whose perspectives are shaped by religion. I have certainly known people serving in other roles on HRECs whose faith positions affect how they view some of the applications we are considering. The religious perspectives of Category D members are more likely to be overt, but any member of a HREC should declare a conflict of interest if s/he holds a faith/moral position that would not allow her/him to approve particular research no matter how well it complied with the National Statement. It is also quite likely that ministers of religion have studied ethics at a tertiary level as part of their ministry training.

Thus, I would argue that people with experience in providing pastoral care bring a unique and valuable perspective to the deliberations of HRECs, as long as they are selected with a little care. If you are responsible for recruiting members and biomedical research involving abortion, euthanasia, contraception or stem cell research and/or research around human sexuality and sexual orientation come up regularly in your business, you need to address the issues in your recruitment of Category D members. Although members of some religious groups are more likely to have problems with these issues, you cannot predict how a particular pastoral carer might react based on his or her religious group’s official policy. If you are replacing a Category D appointee or recruiting an extra one, the current one may be able to suggest colleagues that s/he thinks might be suitable. If you are setting up a new committee, the Category D appointees on nearby committees might have some ideas about suitable people. Some pastoral carers might even be willing to belong to more than one committee as long as the agendas are not too long and the meeting dates do not clash. In the end, however, you need to inform potential appointees about the kinds of issues you regularly deal with and ask them if they see any problem about their being able to assess these kinds of applications objectively. You also need to ensure that they understand that they are being recruited for their pastoral care experience not to provide a religious perspective. Taking these two steps should see your committee well served by your Category D appointments as they offer their particular perspectives on the applications before you.

We would like to build upon Judith’s excellent post about the pastoral position in future editions with similar commentaries about other positions.  Please contact us on HREC_members@ahrecs.com to discuss.

References

Grove, M. (2004). The Three R’s of Pastoral Care: Relationships, Respect and Responsibility. Pastoral Care in Education, 22(2), 34-38. doi:10.1111/j.0264-3944.2004.00261.x.

National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia) (1982). First Report By NHMRC Working Party on Ethics In Medical Research: Research in Humans. National Health and Medical Research Council, Canberra, ACT.

National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia) (1999). National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research involving Humans. National Health and Medical Research Council, Canberra, ACT.

National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia) (2007). National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research. National Health and Medical Research Council, Canberra, ACT.

National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia) (2018). National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, updated 2018. National Health and Medical Research Council, Canberra, ACT.

Contributor
Rev Dr Judith C S Redman, Chaplaincy Coordinator, Charles Sturt and La Trobe Universities, Albury-Wodonga Campuses | jredman@csu.edu.au

This post may be cited as:
Redman, JCS (27 March 2019) Why do we need Category D appointments on HRECs and how should we find suitable people? Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/why-do-we-need-category-d-appointments-on-hrecs-and-how-should-we-find-suitable-people

We’re working with a talented animator0

 

Gary Allen, Mark Israel, Colin Thomson

We are pretty excited to be working with an animation company on a couple of projects. Attached is an animation we commissioned that we will be using at the opening of our workshops and events. Please let us know what you think of it.

https://ahrecs.com/our-services

https://www.patreon.com/ahrecs

Drop us a line to enquiry@ahrecs.com if you want to discuss how AHRECS can assist your institution.

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

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